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)
avoiding road rage one book at a time...
Before I picked up this book, here is what I knew about Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe: she was an poet/one-hit wonder and he was a subversive photographer whose exhibition was banned from our local art museum. I wasn't until I heard Patti's interview with Howard Stern, did I learn the two had a connection. Based on that interview, my first real introduction to Patti, I thought her book would be interesting, but I did not know what to expect.
Here is what I got: a beautiful, (at times) haunting, poignant, dripping with ornate detail love story that grew from a chance meeting into a life-long connection. Most people don't get an opportunity to have the kind of relationship that Patti & Robert had. With this book, I gained a front-row seat to the play of their lives, which was packed with chance encounters and quickly formed friendships with some of the most ground-breaking writers, poets, artists & musicians... and the real story; the story of their devotion to one another, which will touch me for the rest of my life.
It took me a few chapters to get used to Patti's style. I am a non-fiction reader who like the facts without pomp & circumstance. Her detailed, poetic styling was a bit overwhelming, but I grew to love it because through her words, I could see. In these 300 pages I witnessed luck, bravery, love, careless abandon, determination, sadness, triumph and pain.
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.
Patti Smith beautifully reminisces about her creative evolution as well as the evolution of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Both helped lay the foundation of New York culture in the arts and music of New York in the 70's and 80's. Two heroes of mine. They should be everyone's heroes if you care for arts and humanity.
Interesting relationship story
I liked it because it was real ... not that it was just about real people, real events, etc., but that the whole thing came across as authentic. It tells the one story about one person I didn't know (Patti), and one person I didn't really think highly off (Robert).
Patti is Patti. I found her narration to be monotonous, but I think she was the only one to tell the story.
No, not really.
Patti Smith gets it all wrong. Edgy rock and rollers are supposed to be narcissists and angry at the world. They’re supposed to resent their parents and childhood, and they’re supposed to see betrayal in all their relationships. They’re supposed to be heading toward some kind of nihilism, taking whatever gifts they might have along with them, consciously squandering their potential greatness behind love and self-destruction.
Instead, Smith actually likes the people she knows. She values her family and friends, and she sees a constant – if slightly moving – target in her art. She is after, always, some sense of poetry that isn’t absent from her America (because that would be easy) but is rather always present but almost over-looked. She believes there’s an audience for the difficult, and she believes there are reasons to find most people she meets interesting.
So, with that, her memoir is worth it just to get a glimpse of her. I’d class myself a B+ fan of her work. I love, very much, her “big” songs – “Because the Night,” “Frederick,” or “Dancing Barefoot,” – and I once spent a summer wearing out the grooves of one side of Horses, but I tire quickly of the more purely poetry cuts. I like some of her images, but find her work undisciplined. But never mind that; if you want a guide through the sometimes cruel, almost always too-cool-for-you world of the 1970s New York City art world, it’s hard to imagine a better guide. Certainly no one this inside it all could care as much about revealing it to the squares like us.
But, of course, the heart of this memoir – which seems to me deserving of its National Book Award – is her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s a strange story, sometimes magical, since she met him on the first day she landed in Brooklyn. I knew him as the famous chronicler of the homosexual underworld of his day, and I knew he’d died of AIDS, so part of me wanted to shout at her from the start, “Don’t fall in love with him – he’s gay even if he doesn’t know it yet.”
It’s a good thing she couldn’t hear me, though, because their relationship is so beautiful. They’re two “kids” who believe in one another, two talented people on the brink of discovering their art, and they discover it in one another before each does in him or herself. They go different ways, but they never stop loving each other. Sex is a curious after-thought in all this. Smith may sleep with half a dozen people, but so what? She chronicles the way she cares about Mapplethorpe, and the way he cares about her. I find him a lot less interesting than her, but he becomes interesting to me for the way he loves her so steadily. (I listened to Smith reading the audio version, and I came to love the way she’d imitate his drawn out, semi-exasperated way of saying her name, “Patttiiii…”)
There are a lot of other fascinating things that happen to Smith along the way. She gets picked up by Allen Ginsberg who thinks she’s just a pretty boy. She has an affair with Sam Shepard and the two casually write a play to kill the time. She takes up with a young Allan Lanier, a member of the just-becoming huge Blue Oyster Cult. And she and Lenny Kaye invent a new way to play rock and roll.
But through all that, the story that ties it together is her affection for Mapplethorpe, and the lens that makes it worthwhile is her own, deeply human one. The version I read includes an appendix with some excerpts of her poetry and songs in memory of Mapplethorpe – and there are moments in all of them to admire – but nothing we see from Smith rivals the simple and beautiful story she tells throughout this memoir.
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