In 1989, just before famously controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died too young of AIDS complications at age 42, he made his very best friend promise to tell their story. Patti Smith took many years to do it, but the incredible result, Just Kids has proven well worth the wait. Winner of the National Book Award, Smith's delicate tribute to her relationship with Mapplethorpe and their love affair with New York City is read by Patti Smith herself.
No one else could narrate this, and no one else could have written this. After Smith ditched college to move to New York in 1967, a chance encounter in which Mapplethorpe saved her from an expectant date by pretending to be her angry boyfriend touched off one of the most historic artistic partnerships the city had ever seen. Embarking at first as lovers, they clung to their art and each other through poverty and misfortune in the late-60s, moving steadily closer to the center of cultural influence in the 70s. Mapplethorpe struggled with coming out of the closet and Smith struggled to find an artistic medium that suited her best. Together, they swam through everything that made New York great and terrible, each eventually emerging as a pioneering independent spirit that to this day knows no equal.
Smith's voice as both the writer and the narrator is simply unimpeachable. Reflective and soft-spoken, she humbly attempts to capture two decades of this inspirational partnership. Listeners can tell she is thinking through every image she has written here, pausing occasionally to let it sink in for herself or to let the dialogue get caught in her throat. By turns haunted and poetic, by turns silly and sarcastic, Smith trips along these enchanting bits of history in a way that is utterly endearing. It's not at all like inviting somebody famous to entertain you with gossip at dinner. Real respect must be paid. Listeners will be in awe of the fact that Patti Smith comes across as a totally normal person who stumbled into an extraordinary life. Even if you've already passed totally engrossed through the hard copy of this book, to hear it from Patti Smith's own mouth is simply an otherworldly experience. This audiobook is an essential companion to the text that will not only bear repeated listening, but will beg for it. Megan Volpert
National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2010
It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to 42nd Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous - the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.
Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late 60s and 70s and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.
©2010 Patti Smith (P)2011 Patti Smith
“Smith’s beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work.” (Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of the Year)
“The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s that any alumnus has yet committed to print.” (Janet Maslin's top 10 books of 2010, New York Times)
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” (People, Top 10 Books of 2010)
I bought this book years ago based on all of the excellent and glowing reviews of poetic beauty. I kept putting off listening and now I know why. The narration is so monotone, flat and tired sounding that after three hours it all sounds the same. I suggest that you absolutely must listen to the audio sample before you buy this book. There is a chance that you will be ok with the voice and style but I was not.
I agree with other reviewers that some secrets should remain just that--secrets. This dark story of drug use, filth, theft and general living on the edge may be honest--but for it to have impact it also needs insight and reflection. Without such redeeming aspects the story is nothing more than a flat telling. As such for me it lacked the depth needed to truly engage and captivate. It's not enough to say that you felt badly that you stole something--even developed a pattern of petty theft--but there needs to be some sort of self awareness.
On the whole the book felt egocentric and self impressed. Name dropping abounds. What's more, I think the need to shock runs strong in Smith's writing as it did in some of Mapplethorpe's photography. Shocking for shock's sake makes for a boring listen. Can't recommend.
Patti Smith as both author and narrator delivers depth, truth, insight, a most impressive study of the life and times of two true artists. I was captivated by Patti Smith's interview with Terry Gross on the "Fresh Air" podcast and was so pleased to find this available on Audible. This compelling narrative exceeded my high expectations. Authors are rarely the best narrators but such is not the case here. I cannot now imagine this being read by other than Ms. Smith. It is as if you are following her around, looking over her shoulder as her life unfolds before her. This is just SO good. I am very pleased with the story, the narration and the high quality of the audio production. Highly recommended.
Anybody but her
I found this account narcissistic, self-serving and solipsistic. I too lived through this era, and while I enjoyed the references to the events and people of the 60's and 70's I couldn't wait for this book to end. Her performance was great for insomniacs who want to be lulled to sleep, but it made for an incredibly long listen. I can't imagine how this was awarded the National Book Award. Maybe the committee was impressed by all her references to the great artists and her never ending name dropping of the great performers of this era.
I really wanted to like this book and enjoyed it for awhile, but by the end I was like, OK Robert, die, so that we can turn this thing off.
This was a sad book. I had expected a Rock & Roll memoir from the queen of 1970s New York alt rock scene. I had read the book description, but still. This was the story of Patti’s life with Robert Mapplethorpe as they grew up together, young Bohemians, in New York. While they cross paths with many of the icons of the day, Patti’s music career is a footnote. I have a new appreciation for Mapplethorpe. Art can be disagreeable to me and yet I can understand the artist and appreciate the creativity. Patti’s portrait of him is so tender and her love for him so sincere, it’s hard not to feel for both of them as they struggled to eat as friends and neighbors in the Hotel Chelsea committed suicide, overdosed and succumbed to disease. It’s easy to imagine rock stars and artists crafting personas. Patti and Robert were the real deal and their story very moving. I’d like to mark the topic as music, but this was the memoir of artists one of whose medium happened to be music in popular culture.
I was a freshman at the Corcoran in 1978, Patti Smith was cool. Ten years later, I was a widow working as a lab technician in an AIDS lab, and a year later Robert Maplethorpe died. By that time, I was shell-shocked by death, homophobia and the terror of becoming single in a world of AIDS. It took me over a decade to pay off the enormous medical bills my husband left me and finding my way back to painting and writing.
At 2:30am this morning, New Year's Day 2012, in bed with my iPod, I downloaded this book and entered a time machine. Everything I assumed I knew about these two people via their mythology was wrong.
This book had a profound effect on me and yet, I wonder how it will be received by those outside the solar systems of art and AIDS in that timeframe, hopefully with an open mind. These two people whose lives in the rearview mirror are legendary. It may come as a surprise that most people in those days were so so naive and innocent. We were not drowning in the world wide web of data... growing up Catholic and confused by a world outside our limited view, all the while living on the edge...
I love this book and it will find a permanent home on my iPod. A reminder of a place and time that formed many who are now graying and even more confused.
Not in a million years.
Not in a million years
Choose someone who can modulate their voice and express even a modicum of emotion.
The beginning, the middle and the end.
Get over yourself, Patti Smith. You name-dropped your way into a novel with a story that could have been told in 30 pages.
Patti Smith is such an interesting and admirable person, independent, intelligent and very much her own person but the memoir turned into a litany of "people who became someone" in the second section and, as such, dated it. Her life would have been so much more interesting as the center rather than appended to others - at least it felt that way - that I wish she had told her non-Robert Mapplethorpe story rather than constantly revolving about his art/obsession/confusion. Hers is a lot more interesting.
Much too much repetition of information and there is NO "L" in the word DRAW or DRAWING!!! Had to stop about halfway through. Maybe a different narrator could present Patti's story in a more pleasing-to-the-ear manner,
work as an artist and art restorer. read at least 48 books a year, because I can listen while I work.
Ordinarily, I do not like to comment or review a book unless I found it to be exceptional or something I truly enjoyed. This book had a riveting story, and I like these people as artists, but had to get over Patti Smith's reading of it. She has a way of speaking that is flat and monotonous. That being said, I thought this was worthwhile
I wanted to like this book. In particular, I was hoping to learn more about the music scene in downtown New York in the early 70s. I was disappointed on both counts. Think of this book instead, as a hagiography of Robert Mapplethorpe. This is a world viewed through rose-colored glasses, one largely sanitized of the gritty reality that surely existed. Full of name dropping and hero worship (if I have to hear of Arthur Rimbaud one more time.....), apparently all was done in the name of art. Unfortunately, this work achieves little either in terms of art or as an honest account of an interesting time.
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