TONITE: I Am Legend

Legendary musician, poet, artist and activist Patti Smith will be at the Free Library tonight reading from her new book, Just Kids — a memoir about coming of age and becoming an artist in New York in the 1960’s and 70’s with her former lover and lifelong friend, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe —  which won the National Book Award for Non-fiction. Just Kids has maintained its perch in the upper reaches of the New York Times bestseller list since publication. Just Kids is beautiful and gritty, the ultimate story of New York grime and glamour told through the impassioned voice of a true poet: intelligent but pragmatic, unrelenting but undeniably sweet. The memoir traces the duo’s early days in New York, their struggle to survive (Smith supporting the two of them, always finding first press edition books to sell at the last minute) and their residence at the storied Chelsea Hotel. Patti Smith’s epic debut album Horses was released in 1975 (on the anniversary of Arthur Rimbaud’s death, she informs us) and it was Mapplethorpe who took the iconic photo on the cover. The album has been named in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest albums of all time, and earned her the title of “godmother of punk rock.” She has released a total of ten studio albums, including the hit single “Because the Night”— written by Bruce Springsteen — and published five books of poetry. Just Kids vividly recounts a dizzying, star-crossed era: Smith straightening a drunken William Burroughs’ tie in “unspoken routine,” meeting Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, receiving poet Gregory Corso, bumping into Salvador Dali, collaborating with the playwright Sam Shepard. In a particularly comic scene Allen Ginsberg approaches her in a store and starts talking about Walt Whitman. Smith writes “I mentioned that I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. “Are you a girl?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Is that a problem?” He just laughed. “I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.” Patti Smith left New York in 1980 and married former MC5 guitarist, the late Fred “Sonic” Smith; Robert Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989. Smith laments this tragic loss in the final pages of the book: “Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply.” Just Kids is an elegy for everyone who died too young. — CAROLINE SCHMIDT

Patti Smith reads from Just Kids at 7:30 PM tonight at the Free Library. The auditorium is sold out but simulcast tickets are still available. Cost: $15 General Admission, $7 Students.

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