Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti SmithBook Review
Title: Just Kids
Author:  Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco
Released: October 24, 2010
Pages: 306
ISBN-10: 0060936223
ISBN-13: 978-0060936228
Stars:  5.0

Like Patti Smith, I grew up writing poetry and listening to rock’n’roll. That is where the similarity ends because I am not an artist, only an appreciator of them. Although I haven’t read Arthur Rimbaud or Jean Genet, nor have I yet been to Paris, I have always been captivated by the music of the 70s and the writings of Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll and Jim Morrison. I had no idea that Shepard and Carroll were Smith’s lovers but reading the dreamy, tender narrative of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe surprised me in many ways, including the fact that he was also her lover, because I knew he was openly gay. Until now, I haven’t known very much about Patti Smith except that some of my friends are big fans of hers, she’s collaborated with Springsteen (one of my music heroes), and that her poetry, music and art earned her a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

I often dream of where I’d go if I had my own hot tub time machine and New York City during the late 60s/early 70s is definitely one of the places I’d choose. Patti Smith was born almost 20 years before me, but I’ve listened to and loved a lot of the music that was created by her contemporaries (in particular, The Doors and Janis Joplin) and have been a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography for a long time. However, she has made me appreciate his work with new eyes and I’m grateful for that. Reading Smith’s autobiography Just Kids is the next best thing to using a hot tub time machine as she has written an exquisite account of her early years as a struggling artist and Mapplethorpe’s muse.

From 1967 to 1978, Patti shares her memories of their lives in New York City and specifically at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a dreamscape so perfectly realized and vividly fascinating that you feel as if you’re there with them. We meet many legendary artists including William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard and Tom Verlaine, although none of them holds a candle to the flame that is the telling of the birth of Smith’s and Mapplethorpe’s artistic legacy.

Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946 and was part of a close knit family that included her siblings Linda, Todd and Kimberly, who later relocated with their parents to South Jersey. What struck me about Patti that I wasn’t expecting is that she’s a very down-to-earth, deeply spiritual person and was never a drug addict as one who hasn’t known her might imagine based on her skinny heroin chic look and the time in which she came of age and became famous for being a punk rocker poet. In researching her for this review, I discovered that we share a very similar view of religion as well:

I believe there is good in in [sic] all religions. But religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition. (Rolling Stone)

Patti’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe was utterly pure and transcended any boundaries that society might have wanted to instill upon them. Although they weren’t meant to be together as husband and wife, they were most certainly soul mates (regardless of her marriage to MC5 guitarist Fred Sonic Smith) up until his tragic death at the age of 42. On March 9, 1989 Robert died from complications due to AIDS. Her recollection of his passing within the pages of this book brought me to tears. Just Kids opens with the phone call she received from Robert’s brother Edward telling her that he had finally succumbed to his illness, at which moment she was listening to Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, and it ends with her making peace with having to say goodbye. (“Smile for me Patti, as I am smiling for you.”) In between, we get to know Robert Mapplethorpe as intimately as a stranger can and develop an understanding of what inspired him as an artist as she traces “their first meetings (there were two of them before one fateful night in Tompkins Square Park) to their days in and out of hotels, love affairs, creative collaborations, nightclubs, and gritty neighborhoods…” (Interview Magazine)

Just Kids is a masterpiece, filled with iconic black and white photographs of Smith and Mapplethorpe, including some of their art and a few of Smith’s poems as well. She’s a very gifted poet and although I confess that I was never a big fan of her music aside from “Because The Night” and “Power To The People”, (I was 11 when Horses was released) I’m listening to it now with new ears and would love to read more of her poetry and song lyrics because this book has made me fall for her…hard. I now understand why she has endured and why there will never be another female rock artist like her. Anyone who can write a memoir that inspires someone to discover their career forty years after it began deserves to be the national treasure that Patti Smith is.

 

Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Who I Am by Pete TownshendBook Review
Title: Who I Am
Author:  Pete Townshend
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: October 9, 2012
Pages: 538
ISBN-10: 1443418919
ISBN-13: 978-1443418911
Stars:  3.5

I’ve never been a big fan of Pete Townshend or The Who although I do appreciate most of their hits and of course, Tommy, but I thought that Townshend’s memoirs would be pretty interesting.  However, although he’s a brilliant artist, Townshend is not an easy man to like.  He comes off as a manic-depressive, self-absorbed, adulterous prick most of the time, but once in a while he can actually make you feel sorry for him as he is brutally honest, even about his own short-comings.  This is a man who loves the sound of his own voice.

Surprisingly, Who I Am is a sober, humourless, 500+ page confessional of Pete Townshend’s experiences.  It focuses more on his songwriting than guitar playing, even though he’s been given the honour of being No. 10 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  Not one of the greatest vocalists or collaborators of all time, Townshend is an emotionally stultified loner.  He couldn’t manage co-writing because it’s out of his emotional range.  At the height of The Who’s popularity in 1970, he couldn’t really enjoy himself, and instead “felt ashamed about being an adulterer, and oddly guilty about my professional success.”  So let’s find out why.

Born May 19, 1945 in West London, neither Pete’s maternal grandparents nor his parents were positive role models.  His father Clifford played in a swing band and his mum performed with him as a vocalist for a while.  Pete’s early years were happily spent in the company of his best buddy “Jimpy” but in 1951, Pete was sent to live with his mentally disturbed maternal grandmother, Denny, for a year.  Denny, who left her husband of 11 years for a wealthy man who kept her as his mistress, possessed “Victorian domestic notions”, and was often cruel and neglected Pete when she busy with her own affairs.  Pete suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his grandmother, while his mother Betty was off having an affair on his father.  She had 5 self-induced abortions before ending her affair and reuniting with Cliff and also battled the bottle for many years.  Pete says this was the darkest part of his life and it will likely take him the rest of it to try to find closure on the abuse he suffered as a six and seven year old boy.  For that, I truly feel sorry for him.

Pete’s parents did eventually reunite which resulted in the birth of Pete’s brothers Paul and Simon who were born over 15 years after him and whom he barely mentions.

He does go over all the facts about The Who’s career but we don’t end up knowing much about his true relationship with the guys, other than he revealed that John and Keith were very close and as long as he let Roger have his way when it came to The Who, everything was fine.

Pete started his musical career by playing harmonica and then took up banjo and guitar.  He went to school with John Entwistle and his first band with him was called The Confederates.  Roger Daltrey also knew John and asked him and Pete to join his party band, The Detours, in early 1962.  The Detours supported The Rolling Stones a couple of times in late ’63/early ’64, as well as The Kinks.  When Entwistle found out that another band had the same name, the band became The Who on Valentine’s Day 1964.  Pete was only 18 when the original line-up was formed: Townshend, Daltry, Entwistle and Doug Sandom on drums, soon to be replaced by Keith Moon.

After four years of attending Ealing Art College and playing lots of shows at the same time, an exhausted Townshend dropped out of school.

For those of you who don’t know, The Who’s style and image was influenced by Pete’s art school studies and The Mod movement, which was “based on trendsetting fashion statements and dance moves.”  Pete, who was friends with Jim Marshall, the inventor of the Marshall stack, was possibly the first person to create the Marshall wall of sound (feedback) which became The Who’s trademark.  They also claim to be “the first stage act in the world to employ high-powered lasers for dramatic lighting effects.”

Tommy (1969) was The Who’s masterpiece although Live at Leeds and Quadrophenia were almost as impressive.  A rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind pinball wizard who exists in a world of vibrations, has been reincarnated as a movie and various successful stage productions over the years, and along with the band’s constant touring has kept Townshend in luxurious houses, studios and boats.

Looking for a spiritual connection, Pete became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba whom he followed for many years, but it isn’t apparent that he actually learned anything meaningful from him.

Townshend recounts The Who’s illustrious sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll history but says little about the deaths of Moon and Entwistle except to state that they occurred.  He had no way of processing or dealing with his grief and comes off as a man with a significant personality disorder.  By the time The Who Sell Out was released, Pete was already going deaf, was in a perpetually foul mood, and Roger was unhappy on stage too.  Pete felt that as a performance artist he was undervalued and that his performances were being misread: “I wanted to be serious about what I did, and wanted my work – including smashing guitars in concert – to be regarded as part of a passionate commitment to an evolving stagecraft.”

Though fairly pretentious about his craft, Pete was shy and awkward with girls and didn’t have sex until he was in college.  He addresses his bisexuality and states that he “suffered from a deep sexual shame” over his dealings with Denny, although he’d “managed to push the details out of memory’s reach.”  Townshend coped with his shame over the years with drugs and alcohol, although booze proved to be the heavier monkey on his back.

He married his long time girlfriend Karen Astley on May 20, 1968 and together they had three children, Emma, Minta and many years later, after several separations, Joseph.  While Pete mentions his children, he doesn’t devote any time to describing his relationship with his daughters and it was obvious that Karen did most of the parenting as he was a workaholic who could rarely relax.  “I had always wanted to be there for my wife and children in a way that my parents were not always there for me.  But the childish, devlish, selfish-sod-bastard artist deep inside me didn’t give a toss for fatherhood – he needed freedom.”  Pete and Karen finally ended their 25+ year marriage in the mid-nineties (they didn’t divorce until 2009) and Townshend has been with Rachel Fuller ever since.

While not touring with The Who, Townshend has worked as a solo artist, producer, writer, editor at Faber & Faber, and a philanthropist, and he introduces us to those who were the most influential in his life (including friend Richard “Barney” Barnes, managers Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, and various paramours including Louise Reay & Lisa Marsh) while name dropping many of his famous friends and acquaintances, none of whom he appears to have a very close friendship with.  He discusses his Lifehouse, Psychoderelict & Iron Man (a.k.a. Iron Giant) projects at length – which sections were frankly, pretty boring – and also comes clean about his conviction as a sex offender and the events that led up to it because he naively clicked on a child pornography site while doing research for ways to help young boys in Russian orphanages.

Pete Townshend is a truly complex figure who has made a significant impact on rock ‘n’ roll history, and while I admire his candidness in Who I Am, I’m still not a fan of the man.

Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali: A Father and Son Story by Felix Manuel Rodriguez

Book Review
Title: Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali
Author: Felix Manuel Rodriguez
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Released: May, 2009
Pages: 108
ISBN – 1440146241
ISBN – 9781440146244
Stars: 4.0

It is not often that I can say that I am truly honoured to write a review for an author whose acquaintance I made on the Internet, but in this case, I most certainly am.

This weekend, I read an absolutely wonderful, positive story about the relationship between a father and his son, to my 7-year-old niece and nephew (who came to my home for a sleepover) and we all loved it! Although I must report that Ethan was disappointed that the Blue Jays didn’t win the baseball game against the Yankees in the beginning of the book – we are after all, Ontarians!

Felix Manuel Rodriguez of Waterbury, Connecticut wears many hats. He is a writer, state child welfare employee, vice president of a local non-profit human service organization, and professional boxing inspector. He is also an assistant youth coach, police commissioner, but most importantly, he is a proud father of two children, Felix Joezā (a.k.a. Jo-Jo) and Jalissa, who are featured in Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali, and who are very fortunate to have such a loving and interactive father; one who is described in detail in the book.

In Felix’s words:

“…the story is based on true events involving my son and me in Harlem, NY. Read my bio on my website www.dadmeandali.com. I wrote this book because I value fatherhood. I grew up a fatherless child along with my six siblings living in the public housing projects. I am the youngest of the boys and it was tough growing up without a dad. So I made a promise to my kids that I will always try to be there for them. That is a big reason why I wrote this book. I wanted to share a father and son story sprinkled with Latino culture flavorings.”

Honest and sentimental without being syrupy in any way, Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali tells the story of young Jo-Jo, who learns a valuable lesson the hard way when while playing ball with his sister Jalissa in their father’s sports room, the unthinkable happens! They accidentally hit one of their father’s prized collectables that’s hanging on the wall: an autographed photo of Felix’s hero, Muhammad Ali; which falls to the floor, crashing the glass frame, and damaging the photo. Realizing what he’s done, Jo-Jo is sick with worry and expecting the worst when his father gets home.

Felix, who does everything he can to promote respect and sportsmanship, realized that the event was an accident, but also that the children should have listened to what they had been told. He exhibits understanding under the circumstances but Jo-Jo feels so guilty about ruining his father’s cherished photograph that he decides, with the help of his mother, to come up with a way to make it up to him even if it means spending his very last dime and then some. Father and son end up having an adventurous journey to Harlem, New York where Felix finally gets to meet his hero.

This heartwarming story is about the importance of being a good father and a hero and describes exactly what being a hero means. I was able to explain that concept to my niece and nephew who didn’t understand it when I began reading the story and asked, “What’s a hero?”

“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something deep inside…a desire, a dream, and a vision. They have to have the skill and the will…but the WILL, must be stronger than the SKILL.” – Muhammad Ali

Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali has lots of great facts in it about The Greatest of All Time including Ali’s professional boxing record at the back of the book, a questionnaire for budding “Aliologists”, and a Certificate of Aliology for those who can answer the questions correctly. It is an excellent educational book that would fit in well in sports collectibles shops and every public school’s library in North America, as well as a charming tribute to the importance of being a father and being there for your children.

“Life is like boxing, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters most is how many times you get back up.” – Felix Manuel Rodriguez

Illustrators Noé Peralez and Francis Philibert contribute excellent black and white sketches, primarily of Muhammad Ali, at the beginning of every chapter and Erika and Ethan’s favourite is the one of Jo-Jo being hugged by Ali. They thought that was just great!

I highly recommend the fun-to-read Dad, Me, and Muhammad Ali to parents of children ages 6-12, as well as boxing fans and budding Aliologists everywhere. This is a book that the great Ali himself would be proud of.

For more on Felix Manuel Rodriguez and Muhammad Ali, visit www.dadmeandali.com.