Besides her own version of “Gloria” and “Because the Night“, prior to reading Just Kids I knew little about Patti Smith. I knew she was a punk icon, and that’s about as far as my knowledge of her went. Around December I saw that she had won the National Book Award for Just Kids. Having just finished the book a few weeks ago, it is more than justified. It’s a moving portrait of a young woman on the cusp of fame finding her voice and her inspiration. As influential as her records are in the rock and roll canon, it’s art in general that moved her – whether it be Rimbaugh, The Beats, or Dylan. And at the center of it all is her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Sometimes they were lovers, but most of the time they were kindred spirits who not only saw art as a way of life, but also salvation. Smith’s prose is breathtaking, gorgeous, and always enlightening. After reading Just Kids, I’ve started to really dig into more of her stuff, but the book also made it clear that even if Smith wasn’t famous as a singer, she would still be known in the art world for something. For her, rock and roll just happened to be her the medium she used.
The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved The Soul of America – James Sullivan
The Hardest Working Man tells the story behind James Brown’s famous April 5th 1968 Boston Show and Telecast. I’ve been a fan of Brown’s music for a while, but listening to his music some 45 years later, it’s almost impossible to understand how big his impact on music, popular culture, and Black America really was. Sullivan does a good job of bringing all three parts together and make a compelling book. It’s really interesting to read about the relationship that Brown had with Civil Rights Activists, and his own thoughts on the subject. According to the book, the telecast nearly didn’t happen. The Mayor’s Office of Boston had already arranged the film crew to be there, leaving Brown in a predicament where he could potentially be sued for video infringement if the show was broadcast. Last minute phone calls were made, and as history shows, Brown ended up giving one of the most important concerts ever. I suspect that Brown isn’t rapped most sampled artist just because his music is amazing, but also because of his impact on African American culture.