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Editorial Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

“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)

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Just Robert Mapplethorpe (and Patti Smith)

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.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Smith's reading adds another dimension

I couldn't decide whether to buy the book or listen to the audio version. When I saw Patti Smith read her book, herself, I opted for the Audible edition. I'm very glad I did. This is a powerful and inspiring work. Smith puts a lot of emotion into her reading, which would come as no surprise to anyone interested to read the book in the first place. Patti Smith brings the same intensity to her reading and writing as she does to her music and poetry.

Any artist who believes they are held back by family connections, wealth or education, should read this book even if you've never heard of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe. Not everything they had to do to survive in 1970s New York was pretty, but they did it with style and courage, and they achieved what they planned to achieve. This book is a candid and beautiful memoir.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Beautiful, moving

I thought I knew so much about these two, and this era. It was interesting to bring more clarity to the times they lived in. But the greater gift here is Patti Smiths' clear, poetic telling of this deep intimate, artistic relationship. It's wonderful to hear it in her voice. It's just beautiful.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Extraordinary

I'd heard many kudos for this book and am adding mine to the long list. An eloquent, hypnotic and insightful read into a unique relationship between artists who knew their gifts long before they were discovered. A loving tribute by Ms. Smith to her lover, friend and co-conspirator, Mr. Mapplethorpe. Her voice, while calm and somewhat droll, enhances the poetry of her words.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Beautiful telling of a life like no other

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.

8 of 14 people found this review helpful

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And to think I almost took a pass on this one...

I love the honesty and mispronunciations of Patti's reading. Here she is -a brilliant, insightful intellect with the Jersey vernacular keeping her human. The book begins slow, almost ho-hum like light snowflakes that swirl around until it becomes ground cover, then the whole snowball effect takes place and by the end of the book you'll feel like you just rode an avalanche. It's an artistic, culturally penetrating, honest and most importantly- heartfelt love story.

8 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Too much repetition

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,

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic, great narration!

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.

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • genevieve
  • ANACORTES, WA, United States
  • 08-20-11

She is the best.

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.

6 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic to hear this in Patti’s voice

I loved hearing the story of Patti and Robert in her voice. I have no criticism I loved ever word.