Drivin’ with Patti Smith’s Just Kids on Audiobook CD
I recently read Patti Smith’s excellent memoir of her days with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. No doubt you’ve heard about this stunning work, even if you’d never heard of Patti before or if you don’t enjoy her music, because it won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. It’s a beautifully written and genuinely moving work. Smith writes with poet’s ear with an emotional journalist’s keen eye for detail. Here’s an excerpt of an excerpt that I cribbed from a Spinner piece on the book:
I was born on a Monday, in the North Side of Chicago during the Great Blizzard of 1946. I came along a day too soon, as babies born on New Year’s Eve left the hospital with a new refrigerator. Despite my mother’s effort to hold me in, she went into heavy labor as the taxi crawled along Lake Michigan through a vortex of snow and wind. By my father’s account, I arrived a long skinny thing with bronchial pneumonia, and he kept me alive by holding me over a steaming washtub.
My sister Linda followed during yet another blizzard in 1948. By necessity I was obliged to measure up quickly. My mother took in ironing as I sat on the stoop of our rooming house waiting for the iceman and the last of the horse-drawn wagons. He gave me slivers of ice wrapped in brown paper. I would slip one in my pocket for my baby sister, but when I later reached for it, I discovered it was gone.
When my mother became pregnant with my brother, Todd, we left our cramped quarters in Logan Square and migrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania. For the next few years we lived in temporary housing set up for servicemen and their children- whitewashed barracks overlooking an abandoned field alive with wildflowers. We called the field The Patch, and in summertime the grown-ups would sit and talk, smoke cigarettes, and pass around jars of dandelion wine while we children played. My mother taught us the games of her childhood: Statues, Red Rover, and Simon Says. We made daisy chains to adorn our necks and crown our heads. In the evenings we collected fireflies in mason jars, extracting their lights and making rings for our fingers.
As many of you who read my blog or know of my book on Todd Rundgren know, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Patti in a Greenwich Village cafe a couple of years ago (while she was preparing Just Kids) and I blogged about that here. I was struck then by her down-to-earth, almost folksy, nature and pragmatism about being a “worker” in art. My book has an entire chapter with Patti and the other members of The Patti Smith Group on the making of their final group endeavor, Wave (you can buy it on iTunes here)
In a New York Times article written last November, on the occasion of Patti winning the National Book Award, I found this quote from her speech: “I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf. Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”
Now having quoted that, I am here to tell you that my wife Liza and I, who love audiobook CDs, recently purchased the audio version of Just Kids and listened to part of it on a long drive to and from Yosemite National Park. Read by Patti herself, it is a valuable document because not only do we get Patti the poet “performing” the book, we also get Patti the person just talkin’. She has an endearingly old world kind of American voice, droppin’ the g all over the place and pronouncing certain words in a rural twang, such as “fella” for fellow and “pillah” for pillow, and curiously, “drawling” for drawing. It adds a whole new humanized dimension to the work, which was already pretty human on paper. I highly recommend ANY format of Just Kids.
Finally, here’s a bit from a charming reading Patti gave, to give you an idea of her voice. She later breaks into a necessarily a cappella version of “Because The Night” employing the audience at Foyle’s as her foils.