Saturday, 14 May 2011

'We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of, and there was splendour we only partially imagined.'
Of all types of literature, autobiography has until now been my least favoured. I don't profess to have read enough of this genre to make a particularly well informed judgement, but autobiographies have always seemed to me to be self-pitying, self-congratulating, courting fame and sympathy and just generally being written with mercenary intentions. I read Russell Brand's two autobiographies and found them highly entertaining. There may have been certain memories or events recounted which were affecting and/or enlightening, but on the whole it was just a light-hearted, comic, quick-read which wouldn't be classed as a literary success- more of a written documentation of his fantastical verbal effusions. 
Whilst I was in Miami in February I stopped by Books & Books on Lincoln for a browse. With an afternoon to fill there's nothing better than coffee, people watching, flicking through art books and reading the blurbs of countless paperbacks on the shelves. On a mid-shelf down one of the narrow through-rooms of the cosy little store I saw an unassuming black book cover with a small black and white double portrait and simple white text. 'New York Bestseller. Just Kids. Patti Smith.' The paper is quite thick, like parchment, with rough edges which gives the book a love-worn feel. The text throughout is interspersed with black and white photos, sketches and excerpts from poems like a scrapbook.
I didn't know much about Patti Smith before I started reading. I remembered seeing her in the Annie Leibovitz documentary 'Life through a lens' where she was photographed infront of a flaming trashcan- a photo which became a cover for Rolling Stone. So I knew she was a 'rockstar', that she had a famed androgynous look and that she had a relationship with the enigmatic Robert Mapplethorpe. I was not prepared for the astounding poetic beauty of the writing.
I can honestly say that it one of the most intensely moving, profoundly affecting books I've ever read. It was so real, truthful and honest-it was like reading a close friend's diary. You feel the pain and elation of every high and low. You sympathise on every level with the conflicting sense of both love between Smith and Mapplethorpe and the need for self-expression and one's own identity. It is a record of artistic struggle, a love letter to a lost soul-mate and a sweet ballad to New York City. It is partly what you may expect from a rock and roll musician but it is mostly so very much more.
'Wild leaves are falling
Falling to the ground.
Every leaf a moment,
A light upon the crown
That we'll all be wearing
In a time unbound;
And wild leaves are falling, 
Falling to the ground.'

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