Talk about your dark horses. Patti Smith writes her first non-fiction book and she succeeds beyond expectation, ultimately winning the National Book Award. As you may know, Just Kids is a love letter to Robert Mapplethorpe, her dearest friend, lover, and constant companion. Knowing Mapplethorpe primarily for his work and the controversy it created two decades ago here in CinciTucky, I was happy to learn more about the man. Patti humanized him and was honest about his faults. How she described their lives, together and apart, was constantly touching.
More than just the Patti-and-Robert show, Just Kids is also a love letter to her art. Admittedly, I couldn't always follow her when she talked about art--hers, that of others, and art as a philosophy--but it was obvious to me how much it means to her and how much faith she has in its power.
The other recipient of a Patti-penned mash note is New York City. As in good fiction, she portrays the City as its own character throughout the book. Were I to happen across a time machine, one of the first places I would travel would be to New York when you could be poor and still live there, a condition that is almost unthinkable now. Clearly, the City and the ability to live in it while struggling to make a living, to make art, to make a life, had long, lasting effects on for Patti who has continued to succeed on her own terms for the last 40 years.
I was terribly pleased to receive my copy of Just Kids from my dear friend Rocky who had Patti inscribe it to me "with all good wishes". Many thanks and many happy returns.
Considering the, ahem, life Keef has lived, you wouldn't expect him to remember anything from the last half century of being "Keef". Remarkably, he remembers damn near everything and recounts his colorful life as rock 'n' roll icon/'this-is-your-brain-on-drugs' posterboy in very lively detail.
Ultimately, Keith is Keith. There are no apologies and few regrets. He is true to himself and fuck off if you don't like it. Amazing as it is that he's lived at least nine lives, Keith really isn't all that surprised. He maintains he has been blessed with a "strong constitution" and a "high tolerance".
As for the Stones, Keith dismisses Brian, loves and respects Charlie, has surprisingly little to say about Bill, and feels kind of sorry for Ronnie. He misses Ian Stewart, adores Bobby Keys, and was happy to be done with Billy Preston. He lets Mick have it pretty good. Despite the long road, Keith understands how they have grown together and grown apart. He refers to them as brothers though no longer friends. Where Keith believes he has stayed true to himself, he paints Mick as a control freak and a social climber. Despite all this, he considers Mick the greatest singer, greatest dancer, and greatest front man in rock 'n' roll.
As expected, Life is rife with dirt and drugs and guns and girls, silly scrapes and narrow escapes, love and hope and sex and dreams. As Keith tells it, he wouldn't have it any other way.
The perpetually literate Joe Pernice-penned paean to the girl on the train and the books in her lap. Any song that name-checks Ford Madox Ford AND Jacqueline Susann has to make the list. Plus, Joe pubbed a novel called It Feels So Good When I Stop I quite enjoyed.
They always do interesting works read by talented actors. The website isn't great and it's kind of hard to actually get to the downloadable part but have patience because the payoff is well worth it.
The most recent show has a marvelous version of 'Boys' by Rick Moody, performed by actor B. D. Wong. To make a good thing even better, Selected Shorts partners with my beloved One Story and with the good folks at Houghton Mifflin and their Best American Short Storiesseries, which is also quite beloved by me. (There is much beloving going on here at Chez Next.) Indulge yourself and enjoy.
Chinese New Year? Already? I just took down the tree. So it goes. The Year of the Rabbit is upon us. With that in mind, here are a few books by Chinese authors or about China.
First, the slim novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Sijie is a filmmaker who was 're-educated' by the Mao regime and this tale of love and books will move you.
Next, two memoirs of growing up during the Cultural Revolution both by Da Chen. Colors of the Mountain is the story of how Chen went from rural farmboy to being the first from his village to attend university. Sounds of the River picks up as he arrives at the Beijing Language Institute. Expecting a new and easier life, he encounters hardships of a far different kind. His strength, wisdom and belief in himself allowed him to succeed. He went on to study at Columbia University and lives here in the States. These are great rags-to-riches stories and Chen writes with a beautiful voice.
Daniel Levy's Two-Gun Cohen was my kind of guy. A Cockney pickpocket and con artist, he fled England for Western Canada where he was appalled by the treatment of the Chinese hired to build the railroads. He became such a friend and advocate, it led to Cohen becoming no less than the bodyguard of Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic. Morris Cohen's later life turned for the worst but Levy has written a fascinating book about an unlikely hero.
Matthew Polly's American Shaolin was great fun when I read it in 2007. You can read my post about it here: http://goo.gl/qESVN
And since it is the Year of the Rabbit, perhaps it's time to re-read Watership Down and watch a few Bugs Bunny cartoons.