Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Patti's Revival

Over a year ago a friend lent me Patti Smith's "Just Kids", which I devoured like a wolf. The book is an account of Smith's complex relationship - platonic, amorous, sexual - with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and irresistibly sucked me into New York's 1970s beatnik-bohemia.

A couple of weeks later "Just Kids" won the (US) National Book Award, and I went to see Smith's hommage concert to Mapplethorpe in Paris. She played songs, read some of her poetry, and recounted anecdotes about "Robert".

As undeniably moving as it was, it also felt embarassingly personal. It was the same excess of self-referential nostalgia which had made the last quarter of the book unreadable to me. I couldn't help but wonder - why does she suddenly feel the need to glorify him to us strangers, 20 years after his death?

Patti and Robert in their kitchen, 1969

Whatever the reason, Pattimania seems unstoppable on several levels.

First, it appears Smith is turning her book into a film.  Unsurprisingly, James Franco already expressed interest in playing Robert Mapplethorpe. For those still in doubt he's "family".

Robert Mapplethorpe polaroid, 1960s

Just Kids is also making a storm in the fashion world. Magazine VMan shot a Patti+Robert story with topmodel Freja, Numéro Homme made an impressively authentic Robert Mapplethorpe story, and fashion house Balenciaga's latest campaign is a post-modern Parisian hommage to Patti's insouciant chic.

Balenciaga, Spring/Summer 2012

If all that weren't enough, Miss Smith also just released a book of polaroids, called Camera Solo. It's a collection of personal shots, mostly of objects belonging to her many heros such as Rimbaud, Blake, Brancusi, and of course Mapplethorpe.

If anything, it proves that Smith is essentially a personal artist, an emotional fetishist who channels her admiration for the genius of others. Maybe that's a little genius too. In any case it's taking off again.

Patti Smith - Roberto  Bolaño's chair; Rimbaud's cutlery

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