Just Kids

Just Kids

In Just Kids, Patti Smith's first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality...

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Title:Just Kids
Author:Patti Smith
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Edition Language:English

Just Kids Reviews

  • Ian

    I can see why some reviews detect white-washing or sugar-coating in "Just Kids", but I wanted desperately to believe the story Patti Smith was telling about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

    Patti admits to her naivete, but I don't think she was trying to hide stuff from her kids or anything.

    Nor do I think she closed off her emotions about her past.

    Ultimately, the book is a love story, only the love extended over a long period, and sometimes it

    I can see why some reviews detect white-washing or sugar-coating in "Just Kids", but I wanted desperately to believe the story Patti Smith was telling about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

    Patti admits to her naivete, but I don't think she was trying to hide stuff from her kids or anything.

    Nor do I think she closed off her emotions about her past.

    Ultimately, the book is a love story, only the love extended over a long period, and sometimes it was requited, sometimes not.

    Lots of things got in the way, sexuality for starters, drugs for main course, other partners for dessert.

    But the book is about a love that they shared, and a youth that they both retained the whole of their lives, no matter what happened on the inside or the outside and no matter how poor or successful they were.

    The name of the book asserts her belief that all that time they really were "just kids", those two kids that the tourists photographed soon after they first met.

    Although Patti reveals a lot about Robert, I think ultimately the book is her final expression of love for him.

    I think it's important that she express her sugary side anyway, rather than "hide your love away".

    The book might be relatively sugar-coated for our image of Patti Smith, but her sugar isn't as sickly sweet as most sleb love stories.

    One of the reasons I empathise with this book so much is my passion for Robert Mapplethorpe's photography (not to mention Patti's music, lyrics and poetry).

    In March - April, 1986, I was on the Board of the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, at the time we helped to bring an exhibition of Robert's photos to Australia.

    It was a time of great political and moral conservatism in Queensland.

    The Board included artists and academics who feared the loss of their jobs, if they were involved in the exhibition of photography that might later be found to be obscene under our criminal laws.

    Many Board Meetings in the lead up to the exhibition debated whether we should not proceed with the exhibition or remove particular images (including "Man in Polyester Suit").

    I made some tentative preparations to deal with a potential criminal action against the Board Members, including getting expert evidence on Robert's artistic status.

    In the end, we decided to proceed with the exhibition in an uncensored form. All images were displayed in the form submitted by the artist and the curator.

    The exhibition was highly popular and no complaints were made to the Police.

    No criminal prosecution occurred.

    The important lesson is that we could have self-censored and lost our own freedom.

    Instead, we asserted and preserved our freedom in the face of fear.

    For me, Robert and Patti represent, not just the existence of freedom in the abstract, but the assertion of freedom in reality.

    They more than earned the right to their love.

  • William2

    I admire this woman. She writes a deft, deeply felt prose. She has a peerless memory. She remembers gestures, apparel worn thirty years ago, favorite objects, facial expressions, stretches of dialog. She can reanimate for us moments of deep emotional complexity. This was clearly a labor of love. The character study of Robert Mapplethorpe is disturbing, shattering. We watch Smith living with him as a veil is lifted from her awareness, as her empathy broadens and she carries the reader along with

    I admire this woman. She writes a deft, deeply felt prose. She has a peerless memory. She remembers gestures, apparel worn thirty years ago, favorite objects, facial expressions, stretches of dialog. She can reanimate for us moments of deep emotional complexity. This was clearly a labor of love. The character study of Robert Mapplethorpe is disturbing, shattering. We watch Smith living with him as a veil is lifted from her awareness, as her empathy broadens and she carries the reader along with her. This is memoir as maelstrom, cataclysmic in its effect. There's more than sufficient foreshadowing. We know that Robert will die. Yet one still finds oneself grabbing futilely for the gunwales, whirling ever faster, ever downward and inward.

    The book reminds me of Jean Stein and George Plimpton's

    in it's New York setting. But Stein and Plimpton's book consists of transcripts of recorded conversations worked up into semi-confessional monologues. It's compelling, but it doesn't touch the nimble pairing of image and incident we find in

    , nor does it have the latter's exquisite verbal compression. Like

    , this book details an era of New York's art and cultural scene, but with a vividness I've never come across before. This intensity radiates from The Hotel Chelsea where Mapplethorpe and Smith occupied a room.

    The middle third of the book gets a little lost in name dropping. I suppose that's inevitable. There's less insight into Mapplethorpe, whom the author is growing away from. The sixties greats parade by: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, et al. Then the artists and then the poets and so on. The narrative dissipates under this welter of names. Smith dates poet and rocker, Jim Carroll ("People Who Died"). She dates playwright Sam Shepherd (

    , etc.) One begins to lose track. Who's Matthew with the 45s again? We watch Smith's astonishing evolution from visual artist to poet to rock and roller. If someone were to write this story as fiction, it would probably be criticized as unrealistic.

    The theme, one of them, is the artist being true to his or herself and doing the work. Fascinating is the level at which which both Mapplethorpe and Smith learn their art. They are huge talents but they have entered a talented artistic circle that beggars description. When Shepherd has to leave Smith to return to his wife, they pen a valedictory play which is later staged at the American Place Theater in midtown. Mapplethorpe falls in love with photography when curator John McKendry brings him into the Met vaults and shows him rarely exhibited works by Stieglitz, Strand and Eakins. Until then he was hesitant to do his own photography, though Smith had repeatedly encouraged him to; he worked in photo collages with images from male magazines. Smith in her turn is cajoled into poetry by Gregory Corso and into song writing by Bobby Neuwirth. Who can claim such mentors and so many of them? Most artists' develop in far less encouraging settings. Smith and Mapplethorpe have been incredibly blessed.

    Toward the end the author reaches for a kind of ecstatic prose flight that seldom works. Fortunately the attempts at woolgathering are few. We are soon returned to earth by way of Mapplethorpe's suffering. I was especially pleased to learn that in his last 15 years or so, he had found a partner, Sam Wagstaff, who supported him in all he did. Wagstaff was both patron and lover, and rich as Croesus. Mapplethorpe no longer had to hustle sex on 42nd Street to make the rent. Wagstaff bought him a studio on Bond Street, walking distance from his own flat. Smith herself no longer needed to work at Scribners bookstore either. She recorded

    which made her an international star. So when the end comes at least it is unmarked by the poverty and obscurity of Smith and Mapplethorpe's earlier years. Smith, living in Detroit by then with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, drives to New York to see both men—Sam is sick, too—during their final illnesses. Her last encounter with Robert, before he's wheeled off, was for this reader Sophoclean in its tragic impact. The love these two shared, the exquisite trust! Suddenly, it's gone. A void prevails.

    By no means perfect, this is still an astonishing, emotionally affecting book. As with all great writing, its effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Please read it.

  • Cheri

    4.5 Stars

    It was that summer when Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe.

    4.5 Stars

    It was that summer when Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe.

    is a love story of these two young people who, against all odds, meet, fall in love, and cling to that love long after they’ve chosen other partners, other ways of life, and love. It’s a love story of the city where they fell in love, and perhaps even a bit of a love story to the art and poetry and music that was created in the course of their love story.

    They combined their meager possessions, but money was problematic, they barely made enough money for food – and frequently went without. Extras were out of reach. Books they had already owned were their prized possessions, as was their music limited to those albums they’d brought into this relationship. And still, they were able to enjoy some concerts just by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right person.

    There are a very few years that they were not in touch, Smith’s focused on her music career, her marriage to Fred “Sonic” Smith, and Mapplethorpe focused on his art, his partner. Time passes, children come along, and when Smith is expecting a second child, they re-establish communication.

    I knew very little about Patti Smith, I knew who she was, is, and that I’ve heard some of her songs, knew she was a musician… beyond that, nothing. So, when this book first came out, and my brother sent me a signed copy of this, along with a few other books, and I vaguely recall seeing it and wondering why he sent it to me. And then, years later, also sent me a signed copy of M Train. I was beginning to feel a little guilty.

    I loved this. There’s a bit of that raw energy and the grittiness of living in their early days together, the descriptions of the city, especially at night. The Romeo and Julietness of it all. Beautiful prose.

    Their story reminded me of one of my favourite poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s

  • Eddie Watkins

    I never thought much about Patti Smith. The images I saw of her never attracted me, and what I knew of her Rimbaud fixation turned me off. I always had a problem with the Beat and Punk appropriation of Rimbaud as more a figure of rebellion than a sophisticated poet. For me poetry is a phenomenon of the page, not an outfit you wear down the street. I also never got into Punk Rock. Going to college in the fall of 1983 I had probably only heard of The Sex Pistols, though I had never listened to the

    I never thought much about Patti Smith. The images I saw of her never attracted me, and what I knew of her Rimbaud fixation turned me off. I always had a problem with the Beat and Punk appropriation of Rimbaud as more a figure of rebellion than a sophisticated poet. For me poetry is a phenomenon of the page, not an outfit you wear down the street. I also never got into Punk Rock. Going to college in the fall of 1983 I had probably only heard of The Sex Pistols, though I had never listened to them. Then when I got to college I was immersed in it, without my choosing to be. I loved some of it but just never pursued it as an interest or as a lifestyle, it was just the soundtrack to my experiences. At the time I was more into focused listening of Prince (and King Crimson and The Talking Heads) than Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys. And somehow, even during college, I managed to never listen to

    ... until a couple years ago. But what a great album! and I would say about it what I would say about other Punk I've gotten into since - such as Television and The Minutemen - that it is nothing other than simply great Rock & Roll. So I grew curious about Patti Smith and then this book came out and I snatched it up. It's a sweet and gritty account of her growing into maturity and how it coincided with her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. There's a wise naturalness in how she grew into the woman we now know. There was ambition, but only on her own terms, and there was no striving to be part of a scene outside of herself (& Robert), though she ended up in one fascinating scene after another as the grimy and vibrant New York art/bohemian landscape tumultuously morphed into the previously unknown seemingly by the hour in the late 1960's and early 1970's. She portrays these scenes as the outsider she always felt she was, yet they're portrayed head-on, not through a scrim of self-consciousness or psychic distance: she was in the thick of it, even acting as a nurturing figure to many, yet she was also strangely apart from it. Throughout there's a focus on her intimate relationships and how their effects radiated out into the situations she was involved in, which gives the feeling of a real

    regardless of how crazy things were. But whoever she was with - Jim Carroll, Sam Shepard, a guy from Blue Oyster Cult - Mapplethorpe sill permeated her consciousness. In many ways they were alike, but in even more important ways they were very different, and part of the fascination of this book is pondering the duality they set up - Robert alienated from his family and erasing his past to find the future while Patti was always firmly bedded in her past and in her family, Robert's wild drug use and Patti's basically straight life, Patti's Victorian sloppiness and Robert's decadent minimalism, and of course the sexual complications. This book is not only entertaining but lovely and wise too.

  • Will Byrnes

    Hi Ho, the artistic life.

    I had very divergent feelings about

    , Patti Smith's National-Book-Award-winning memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. There were times that I felt moved by the beauty of her writing, and others in which I found her to be nothing more than another spoiled, entitled kid who got where she got to, talented or not, because of connections. It is not that Smith arrived in NYC with a list of names and numbers. But she did have the good fortune to encoun

    Hi Ho, the artistic life.

    I had very divergent feelings about

    , Patti Smith's National-Book-Award-winning memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. There were times that I felt moved by the beauty of her writing, and others in which I found her to be nothing more than another spoiled, entitled kid who got where she got to, talented or not, because of connections. It is not that Smith arrived in NYC with a list of names and numbers. But she did have the good fortune to encounter a knight in shining armor who had a prodigious artistic drive and the good looks to attract a series of male gateways to the New York arts scene.

    - image from El Pais - photo credit - Cordon Press

    There is no doubt about the deep connection Smith formed with Robert Mapplethorpe, famed photographer to-be. They were not only lovers, but bffs. And that continued long after they stopped sharing a bed.

    Smith takes us on a journey through the gritty and some not-so-gritty portions of the New York arts scene, offering glimpses of the many, many people she and Mapplethorpe met. It is a veritable who's who, including bits and pieces on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepherd, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, and a cast of hundreds. I never got the impression that Smith was name-dropping. She was as amazed as any aspiring artist might be at finding herself among so many notables. One downside to this is that so many shining lights speed by like houses at night as seen from a train. I would have liked it had she gone into a little (or a lot) more detail on more of these luminaries. She certainly does reinforce the image of the Chelsea Hotel as a cauldron of creativity in its day.

    The story of her arrival in New York, meeting Mapplethorpe and struggling to get by is worth the price of admission, a real look at what it means to be a starving artist. And that is not just a glib turn-of-phrase, as Patti, at times, made use of the five-finger discount in order to eat. It is also fun to read about how she and Robert trolled discount stores for materials they would use to make jewelry or incorporate into other artistic projects.

    – image from Vanity Fair

    Despite the minimal physical mileage traversed here, Just Kids is a bit of a road story. Instead of crossing continents, she and Mapplethorpe cross from obscurity to fame, from outsiders to insiders, from fellow travelers (in a very non-political sense) to lovers to soulmates

    I was surprised at a few things. Ok, look at almost any photo of Patti Smith and tell me with a straight face that she doesn't make you think of the Calvin Klein ideal of physical appearance. Yet, when she appeared in a play as a person with drug issues she was completely uncomfortable pretending to shoot up. Even her director was shocked at her lack of hard drug experience. A little weed here and there does not give one that lovely Ginger Baker look. A diet sprinkled with stolen food contributed for sure, but nature sculpted that body, not dark substances. I was also surprised--having come to the book with no familiarity with Smith beyond her recording of “Because the Night”--about the diversity of her artistry, running from drawing to poetry, to playwrighting, to acting, and so on.

    I have read better memoirs, and I do not think this should have won the National Book Award. But there is no missing the real feeling she communicates, the love she and Mapplethorpe had for each other. Her writing is good, sometimes better than good, and you will not be disappointed. But for many, the lifestyles presented here might be discomfiting, the willingness to engage in hustling, thievery, and very open relationships make the artistic world Smith and Mapplethorpe inhabited a decidedly acquired taste.

    =============================

    Links to the author’s

    ,

    and

    pages

  • Patrick Brown

    This book is remarkably easy to parody. Here, I'll try:

    "I was crossing Tompkins Square Park when I ran into a young man wearing a gabardine vest. He smiled at me and called me "Sister." It was a young George Carlin. Robert hated him because he frequently had flakes of rye bread in his beard, but I loved how he could make me laugh with his impressions of Mick Jagger. On this morning, though, we wept together at the news that Paul McCartney would have to sell his house in Cannes. It was a sort of

    This book is remarkably easy to parody. Here, I'll try:

    "I was crossing Tompkins Square Park when I ran into a young man wearing a gabardine vest. He smiled at me and called me "Sister." It was a young George Carlin. Robert hated him because he frequently had flakes of rye bread in his beard, but I loved how he could make me laugh with his impressions of Mick Jagger. On this morning, though, we wept together at the news that Paul McCartney would have to sell his house in Cannes. It was a sort of paradise for us, even though we'd never been. George gave me a feather to put in my hair, and I took it home and pressed it between two pieces of crepe de chine, where it left a ghostly impression. Robert insisted on using it in a construction, and finally I relented, though I knew I'd never get it back. It was a sacrifice to art, the sort of thing Rimbaud would've done."

    I think this parodic potential arises from the book's total and complete lack of irony. This is the most earnest, sincere book I've read in a long time, and that's what makes it so heartbreaking. Smith begins the book with an abundance of naivete, and in many ways, she never loses the idealism with which she begins her career. Written in a lyrical, elegiac tone, this is, at its heart, a book about the bond two artists develop. There's a remarkable amount of honest in the pages, and Smith's and Mapplethorpe's friendship is unique. They were lovers, collaborators, confidants, rivals...Their lives were the stuff of legend, and this book is a valiant effort to put that legend on the page.

    If you've ever held the romantic "starving artist" cliche in esteem, this is the book for you. Smith spends paragraphs talking about how hungry she was when she first moved to New York, and she isn't using the word as a euphemism for ambition -- she really needed to eat. Upon her return from a season in Paris, Mapplethorpe greets her in a feverish state, suffering from abscessed wisdom teeth and gonorrhea. And yet! They lived the lives of artists, staying up into the wee hours creating, writing, singing. They knew everyone. Harry Smith, Allen Ginsburg, Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll, Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin -- they all passed through Smith's life, and they all make memorable appearances in the book. It's a name-dropper's paradise, and yet, I didn't come away from the book feeling as though Smith was boasting or exaggerating her own life. I'm sure she's omitted some unfortunate moments on her rise to the top, but she seems honest about her own shortcomings (She freely admits that she acted like a jerk after her first big poetry reading, for instance).

    I knew nothing of Robert Mapplethorpe beyond his work and the controversy it had caused in the late 80s (I was too young to understand much of what he was trying to say, though I could understand the controversy just fine). The portrait Smith paints of Mapplethorpe is one of a passionate, wildly creative artist, and also of a man driven by his ambition to become famous. Her friendship with him was clearly the defining moment of her life, and reading about it was a pleasure. I often felt lost in this book, and I suspect that that's the only way to read it -- to just plow through it. I don't think I share all of Smith's ideas about art, but I respect her passion and her talent as a writer. Her prose is clear and direct and eminently readable.

    And maybe best of all, wherever I took this book, people would comment on it. "I just finished it. It's heartbreaking." Or "I wish I had her passion." I love when I read a book that inspires that kind of connection between people. It makes me feel, even if only for a moment, that I live in the kind of world that Patti Smith lives in.

  • B0nnie

    Just Kids makes me feel so damn left out. If only I had been able to show up at the Chelsea in the early 1970s. I coulda been a contender, I could have lived for art. Oh yes, I would have been very naïve just like Patti had been at first. I totally get that. I don’t think I could have been as brave tho'. Art is a harsh mistress.

    Just Kids makes me feel so damn left out. If only I had been able to show up at the Chelsea in the early 1970s. I coulda been a contender, I could have lived for art. Oh yes, I would have been very naïve just like Patti had been at first. I totally get that. I don’t think I could have been as brave tho'. Art is a harsh mistress.

    What I loved about this memoir is how it communicates (in a rough, rambley sort of way) what it was like to be there. In that milieu. It almost seems irrelevant that they all became famous.

  • karen

    extry points given to me, by me, for choosing a book that i have owned for more than a year.

    , to suggest a celebrity memoir that wasn't gonna waste my time. thanks, nancy pearl!

    review to come!

    review is now!

    my tepid reaction to this book is in no way the fault of nancy pearl, who gave me exactly wh

    extry points given to me, by me, for choosing a book that i have owned for more than a year.

    , to suggest a celebrity memoir that wasn't gonna waste my time. thanks, nancy pearl!

    review to come!

    review is now!

    my tepid reaction to this book is in no way the fault of nancy pearl, who gave me exactly what i’d asked for:

    i just didn’t respond to it the way i’d expected/hoped.

    on the one hand, patti smith writes a highly detailed account of what it was like to be young and poor and artistically ambitious in the creative powderkeg of new york city in the late 60’s-70’s.

    on the other hand, patti smith writes a highly detailed account of what it was like to be young and poor and artistically ambitious in the creative powderkeg of new york city in the late 60’s-70’s.

    the details killed it for me. there’s so much here that feels like an itinerary - what they wore and where they walked and all the trinkets they collected, photographed, then lost along the way, and it’s a focus on props at the expense of any emotional appeal - what should be an intensely moving elegy for youth, for new york, for power-twin/bestie/lover mapplethorpe,

    is instead frustratingly detached and the reader is kept at arm’s length with details about ribbons, huaraches, hats, haircuts, portfolios, and grilled cheeses.

    smith mentions more than once her “flexible imagination,” so the improbable “i remember every moment of every day, many of which had tremendous import/foreshadowing/symbolism” slant is somewhat mitigated by poetic license, but it’s equally true that pattiandrobert’s days had a disproportionately high level of import, just from the circles they were lucky enough to break into across the entire spectrum of the arts - music, literature, theater, painting, photography, every one of them bristling with mentors generous with their time, advice, introductions to still more luminaries, raw materials for their artistic pursuits, and other gifts that pile up into those listy details; a sweater from jackie curtis, a tattoo from vali, a guitar from sam shepard,

    and on and on &etc.

    and the things that most interested me were often floated without introduction or context; surfacing and withdrawing - her buying and selling of used books, her reviewing records - just mentioned as “things i did” without any of the details so very cluttered elsewhere. one does not just casually mention finding a twenty-six volume set of the complete henry james in perfect condition and reselling it in a mere two sentences.

    and how does she get to go to paris three times when she can’t even afford to eat some days, and she and robert are splitting sandwiches? true, her parisian hotels were rundown and lice-ridden, but given the choice between lice and finery, i’m pretty sure patti would have chosen to slum it after a quick WWRD* consultation in order to achieve maximum artistic authenticity through squalor.

    but yeah, the details around that bit of financial magic is something i would love to know. for a friend.

    it’s an okay read - it wasn’t a drag or anything, but i never felt like i was being encouraged to enter into the story, and at a distance, you don't feel the fire. it’s a couple of sweetly pretentious kids dreaming about art and being so, so earnest and self-conscious about looking the part, surrounded by the trappings of capital-a art.

    but it has its moments:

    there's a great deal of struggle, but there's just as much coincidence, timing, and right place right time at play. here's some understatement: for ya:

    i'll say.

    i do like her description of the “shabby elegance” of the chelsea; everyone who has ever even walked by the place has written about it, but hers is memorable:

    three stars - fine but not the riveting tearjerking rock and roll experience everyone built it up to be.

    and even though no one asked me, i hate deckle edges on paperbacks.

    *what would rimbaud do?

  • Nicholas

    There are some moments of real poignancy here and some very deft turns of phrase, but I was also just bored stiff for most of it. Clearly Smith has led a really interesting life, but she's just not a great writer. The great bulk of the book was a long series of "Then this happened. Then that happened. Then Robert did this. Then I did that." And while there is a lot of reflection about art, there is very little on the subject of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, supposedly the purpose of writin

    There are some moments of real poignancy here and some very deft turns of phrase, but I was also just bored stiff for most of it. Clearly Smith has led a really interesting life, but she's just not a great writer. The great bulk of the book was a long series of "Then this happened. Then that happened. Then Robert did this. Then I did that." And while there is a lot of reflection about art, there is very little on the subject of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, supposedly the purpose of writing the book. How and why did she stick with him -- as a lover -- through his gay hustling? What did she feel about this? She is by turns squeamish about his homosexuality and also fully accepting of everything he does. There's nothing inherently wrong with either reaction but I'd like to hear a little more about them.

    Bottom line: had this not been Patti Smith writing about Robert Mapplethorpe, and had I not been in a book group where we were discussing the book, I wouldn't have kept reading past the 50th page.

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