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.

 

The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me by Cathie Borrie

The Long Hello by Cathie BorrieBook Review
Title: The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me
Author:  Cathie Borrie
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Released: January 6, 2015
Pages: 225
ISBN: 978-1-4767-9251-4
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  2.5

 

My younger sister died five months ago today from ovarian cancer at the age of 48 so it’s quite possible that I’m just not in the right frame of mood to be reading and reviewing a memoir about a woman who spent seven years caring for her mother before she died from Alzheimer’s in her late 80’s. Nonetheless, the good people at Simon & Schuster enticed me into reading The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me by Cathie Borrie by using these paragraphs to describe it:

“It explores the emotional rewards and challenges that Cathie Borrie experienced in caring for her mother, who was living with Alzheimer’s disease, for seven years. Between the two, a wondrously poetic dialogue develops, which Ms. Borrie further illuminates with childhood memories of her family, and her struggle to maintain a life outside her caregiving responsibilities. The Long Hello demonstrates how caregiving creates an opportunity to experience the change in a relationship that illness necessitates, one in which joy, meaning, and profound intimacy can flourish. 

Written in spare, beautiful prose, largely in the form of a dialogue, The Long Hello exquisitely captures the intricacies and nuances of a daughter’s relationship with her mother.”

After reading the book, this is not my experience of it. My 62-year-old cousin, who cared for her own mother while she was dying from Alzheimer’s three years ago, read it before me and she found Borrie’s to be very unlike her own experience and not as moving or profound as she thought it might be based on what we were led to believe by the above description either.

Another thing that caught my attention and makes me wonder is why Simon & Schuster chose to use the quote “Joy!” from Maya Angelou on the cover of the book because it hasn’t been published yet and Angelou died on May 28, 2014. If she did indeed have a chance to read this book before she passed away, I would have thought she’d have more to say about it than one word, but this to me is suspicious and the word is in my humble opinion, inappropriate.

Born in Vancouver, Borrie started her career as a nurse before attaining a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and later graduated from Law School at the University of Saskatchewan. In 2005, she earned a Certificate in Creative Writing from The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is also a ballroom dancer and has performed in the theatre and as a clown. She has some impressive credentials but I don’t feel that this book “is immensely lyrical and moving” nor a “powerful display of Cathie Borrie’s talent as a writer.”

On a positive note, it’s a very quick read. I read it in two sittings. It’s written somewhat like a journal, almost in point form with the Canadian author flipping back and forth between her past and the present as she’s caring for her mother who is slowly slipping further and further away into the tunnel of dementia. However, I find that there is very little joy in this book aside from the often amusing things that Cathie’s mother Jo says as she’s losing her mind. Borrie recorded conversations with her mother so that she could write this memoir but her own emotions come across as flat and depressed, which I can totally understand that she would be, while going through such a difficult experience. When she describes the facts of her life, they’re just that, facts. The way she’s written them down it appears that she’s had very little joy in her life and maybe that’s the truth of it, I don’t know. She was, at the time of writing The Long Hello a 51-year-old single woman who couldn’t get her own needs met, but was compelled to do everything she could to help her mother before she died and that I can definitely relate to. But it makes for a sad, downer of a read and I was somewhat offended when she wrote this passage:

“My surgeon’s in his forties, easy on the eyes.

“How are things?”

“I’ve been praying for ovarian cancer.”

“You what?”

“So I’d be dead before you have to replace my hip. I figured it was a fast cancer so I’d be dead before my name got to the top of your waiting list.”

The things people say and write when they’re depressed…I’m telling you. We shouldn’t be allowed near a writing implement. I know this from experience.

Cathie Borrie’s mother left her alcoholic father when she was a young girl and soon after her 13-year-old brother Hugh was killed in a random fight with a neighbourhood bully. His, like so many others, was an utterly tragic and meaningless death. Years later, her mother remarried an older man who was always away on business but when he was home he didn’t want his wife’s child to be there because he’d already raised one family and didn’t want to deal with Cathie so she was sent away to boarding school, a fact that upsets her for the rest of her life.

Three quarters of the way through The Long Hello, Cathie’s mother asks, “What happened to the joy of life, Cath?” She replies, “I don’t know, what do you think?” “I think you thought it was going to be better than it was.” That is certainly a statement I can relate to at this point in my life and I also identified to Cathie saying, “I wish I was dead too. And when I’m old there isn’t going to be anyone left to take care of me…No one left who knows my story.” “Goddamn it, Hughie – why did I have to be the one left behind?” I’m sure that’s how many people feel when they lose a beloved sibling because I have and that’s exactly how I feel. And I didn’t need to read this book to be reminded of it.

Writer Advice’s 2nd Scintillating Starts Contest

Writer Advice Wants You!Writers advice from The Elements of Style

Entice us. Submit the opening (up to 1500 words) of your book (any genre) to Writer Advice’s 2nd Scintillating Starts Contest. I’ll respond like an agent/editor. You get perspective.

DEADLINE: October 18, 2013. 

JUDGES: Writer and editor B. Lynn Goodwin will judge and may consult with other writers as part of the process. All finalists are winners (small cash award) & can say that to prospective publishers.

PRIZES: Small cash award split evenly among all winners.

ENTRY FEE: $20. FOR BEST RESULTS:

1. Include your name, contact information, and title in the cover letter, but only include your title in the submission so it remains anonymous.

2.   Tell us if the submission is fiction or memoir in the cover letter.

3.   Since we judge these anonymously, please don’t tell us your background or where you’ve been published. If you are a finalist, we’ll ask for a bio.

4.   Please double-space your submission.

SUBMISSIONS: All entries should be submitted through Submittable. Submit to Writer Advice. You may enter UP TO THREE stories, but each is a separate submission with a separate fee of $20.

Winning pieces will be posted in the fall issue of Writer Advice. E-mail questions, but not submissions to editor B. Lynn Goodwin at Lgood67334@comcast.net

Need Help With Your Manuscript? Writer Advice Can Help You!

Writer Advice

Do you need an honest opinion about your writing? Have you written a manuscript that you need help with? Are you looking for a professional proofreader and copyeditor? Do you just need someone to help you to brainstorm and get organized? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, I recommend you get in touch with Writer Advice. Writer Advice is a reasonably priced Manuscript Consultation Service that also offers a number of writer’s resources.

They have grown from an e-mailed research newsletter for writers into an e-zine that invites reader participation and celebrated their ten-year anniversary in October 2007. Writer Advice’s quality fiction, poetry, interviews, reviews, and articles reach readers around the globe.

The primary focus has always been author interviews, and editor B. Lynn Goodwin has had the privilege of corresponding with over 90 well-known and debut authors who have shared their experiences, insights, and inspiration with readers. Recent interviews are archived.

Today Writer Advice not only promotes authors through its interviews but also publishes both experienced and emerging writers, showcasing fresh ideas and high quality writing. Click on Guidelines to learn more. They accept book reviews, prose and poetry. Because reading onscreen is 25% harder than reading on paper, Writer Advice prefers shorter pieces.

They are currently running their 8th Flash Prose Contest and seek flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight them. Finalists receive responses from all judges.

DEADLINE: Submit to the 8th WriterAdvice Flash Prose Contest by April 18, 2013.

Want to contribute on the editorial side? Writer Advice needs help with publicity. Tell your writing peers about them. Bring them advertisers. Make suggestions and be prepared to spearhead the project. Volunteer your services and they will probably say yes. They particularly need a Promotions/Marketing Director. E-mail Lgood67334@comcast.net with your ideas.

About B. Lynn Goodwin

B. Lynn Goodwin is the author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling forYou Want Me To Do What? Caregivers and is the owner and editor of Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com.

Her work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; the Oakland Tribune; the Contra Costa Times; the Danville Weekly; Staying Sane When You’re Dieting; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; Career; We Care; Thickjam.com, Friction Magazine, and The Sun.

Last year she worked under contract for CaregiverVillage.com and StudySync.net. She currently conducts workshops and writes reviews for Story Circle Network and blogs for InspireMeToday, and is at work on two manuscripts, one YA and one memoir.

 

My Cross To Bear by Greg Allmann

Book Review
Title: My Cross to Bear
Author:  Gregg Allman
Publisher: William Morrow
Released: May 1, 2012
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0062112031
ISBN-13: 978-0062112033
Stars:  5.0

It’s no secret that I love music so it goes without saying that I really enjoy reading autobiographies of musicians, and I’ve read quite a few.  But none has been as worthy of note, so brutally honest, poignant and impressive as Gregg Allman’s, who with the help of Alan Light, writes about his remarkable life in My Cross to Bear.

“No, I’m no angel
No I’m not stranger to the streets
I’ve got my label
So I won’t crumble at your feet
And I know baby
So I’ve got scars upon my cheek
And I’m half crazy
Come on and love me baby

No I’m no angel
No I’m no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire with your spark
Oh come on baby
Come and let me show you my tattoo
Let me drive you crazy
Come on and love me baby”

The legendary front man for The Allman Brothers Band has lived a very hard yet rewarding life, filled with ecstasies and tragedies, and in My Cross to Bear he doesn’t sugar coat one single bit of it.  He allows us to see who Gregory really is, flaws and all, and I was so impressed by that.  Reading this book is like sitting down and listening to the man talk directly to you, leading you to believe that he considers you a friend.  I was so captivated by Gregory’s voice and humour that I have been experiencing a re-appreciation of his music that has left me with a little crush on this 64-year-old, long blonde-haired, tattooed man.

Gregory LeNoir Allman hails from Nashville, TN where he was born on December 8, 1947.  Since then he’s spent a large part of his life in Georgia which he calls home.  He’s a true southern gentleman and he writes with his own distinctive southern voice.  You can feel the heat in it, the whiskey, the cigarettes, along with sadness, joy, and hope that he’s still got time left to continue to work at being a better man and a better artist.

Gregory, as he’s known by his friends, is a rock and blues singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter, and one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band – the band who founded Southern Rock.  Inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Gregory has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2006), a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Americana Awards, and his idiosyncratic voice landed him at No. 70 of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.  And he truly is.  His latest album, Low Country Blues, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is a masterpiece.

Gregory explores his fatherless youth (his dad was murdered by a hitchhiker), his stint in military school, the birth of his first bands, and the subsequent evolution of the revolving cast of players in The Allman Brothers.  He revisits the untimely and tragic motorcycle deaths of both his older brother, guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 and band mate, bassist Berry Oakley, a year later.  He is forthcoming about his alcohol and drug addictions including his many unsuccessful attempts at rehab – although he’s been sober since the mid-1990s – the band’s excessive drug use, his reputation for being a “pussy hound”, and his unabashed love for the Hammond B-3 organ.

The Ramblin’ Man also discusses the challenge of working with guitarist Dickey Betts, the highs and lows of touring, skirmishes with the law, and his critically acclaimed solo work.  He professes his love for his mother, his five children (Michael Sean Allman – whom he never met until Michael was a grown man – Devon Lane Allman, Elijah Blue Allman – who he confesses that he doesn’t know very well – Delilah Island Allman – who he describes as the light of his life, and Layla Brooklyn Allman), all of whom have a different mother, his friends, his dogs and Harley Davidson motorcycles.  The man has been married six times, most famously to Cher (1975-79) whom he still respects and gets along with.  Although he’s been tied to the whipping post many times, he doesn’t like to be alone.  He is now engaged to 24-year-old Shannon Williams, who he says will be his first wife.

Gregory, who doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than himself in his autobiography, has dabbled in acting and most notably appeared in the 1991 film Rush directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sam Elliott.  Although he had very little dialogue in the film, his presence made a huge impact on the story as he was absolutely perfect for the role of the drug dealing, criminal heavyweight, Gaines.  I love this movie and have watched it many times, enjoying all of the cast’s performances as well as its memorable soundtrack by Eric Clapton.

Allman has been battling a number of health issues in recent years and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in late 2007, the result of an infection from a dirty tattoo needle.  In 2010 he had a liver transplant.  Through it all, he continues to make music and to tour, both as a solo artist and with The Allman Brothers.

Gregory Allman is a firm believer in everything happening for a reason.  It’s obvious that he’s done a lot of soul-searching since he’s been sober, even finding God in the Episcopal Church.  He lives every day with the grief of the loss of his big brother Duane, someone who continues to inspire the enlightened rogue, and yet just gets on with living his life.  He is truly inspirational.

 Music is my life’s blood.  I love music.  I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it.  And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, “Nice work, little brother – you did all right.

My Cross to Bear is everything that a rock’n’roll memoir should be: well-written, interesting, entertaining, emotive, chock full of stimulating music references, filled with great photos, rated R, and above all, unforgettable.  This is a must read for all music lovers!


Watch Gregg Allman talk about his memoir on CBS This Morning here.