Just Kids by Patti Smith

I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it hadn’t been recommended and I wouldn’t have gone to a Patti Smith concert if I hadn’t been invited, but both happened recently, and I enjoyed both experiences hugely.

The concert first. It was a small intimate affair at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, and I went because my work is closely involved in the current exhibition there: Mathematics – A Beautiful Elsewhere. Patti Smith is one heck of a performer, with incredible stage presence. She was accompanied by long time music companion Lenny Kaye on the guitar and vocals and her daughter Jesse Smith on the piano. Not sure I will rush out and buy her songs (the only one I could name before going to her concert was her single, Because The Night, which she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, and no, she didn’t sing it, it would have been way off key in this “unplugged” sort of gig), but I really enjoyed her performance.
At one point, she started reading a text by a mathematician from my work, Misha Gromov, and then improvised around it. She read it beautifully, not lugubriously like in the recording she made of that same text reading for the exhibition and it was wonderful to hear the poetry I had not guessed in a text I was very familiar with (it is included in a rather lovely book, The Unravelers – Les Déchiffreurs in the original French, of photos of scientists from IHES). What came across really clearly is that Patti is a true poet.
Which brings me to her memoir, Just Kids, because she writes prose pretty well too! I just loved the description of the New York “scene”, the beautiful and bitter-sweet story of her and Robert, rebellion channelled into creation, the charting of artists in the making. I now know where she cut her teeth in performance and audience interaction, I have now seen her poetic nature in the flesh.
Together, the book and the concert have introduced me to a true artist and free spirit.

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