High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.
Towards the end of "Just Kids", Patti Smith says, in relation to how long it took her to write the story of her and Robert Mapplethorpe's friendship, that there were many stories she could tell, in many different ways, and in the end, this was the story she chose. It made me grateful to hear it, as I had been grateful to hear pretty much everything else in this biography (I listened to it in audiobook form) because it hit the nail on the head. A biography, or an autobiography, can make claims on objectivity, but it is, in the end, one person writing about another, putting together other people's recollections of them, giving us an angle to view that person from. It's not a bad thing, mind you - it is the nature of the medium - but not enough people go out of their way to remind us, and we end up taking their word as gospel.
Patti Smith's memoir tells the story of youth, friendship, discovering oneself as an artist, being brave, taking risks, and lettuce soup. She tells us of how both she and Robert Mapplethorpe decided to go down the artist road, how they met in New York in the 60s, how they became friends and loves and then friends again, how, despite all the metamorphoses of their relationship, they supported each other through thick and thin, until the very sad end. It's a complex story, a human story, one that is compassionate, but one that doesn't try to blunt any sharp edges.
I've said it once, I'll say it again - I can't review biographies and memoirs, not in the same way one reviews fiction. (How can I?) I do think, however, that everyone needs to read "Just Kids" - not just because it's beautifully written, but also because it presents something very rare these days - it tells the story of a friendship that is true, loving and supportive. It's reassuring - it tells us how a good, collaborative artistic relationship can work. It tells us that things worked out. It tells us about the importance of pushing our friends' creative pursuits and supporting them, even if we don't necessarily understand them. It's about believing in the artist, and helping the artist through.
And in a way, that's something that everyone can apply into their areas of their life. Think of how individualistic and mistrustful Western culture has become. Think how paranoid we are about being original and doing something that no-one's ever done before. Think how there's nothing worse than being "average" in this day and age, and think of how much we're hurting each other, living to an expectation that we must all be perfect and exceptional or else what is the point. "Just Kids," above all else, reminds us to be human.
Oh, and the audiobook was really good, in case you're wondering. Not my favorite performance, but I loved it nonetheless.