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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids (edition 2010)

by Patti Smith

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Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
completed 3/16/14
  bookmagic | Apr 23, 2014 |
[Just Kids] by Patti Smith
Just Kids is the perfect title for Patti Smith's autobiography of her early life as a struggling artist in New York in the late 1960's and early 1970's. She looks back on those times with nostalgia, some pride and an adults view of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, which forms the essential core of this book.

Mapplethorpe went on to become an important voice in the photographic world of the 1970's and 1980's. It was a time before the advent of digital photography where care and hard work in the studio could lead to stunning results, especially in the medium of black and white, however when Patti met Robert in 1967 they were "just kids". Mapplethorpe was painstakingly putting together a portfolio of his drawings, paintings and collages, whilst trying to earn a living as a casual labourer. Patti got a more regular job in a bookshop and under Robert's influence put together her own portfolio of poetry, writing and drawing. Their existence was very much hand to mouth often relying on friends for floor space or handouts, but their belief in their own talents, their determination to succeed and the mutual support that they gained from their relationship saw them through. Smith does an excellent job of describing these early years when they sacrificed everything except their love for each other to succeed in the world of art. Their precious portfolios went with them everywhere and were even used as collateral to gain themselves a foothold in the famous Chelsea Hotel.

Smith and Mapplethorpe realised that all the talent in the world would not be enough to get the success they craved; it was equally important to know the right people. Patti staked out the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel (this was more a question of necessity in the early days as they were sharing the smallest room in the establishment) and they both hung out in Max's bar in the evenings, where Andy Warhol's people congregated. They needed to be accepted by the "in" crowd to stand a chance of securing a patron, a commission, or collaborations with other artists. Throughout their struggles Patti's support for Robert was unwavering even when he experimented with drugs, explored the S & M gay scene and found male lovers, eventually moving in with a male partner. She was just as sure that Robert would always be there for her.

[Just Kids] has become a best selling autobiography and you have to look beyond the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe to discover why. After all they are hardly household names. Patti Smith went on to become a rock star but she was hardly a mega name and while some people may have heard of Mapplethorpe it would mostly be because of a certain notoriety.

The book would obviously appeal to anyone interested in the 1970's rock scene (me for instance) particularly as Patti Smith rose to stardom along with the burgeoning New Wave scene centred around the CBGB's club. It would also appeal to people interested in Robert Mapplethorpe's photographic work (me again) as Smith gives an excellent account of his influences and how he took up photography as his mode of expression. (I was also curious about their relationship as I had always pegged Mapplethorpe as a gay man). The book has a wider appeal because it seems to accurately describe the life and times of struggling artists in the 1970's New York scene. Not only is there plenty of name dropping, but there is a real feel for the time and the place. Smith takes us inside the Chelsea Hotel, she describes how two outsiders gradually wormed their way into the art scene, she tells of sickness and wretchedness and how two kids survived the pitfalls and how they were touched by the early deaths of so many shooting stars with whom they may have rubbed shoulders; it captures the atmosphere of the times brilliantly.

Above all though it is a love story tinged with tragedy and this I think explains it's widest appeal. Patti was Robert's earliest muse and he supported her in whatever venture she undertook. When they drifted apart mainly because of Mapplethorpe's need for a homosexual lover, there was still an important connection between them and Smith is at her best telling this story with honesty and feeling that is deeply affecting.

I read this book before going to see a major retrospective of Mapplethorpe's photographs which is showing in Paris this summer at the Grand Palais and at the Rodin Museum. Patti Smith was Mapplethorpe's earliest model and he took photos of her for her album covers, he also took many self portraits and seeing all these pictures on show really did bring the two characters to life. An excellent read which I would rate as 4 stars. ( )
7 vote baswood | Apr 12, 2014 |

This is one of those books that even when you've managed to put it aside for a moment keeps winking and flapping its endpapers seductively at you from the coffee table. Its black cover sleek and alluring, you give in every time because Patti Smith's prose is pulsing and rhythmic, and dammit, you want to know what happens next. Patti was a pioneer in the early days of the New York punk scene, but this isn't really about that. She had arrived in the city well before punk's genesis, and that is where the story starts. Early on, she meets a young Robert Mapplethorpe. Confluent events bring them together, perhaps with gentle pushes from fate's steady hand. Both were just starting out, wide-eyed and bursting with energy they yearned to channel into art. Eventually she gravitated toward poetry and music, and he to photography, but it would be a long road they'd walk together before they made their marks. They had found each other in New York City at a magical time, when so many present and future icons of literature, rock-and-roll, stage, and art all crossed paths. There is some serious name-dropping in this book, but Patti manages to pull it off without any trace of braggadocio. She is a humble narrator and that's one reason this memoir is so readable. At its most basic level, the book is a love story, certainly an unconventional one, and yet also one from which there is much to learn. Highly recommended for anyone who is curious about either of these individuals, wants to know more about fringe culture happening in NYC from the late 60s to the mid 70s, and/or who believe in a strange kind of love (to borrow a phrase from Peter Murphy). ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
Summary: Patti Smith left home as a young woman in 1967, moved to New York, met Robert Mapplethorpe, and fell in love. They were young and poor together, but then started making art… or something? I didn't get past them being young and poor and in love before I gave it up.

Review: One more tally in the "memoirs about being poor are not my cup of tea" category. This was the wrong book for the wrong person. It was my book club's pick for the month; I never would have picked it up on my own. I have no connection to either Smith or Mapplethorpe or their music/art, no connection to the period, no real reason to pick the book up. But I gamely gave it a shot. But I was soon rolling my eyes at her descriptions of the lucid, transcendental mind-expanding visions she was having as a feverish two-year-old (I'm so sure).

"My small torrent of words dissipated into an elaborate sense of expanding and receding. It was my entrance into the radiance of imagination. This process was especially magnified within the fevers of influenza, measles, chicken pox, and mumps. I had them all and with each I was privileged with a new level of awareness. Lying deep within myself, the symmetry of a snowflake spinning above me, intensifying through my lids, I seized a most worthy souvenir, a shard of heaven's kaleidoscope." --Location 78

Even though the childhood stuff didn't last long, even when she's old enough to leave home it was close enough to my least favorite "look at my terrible childhood" sub-genre of memoir that I was not having a good time. Then I realized two things. First, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to attend my book club meeting where we were discussing this book anyways. Second, I realized that I was having to force myself through the book, and after days of this, I was still only at 15% complete. Sorry, Just Kids: life's too short.

Recommendation: It's won a bunch of awards, and even within my book club, an informal poll suggests everybody but me really liked it. So although the subject wasn't interesting to me (and I wasn't crazy about the writing style, either), fans of Smith's or people interested in the time period will probably have better luck with it. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Mar 20, 2014 |
Well-written. Interesting story of "back in the day". ( )
  bogopea | Mar 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
The reader knows who Smith and Mapplethorpe will become, so it is intriguing to read about his continued attempts to encourage her to become a musician, while she urges him to delve into photography.
“Just Kids” is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed.
It’s possible to come away from “Just Kids” with an intact image of the title’s childlike kindred spirits who listened to Tim Hardin’s delicate love songs, wondered if they could afford the extra 10 cents for chocolate milk and treasured each geode, tambourine or silver skull they shared, never wanting what they couldn’t have or unduly caring what the future might bring. If it sometimes sounds like a fairy tale, it also conveys a heartbreakingly clear idea of why Ms. Smith is entitled to tell one.

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, PattiAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mapplethorpe, RobertPhotographersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Speaker, Mary AustinDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added. Young men will adopt his gait. Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls. He will be condemned and adored. His excesses damned or romanticized. In the end, truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artist. It will not fall away. Man cannot judge it. For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.
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I was asleep when he died.
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In this memoir, singer-songwriter Patti Smith shares tales of New York City : the denizens of Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner's, Brentano's and Strand bookstores and her new life in Brooklyn with a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe--the man who changed her life with his love, friendship, and genius.… (more)

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