November 19, 2010

Book news

Regular readers won't be massively surprised that I think this is good news. I reviewed this one for print (not online) back in May. Excerpt:
Early on, [Patti] Smith recounts a childhood memory of learning to say the word "swan" in a Chicago park. "The swan became one with the sky," she writes, not so much remembering as poetically embellishing. But she leaves the obvious symbolism untouched: the swan as transformation. Not just her own transformation, but that of [Robert] Mapplethorpe.
Both were Catholic kids from poor families who gravitated to New York. Both wanted to be artists, and they met through a seemingly fated series of coincidences. Both had intense self-belief, even if he was more ambitious. "Nobody sees as we do, Patti," he tells her. They would have been insufferable if they hadn't turned out to be right.
This is also a fascinating picture of the bohemian New York of the 60s and 70s. Smith gives us walk-ons from William Burroughs, Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg and Harry Smith. The Chelsea Hotel is "a doll's house in the twilight zone". Jimi Hendrix is shy and nervous. Salvador Dali tells Smith she looks like "a gothic crow".  
Our photo is Smith's polaroid of the tomb of Walt Whitman, Camden, New Jersey, pinched from here. The photographer as death tourist.