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)
Patti Smith pours out the story of her life with humility, peace and quiet resolve. She starts with the shame and humiliation of getting pregnant in her teens and giving the baby up for adoption in the early 60s. With hardly a dime to her name she moves to New York City where she meets and enters into a loving relationship with the famous photographer, Robert Maplethorpe. Together they supported one another in all their artful endeavors even after he left her for the love of a man. Eventually they moved to the Chelsea Hotel where they associated with well-known poets and authors and artists and musicians of the late 60s and early 70s. Patti's career took off, she married and had two children, and Robert continued his love of photography. Patti took care of him when he contracted AIDS and eventually died. Their love for one another was so extraordinary, so caring for one another, so mutually supportive, so non-judgmental, so void of jealousy and mistrust. I am in awe of Patti's talents as a singer and as a poet and artist, but most of all I admire her humility and honesty. I've always been fascinated with Maplethorpe's work and have a book of some of his photography, mostly of women, and Patti rounds out the line-up of well-known women in the last four photos. She was and is more beautiful than she knows. A few days ago I read where she visited the Occupy Wall Street camp to donate some of her books. While walking among the protesters she came upon an old woman to whom she gave her socks and boots.
Incredibly touching, wonderfully written, beautiful imagery. I loved this book. I had a little bit of a hard time for the first few sentences to get used to the poetic language. But once you listen to Patti's voice and see what she saw... It is a beautiful book, and I really want to share the audio version with others. I could not have loved this book as much without this narration.
Patti Smith sheds a non-judgemental light on an era of New York City when the art and music scenes seemed to be exploding. She crosses the paths of many luminaries (Harry Smith, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol) while slowly finding her own way and becoming the admired singer, poet and artist many adore. This book is very humble, it is not about name-dropping, she is not trying to make her or her friends seem like rock/art royalty. This book is the tale of her often beautiful and enduring friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their respective urges to create.
This book is part personal memoir, part first-person-omniscient narrative. I loved everything about this piece, including Smith' New Jersey styled pronunciations. I hope she writes more.
Former English and drama major, bookaholic.
I just finished reading Just Kids and I have been touched. The story is fluid and full and the way that Patti Smith looks back on her life, her values changing over time, her art but mostly the chronicle of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is inspiring. What comes across is a wonderful poignant love story of a deep, deep friendship. You also get a completely different view of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe than what the press would have us believe. This is the part that touched and surprised me. I still gravitate almost instantly to fiction but this was a wonderful ride.
Really beautiful, understated, and poetically written biography of Patti Smith, focusing on her memories of Robert Mapplethorpe. Instead of choosing to write about her rise to fame, it serves as a backdrop to very salient moments in her life. I read a professional review that suggested she started threads and then never picked them back up, would write about a necklace for paragraphs but barely spend more than a few lines on famous people she met along the way. For me, her writing, storytelling ability, was an art itself. It allowed me to picture myself in the Chelsea with her and Robert, living along side them as they figured out their environment.
People who follow their parents' well trodden path, while transitioning from "just kids" to adults, as they navigate the world, have a blueprint to guide their way. They simply do what was modeled for them, while modifying a few things here and there. But people like Patti and Robert had to transition from 'just kids" to adults making their own path. This is the story of how they met countless novel circumstances in the world of art, poetry, rock and roll, poverty, the punk scene, the drug scene, and so on. They held onto each other as they found ways of navigating such an incredible and unusual existence.
I love this book and I love that Patti narrates. Something special about curling up with my Chilli cat as a favorite rock star poet tells me stories of her life and the loves of her life. I was not bored. Loved it! Thank you Patti <3
Just the other day we watched Patti Smith perform Requiem at her return to Horses show. She ended with a long list of lost heroes. It was Bowie’s 69th Birthday that night. He was not on her list. As I ran through the pre-dawn this morning, a huge eaglish head over Father Hill, Venus winking out brightly as I turned, I gave Bowie that Love planet, and added him silently to her list.
Re-listening to this book quite simply broke my heart again. Just as it built me anew, as any good Bildungsroman will do, it cleaved in me that which is most profound: the art egg that is, Phoenix-like, forever waiting to be laid and broken open, over and over at the behest of what is best in us. The maker smithies herself, the metal gets harder, sharper with each burning. These words, formed in stories and told as pristine history in her masterly truck driver mouthed voice; this is the clarion call I'm so happy to return to, particularly in this time of trenchant mortality in the art-meets-rock world.
Thank you, Patti Smith. As you said of your guitar, this book too, "Is the only weapon you'll ever need."
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