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This review is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

FOREVER YOUNG PATTI SMITH, Just Kids (Bloomsbury) £18.99 (hb), £8.99 (pb)

The obverse of history is nostalgia, whether a nation's myth of its golden age or our gilding of our own youth. The impulse is universal and is undoubtedly connected to our recognition of the inevitability of our decline and death. To say this isn't to diminish the powerful creative effects of nostalgia in creating great art - including, by the way, many great works of history which are motivated by and inflected with a sense of declension and loss. So to say that Patti Smith's sweetly lyrical elegy to lost time, Just Kids, is not exactly an accurate take on the events or the mood of the 1970s is not to criticise it but to recognise it for what it is: a form of autobiographical fiction whose narrative is stylistically convincing without necessarily being true, or complete. It's odd how people persist in thinking that autobiographies and memoirs are accurate testimonies about the historical record - whatever that is. We should know by now that their function is to create that record, not analyse it.

As a memoirist and as an elegist, Patti Smith does her job surpassingly well.Just Kids is framed by the death of her friend, companion, and artistic inspiration, the great photographer and provocateur Robert Mapplethorpe. She was absent when he died in 1989 and her last connection with him was listening to his laboured breathing over the phone. And the book closes with her last sight of him in his hospital bed, a ...


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