Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two Different Takes on the 60s/70s

Whether its the coincidence of the publishing schedule, or what happens when enfant terribles hit their sixties, there are two alternate takes on the late 60s/early 70s in today's Observer. Patti Smith's new book, "Just Kids," is a prose memoir of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe on her arrival in New York in the late 60s. If the extract from the Observer is anything to go by, it will be a must read. Almost uniquely literate amongst rock musicians - after all, she began as a poet, and in many ways created her own hybrid - it's perhaps no surprise to be riveted by the story. Smith was extremely lucky in her muses, with Mapplethorpe, Fred "Sonic" Smith, Tom Verlaine and others she connected with some of the great spirits of the seventies; it nurtured her art, but she also nurtured theirs; but as any cursory reading of her biography knows, meeting Mapplethorpe on coming to New York, was crucial. I've always felt his photography and her music are two different stems from a similar bud - grown from that fervent artistic hotbed of lower East-side New York in the late sixties and early seventies, watered at the Chelsea Hotel, St. Marks' Poetry Project and Max's Kansas City amongst other places.

Though we have no extract, Martin Amis's new novel "The Pregnant Widow" also looks at that "golden generation", but from the other side of the Atlantic. In a positive review in the Observer, Tim Allen makes the point that by returning to his own autobiography, the post-Oxford demi-monde of early 70s artistic London, Amis's supreme comic voice has perhaps found a way to thrive now he's also in his sixties. I'm looking forward to it, though perhaps not as much as the Patti Smith memoir.

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