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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.
What disappointed you about Just Kids?
Really? All these years later, she seems to have no sense of how shallow they all were. It's one thing to write about an earlier self with kindness; it's another to repeat the self-involved "brilliances" as if they really were brilliant. Someone seems to have been living in a sycophantic cocoon a little too long. And jesus, someone needed an editor to tell her that it's just as nice to write "I walked quietly" as "I strolled in an ambiance of stillness" or some such purply dreck. It's just more of the same Boomer self-indulgence and utter inability to see the larger world that has sunk most of these rock-n-roll memoirs.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
At first I wanted to kind of hug her and tell her, Really, even still, you're way more into him than he ever was into you. Like it was a little sad for her to be controlling this story, given his death, and trying to frame it in favorable terms for her. But eventually it was more pathetic than sad. And it just wouldn't end!
Any additional comments?
Famous people's books really suffer from their ability to refuse to bow to editors.
23 of 30 people found this review helpful
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.
26 of 34 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Only if the friend has a particular interest in the subject matter. I respect the open and honest account, but it often came across to me as a prolonged name-dropping session.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Patti Smith?
I can totally understand why she reads this work herself -- it's highly personal and it would probably feel wrong to have someone else read it... but she should have. Her reading is, as others have mentioned, oddly flat and dry, and I found her pronunciation of some words distracting at best and annoying at worst. (A good example is "drawing" which is used a lot, and her pronunciation of the word "birthday" is... very strange.)
Any additional comments?
This book is not without value, but it seems over-rated to me. I choose it because of the glowing reviews, but found it to be a fairly ordinary account.
18 of 24 people found this review helpful
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.
23 of 31 people found this review helpful
"Nothing is finished until you see it."
- Robert Mapplethorpe, quoted in 'Just Kids'
"Who can know the heart of youth but youth itself?"
- Patti Smith, 'Just Kids'
A memoir of images, people, and hopes 'Just Kids' explores the funky relationship of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe as they began their unique relationship and struggled to emerge as artists. The power of this memoir is the way Patti Smith works the words to create a canvas broad enough to catch both Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith as they grow and flower.
I fell in love with Patti Smith and her music in college twenty+ years ago and loved her raw power and openness. Through her I discovered Mapplethorpe and although I never quite got excited by his more iconic S&M photos, I loved his flowers and his boldness. I knew their myth, but this book gave a greater glimpse into their relationship and the galaxy of their friends. I never knew about her relationship with Sam Smith, Allen Lanier, etc., or her friendship with many of the Chelsea Hotel crowd, beat poets, etc. The book is a great exploration of friendship, love and art. It is also a great tribute to the role of mentors, art benefactors, work, hope, and no small amount of luck in the creation of great art.
Patti Smith reading Patti Smith is an amazing thing. Her audiobook isn't quite performance, but with her distinctive voice giving her words wings, amazing things happen.
25 of 34 people found this review helpful
The narration was very drone like and tedious to listen too. I won't be finishing the book. I think if you grew up in some States and that era (I'm Canada) and new a lot about art and literature it would be interesting. A lot of name dropping and I didn't know most of them.
9 of 12 people found this review helpful
Who or what constitutes an artist? Now, there's a a topic for hours of passionate discussion amongst yourselves. Picasso said that “every child is an artist;” Maslow talked about the need for self-actualisation as being the most elusive and enduring human needs; and we've all heard the claim that creativity is our birthright. Patti Smith without question believes herself an "artist" as well as a "Punk Rock's poet laureate, a singer, songwriter, actress and playwright."
I don't deny Patti Smith's raw creativity, or her commitment, but I feel more than any other reason for her *fame* she was lucky enough to meet Robert Mapplethorpe and benefit from the slipstream of his artistic vision and drive. Through him she gained entrance into the world that accepted her type of creativity and propelled her into the limelight she so craved. She herself always seemed to be this underground personality associated with the punk scene and those *stars,* a free-spirit looking for her niche through performance experimentation -- and sometimes it felt very amateurish and uncontrolled. Other than "Because the Night" and an eloquent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech on behalf of Lou Reed, I wasn't too aware of Smith's specific works, though I was aware of her icon status.
The book is well written and at times truly poetic, this upped my impression of Smith's talents. It was interesting to read about the turbulent period of time in NYC, and the luminaries that gave color to the decadent and creative period, more so for me at least, than the scavenging through thrift stores and living off the kindness of others. Unfortunately, I didn't find the magic others claim to have found; I didn't see a beautiful love story or an artist's struggle, the flicker of youth captured. I had my own young love; my own beautiful Polaroid moments of youth I can satisfactorily reflect on. For some reason, I experienced in Smith's memoir an egotistical justification for an irresponsible life-style that excluded any responsibility or consequences. Smith came across as arrogant and entitled, a girl with no more talent than anyone else -- just more drive, more luck, more connections, more bravado, and less self consciousness and fewer standards. On the positive side, her love for Mapplethorpe was genuine and unwavering through their journey to the *in-crowd.* The devotion was admirable, and I enjoyed this candid part of her story.
I just kept wondering to myself..."So?! Haven't most of us had times when we've felt compelled to say the hell with what we have to do, what needs to be done, and just go full-throttle Bohemian?!" How many of us would like to call ourselves an artist following our muse? I felt the book sprang from the sincere heart of a devoted friend and an interesting, avant-garde woman. I think this is a great read for those interested in the NYC scene during this period of time...you won't be disappointed. This wasn't my favorite bio, and I don't see the overwhelming appeal it has had for readers (and to deserve the National Book Award), but like art, it's mostly a matter of taste.
13 of 18 people found this review helpful
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.
43 of 61 people found this review helpful
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.
17 of 24 people found this review helpful
An astounding tribute to Smith, Mapplethorpe, their astonishing life journey and their work. I lived it, loved it, now I had the chance to read about it. And I'll do so again.
25 of 36 people found this review helpful