Just kids

by Patti Smith

Hardcover, 2010





London : Bloomsbury, 2010.


In this memoir, singer-songwriter Patti Smith shares tales of New York City : the denizens of Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner's, Brentano's and Strand bookstores and her new life in Brooklyn with a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe--the man who changed her life with his love, friendship, and genius.


(1396 ratings; 4.1)

Media reviews

The reader knows who Smith and Mapplethorpe will become, so it is intriguing to read about his continued attempts to encourage her to become a musician, while she urges him to delve into photography.
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“Just Kids” is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an
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artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed.
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It’s possible to come away from “Just Kids” with an intact image of the title’s childlike kindred spirits who listened to Tim Hardin’s delicate love songs, wondered if they could afford the extra 10 cents for chocolate milk and treasured each geode, tambourine or silver skull they shared,
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never wanting what they couldn’t have or unduly caring what the future might bring. If it sometimes sounds like a fairy tale, it also conveys a heartbreakingly clear idea of why Ms. Smith is entitled to tell one.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
[Just Kids] by Patti Smith
Just Kids is the perfect title for Patti Smith's autobiography of her early life as a struggling artist in New York in the late 1960's and early 1970's. She looks back on those times with nostalgia, some pride and an adults view of her relationship with Robert
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Mapplethorpe, which forms the essential core of this book.

Mapplethorpe went on to become an important voice in the photographic world of the 1970's and 1980's. It was a time before the advent of digital photography where care and hard work in the studio could lead to stunning results, especially in the medium of black and white, however when Patti met Robert in 1967 they were "just kids". Mapplethorpe was painstakingly putting together a portfolio of his drawings, paintings and collages, whilst trying to earn a living as a casual labourer. Patti got a more regular job in a bookshop and under Robert's influence put together her own portfolio of poetry, writing and drawing. Their existence was very much hand to mouth often relying on friends for floor space or handouts, but their belief in their own talents, their determination to succeed and the mutual support that they gained from their relationship saw them through. Smith does an excellent job of describing these early years when they sacrificed everything except their love for each other to succeed in the world of art. Their precious portfolios went with them everywhere and were even used as collateral to gain themselves a foothold in the famous Chelsea Hotel.

Smith and Mapplethorpe realised that all the talent in the world would not be enough to get the success they craved; it was equally important to know the right people. Patti staked out the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel (this was more a question of necessity in the early days as they were sharing the smallest room in the establishment) and they both hung out in Max's bar in the evenings, where Andy Warhol's people congregated. They needed to be accepted by the "in" crowd to stand a chance of securing a patron, a commission, or collaborations with other artists. Throughout their struggles Patti's support for Robert was unwavering even when he experimented with drugs, explored the S & M gay scene and found male lovers, eventually moving in with a male partner. She was just as sure that Robert would always be there for her.

[Just Kids] has become a best selling autobiography and you have to look beyond the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe to discover why. After all they are hardly household names. Patti Smith went on to become a rock star but she was hardly a mega name and while some people may have heard of Mapplethorpe it would mostly be because of a certain notoriety.

The book would obviously appeal to anyone interested in the 1970's rock scene (me for instance) particularly as Patti Smith rose to stardom along with the burgeoning New Wave scene centred around the CBGB's club. It would also appeal to people interested in Robert Mapplethorpe's photographic work (me again) as Smith gives an excellent account of his influences and how he took up photography as his mode of expression. (I was also curious about their relationship as I had always pegged Mapplethorpe as a gay man). The book has a wider appeal because it seems to accurately describe the life and times of struggling artists in the 1970's New York scene. Not only is there plenty of name dropping, but there is a real feel for the time and the place. Smith takes us inside the Chelsea Hotel, she describes how two outsiders gradually wormed their way into the art scene, she tells of sickness and wretchedness and how two kids survived the pitfalls and how they were touched by the early deaths of so many shooting stars with whom they may have rubbed shoulders; it captures the atmosphere of the times brilliantly.

Above all though it is a love story tinged with tragedy and this I think explains it's widest appeal. Patti was Robert's earliest muse and he supported her in whatever venture she undertook. When they drifted apart mainly because of Mapplethorpe's need for a homosexual lover, there was still an important connection between them and Smith is at her best telling this story with honesty and feeling that is deeply affecting.

I read this book before going to see a major retrospective of Mapplethorpe's photographs which is showing in Paris this summer at the Grand Palais and at the Rodin Museum. Patti Smith was Mapplethorpe's earliest model and he took photos of her for her album covers, he also took many self portraits and seeing all these pictures on show really did bring the two characters to life. An excellent read which I would rate as 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member BeckyJG
Early in their friendship Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe donned their bohemian finery--she her "beatnik sandals and ragged scarves" and Robert "love beads and sheepskin vest"--and went to spend an afternoon in Washington Square Park. As they walked toward the fountain an older couple took note
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of them. "'Oh, take their picture,' said the woman to her bemused husband, "I think they're artists.' 'Oh, go on,' he shrugged. 'They're just kids.'"

Just Kids is a sweet, charming account of the time Patti and Robert spent together--as lovers, as friends, as growing artists--in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. Smith's prose is lovely, at times oddly formal, but always evocative and fun. She recounts their extreme poverty, as she worked as a bookseller at Scribner's to support them, while Robert did odd jobs and both worked on their art. They lived among artists and poets and Robert aspired to society, first working them into the Warhol set (although rarely in the immediate orbit of the man himself) and then beyond.

Smith's story is packed with anecdotes of meetings--sometimes chance and fleeting, sometimes of longer duration and intensity--with such people as Jimi Hendrix (who took pity on her when he came upon her, sitting on the steps to his Electric Ladyland studio but too shy to go in, and chatted her up for a few minutes) and Allen Ginsberg (who bought her a sandwich and coffee at the Automat when she didn't have enough money, and several minutes into their meal together looked at her intently and asked "Are you a girl?" She got the picture immediately, but he said "my mistake," and they continued their meal amiably).

Just Kids is not so much a study of the development and growth of the art itself as it is about the two kids becoming artists. Smith's narrative skims across the taking off of their two careers like a stone across a pond, touching down lightly here and there with a story or an anecdote or a description of a photograph or a poem. The book is illustrated with Smith's drawings and Mapplethorpe's glorious photographs, and scattered throughout are poems and songs (including, in the coda at the end which tells of Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in 1989, the last photos he took of Smith and her family and the poem she wrote for his memorial service at the Whitney Museum).
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LibraryThing member Patrick311
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member JimCherry
Just Kids is Patti Smith’s memoir of her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s time on the edge, two kids who found each other on streets of New York and were determined to become artists.

Just Kids doesn’t inundate the reader with biographical details about Mapplethorpe or too many of Smith, it‘s not a
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diarists memoir but more of an impressionistic one. Smith writes like her prose is poetry, it flows easily over the page, and flows easily from scene to scene as she and Mapplethorpe struggle to define themselves and their art. What it does give is a sense of the person Mapplethorpe was, a person who cared about Smith, and she about him. Her insight into Mapplethorpe is both sympathetic and empathetic, without seeming to have the forced perspective of hindsight. It may be, but Smith’s understanding and acceptance of Mapplethorpe’s dualities seem contemporaneous to the moment. We’re witness to the portentous moment Mapplethorpe is given his first camera, and when Smith was releasing her first album, Horses, she knew no one else but Mapplethorpe could do the cover photograph. Just Kids is interspersed with Mapplethorpe’s photographs of Smith.

Smith has a good sense of humor about herself in this period, living at the Chelsea Hotel, Allen Ginsburg tried to pick her up because he thought she a good looking young man. Or how no one in her and Mapplethorpe’s circle believed she was neither a heroin addict nor a lesbian.

Smith who claims among her influences, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, is firmly in the romantic vein, down to the presentation of the book with rough hewn page cuts and sepia wash, all combine to the nostalgic feel of the book. If someone were to write a memoir for me, this is what I would wish it to be.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
Patti Smith's Just Kids joins the very short list of non-fiction that I have read and enjoyed. Her memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and their lives in New York City in the '60s and '70s, initially appealed to my love of that time period; what drew me in was Smith's inspirational
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prose on art and music.

Smith moved to NYC to follow her creative dreams, and Mapplethorpe rescued her from life on the streets. Though they were both very poor, living with little food in tiny hotel rooms and unfurnished apartments, their love for each other, and their reciprocal artist-muse relationship kept them alive. They were artists who felt compelled to create, and they challenged each other to experiment with new mediums and subjects. Mapplethorpe eventually reached success with his photography, and Smith with her music, though she is also an accomplished artist and poet. Though they did not last as a couple, Smith and Mapplethorpe were soul mates, and friends until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989.

I found Smith's writing inspirational - her musings on finding her place in the world, finding her purpose, made me examine my own life. She followed her dreams, and her belief in her own success proves her to be a far braver person than most. Just as Smith found motivation in the musicians and artists of her day - Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Andy Warhol - future performers are sure to look to Just Kids as a defining moment in their own creative careers. I may not be an artist, but I too find great inspiration in the music and words of Classic Rock icons - and definitely in those of Patti Smith.
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LibraryThing member foomy
This book is neatly written though devoid of insight. She'd make a good English teacher, not a history teacher. Just the thought of splitting a hot-dog with a barefooted stranger in Washington Square Park or eating swordfish with a nonfiction writer whose name remains uncovered scares me. She
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writes so much of her wandering and sleeping around but so little and vaguely about her path to fame, that to me, this memoir seems more like a romantic fiction than a memoir. If I had nothing to say about my own art I would frankly not write, or I would humble myself to another version of "Freddy Mercury and Me"(Jim Hutton/Tim Wapshott - a great love-story by the way). On the other hand, I'm a fan of Smith, not Queen, bought all her good vinyls, have read some of her early work, saw her art, enthusiastically imitated her fashion, don't know much about Mapplethorpe's photography, but thought those pictures shown in Just Kids were wonderful.That said, it felt extremely adoring and way too sentimental to be a story of "just kids" living in New York. This book reads like a long, sensational but superficial gossip-magazine-article that is anything but fact-oriented, and I'm guessing Ms. Smith made some chronological errors herself and her editor was somehow clueless. Now I am uncertain what had actually happened and what had not. The result is I'm now looking for real information of both Smith and Mapplethorpe. After all, it might be a good read for an account of Smith's personal emotions - and she is a fine prosaic writer - not of what really happened. Her repetitive name dropping gets quite wearisome (Baudelaire, nescafe, Rimbaud, Hotel Chelsea, the Doors, Hendrix, Brian Jones), and a lot of what she writes becomes unbelievable. Either it was badly edited or both Smith and her editor lacked historical relevance.

As a woman myself, I must say that after having read Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Anthony Kields, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Sting, Tina Turner, Suzi Quatro, I had expected a good bio by own gender. I am saddened, somewhat ashamed by the passivity of women easily played back and forth via male forces. Why do we women have so little to say about our own art? Who cares what we wore on a special occasion in NYC(unless we are models)? Why not write about us instead of what others say about us? Everyone knows we "look" decent, but it's less worth concerning about than writing about who we really are, what we think of our brief or not so brief encounters with so-and-so, baby! My real concern is, did Smith come to grips, did she become her own person, not just a mirror for men? This question remains unanswered.
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LibraryThing member Tyllwin
When I was just of high school, I'd wake my self up listening to Patti Smith's Easter, and drift off to sleep listening to the softer parts of Horses. Saint Patti is always going to be a part of my personal pantheon, so I approached this book very much from her corner.

I was familiar with her words
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in two ways: first, from her poetry and lyrics, wild and cryptic visions, with flashes of dazzling intelligence and breadth of influence; second, from her interviews years ago where she pushed an aggressively harsh, crude and proletarian pose. I was a bit unprepared for the mannered voice of Just Kids.

In this book, she looks back at her relationship with famed and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, conveying memories softened by time and artifice. And that, I think, (that softening) is really at the heart of my mixed feelings for the book.

She suffuses the book with a warm glow, from which all sharp pain has been removed. She paints a careful portrait of herself and Mapplethorpe as totally absorbed in art, sublimating all other concerns to that, not bothered at all by missing meals. I'm not sure how much of that to trust, how much is truth, versus self-deception, versus deliberate artifice. Given the meek, bookish, clean and sober persona she attributes to herself, I suspect a great deal of it is mean to be more true in spirit than in fact. Note that she very carefully controls what she says. One obvious point she never addresses is that of her own sexuality, nor what inclined her to the relationships she had.

The more obvious faults really don't bother me in the least. Certainly, she thinks a great deal of herself. It's not exactly unheard of for artists to have an ego, and no one familiar with Patti Smith would have expected any less. In fact, I thought her egotistical superiority has, if anything, mellowed a bit with age.

It's also a common criticism of this book that she "name drops." And my god, the book is full of names. But I think that accusation rather misses the point of what she's trying to do. She isn't name dropping in the usual sense of basking in these people's reflected glory. It's the exact opposite of that kind of insecurity. She's much more scouring her past for signs and portents of the celebrities she and Mapplethorpe would become. It's egotism, proof of he status as chosen by fate. She isn't saying "I'm cool cuz I like, met Hendrix, y'know?" She's saying that these were little indications that destiny was pursuing her.

Overall, I'd say, an interesting if flawed book, well worth the time to read, but no masterpiece.
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LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
Patti Smith’s engaging memoir is both a wonderful portrait of her close but conflicted relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe and of New York in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. The book went by very quickly though some parts in the middle are a little too full of name-dropping.
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Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know who the people mentioned were. I wasn’t actually that familiar with Smith’s music or Mapplethorpe’s art – was vaguely aware of Smith as influential and Mapplethorpe as controversial so it was nice to learn about how they came to prominence.

Smith compares her childhood to Mapplethorpe’s with a nice eye for detail. Even then, art and poetry was a refuge from her dull career prospects, though her family was more supportive than Mapplethorpe’s. In New York, Smith describes a long period of poverty and at times homelessness. After a couple chance meetings, Smith and Mapplethorpe instantly connected and became inseparable both in work and love. Though the pair found comfort in each other and their art, they were always dealing with money problems, cramped apartments, lice and illnesses. The first section of them together has a wonderful sheen of idealism and nostalgia despite the continual scraping for money. Smith relates their occasional joys and the steady work they did together. She notes that she often was blocked but Mapplethorpe was always working. When he became withdrawn, she assumed it was an artistic problem. He eventually revealed that he wasn’t sure about his sexuality, left for a while, then came back with a boyfriend. Smith did not handle the revelation well and after some unhappiness, they got back together. Moving into the Chelsea Hotel was a new chapter in their work and life.

At the hotel, they met various people in the underground and avant-garde art scene in NY. Mapplethorpe was determined to get in with famous artists and high society but Smith preferred to stay with their circle. She did meet a number of people who encouraged her and gave her opportunities to act and perform. The rift between the couple widened when Mapplethorpe started a relationship with one of their acquaintances – a man – but they still remained dedicated to each other and their art. Sometimes this section could be a bit like a list of famous people they met but Smith keeps the focus on their relationship. They both worried about the other finding success, making suggestions and proud of accomplishments even when their romantic relationship was troubled. Mapplethorpe had two supportive partners who helped him make connections in the art world and enabled him to focus on his work. He transitioned to photography and Smith describes the start of her music and performances and ends when her career takes off and their time of living together ended. The last couple chapters deal with Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS related complications. Smith promised him to tell the story of their relationship and this fine book is the result.
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LibraryThing member KarenM61
I finished this last night/early this morning. Wow.

It's the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; from the first day they met to the end of Mapplethorpe's life.

She's an amazingly gifted writer. The whole book reads like an extended poem. Just beautiful, and very moving.
LibraryThing member denton
One of the best memoirs I've read in a long time.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe meet each other after basically running away from home to pursue a career in the arts in NYC during the 1970s.

They fall in love, support each other's careers and work, and of course both become successful and
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famous (and what are the odds of that?)

Beautifully written, it's also an ode to Manhattan life in the 1970s, which was far more interesting and less dangerous than many would have it. Smith and Mapplethorpe seem to have run into and befriended every significant figure in the arts during the course of the book. Dylan tonight, Joplin last night, Warhol another night. What's not to like?
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LibraryThing member manadabomb
Only knowing Mapplethorpe as the guy who did the explicitly erotic photographs, and Smith as one of my favorite singers, this book was pretty enlightening. Seeing Mapplethorpe through Smith's eyes softens the public persona of him some.

Smith headed to New York from New Jersey to pursue her passion,
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art. Along the way she met up with Mapplethorpe, who rescued her from a bad date, and the two become best of friends and lovers. Inseparable, if not physically then in spirit, they remained by each others side until Robert's death from AIDS in 1989.

While Patti traveled to Paris, Robert went on to discover different relationships with men. It seems, back in the 70s, that it wasn't always possible to be openly gay and and perhaps it was something that he continually fought with himself. He kept a physical relationship with Patti for some time despite the evidence that he preferred men. While I can't imagine how that could make for a happy life, denying part of who you are, being with Patti obviously made him very happy.

Smith describes living at the Chelsea Hotel and hanging out with the likes of Jimi, Janis, Burroughs, and Harry Smith. And a lot more; those two really got around. She also chronicles the "luck" and hard work that helped make Mapplethorpe and herself the legends that they are today.
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LibraryThing member JessicaReadsThings
Beautiful, sad, clear, fragile, vivid, poignant, heartbreaking. A sort of fairy tale molded from the real lives of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe as they teetered on the edge of the things we know them to be famous for. Beginning with Mapplethorpe's death in 1989 and a promise to tell their
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story, Smith looks back into that vibrant, bohemian world she and Mapplethorpe inhabited in New York in the 60s and 70s. Occurrences both fantastic and mundane populate the memoir. Days sharing a hot dog at Coney Island are afforded as much reverence as days spent in the company of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The writing is clear, precise, and elegant, graceful and simple. Read this book, and read it soon.
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LibraryThing member patriciau
April 17, 1976. The first time I ever saw Patti Smith was during her memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live. I was 13 and just getting turned on to punk rock — The Ramones, Blondie, Boomtown Rats…and Patti Smith. I remember being fascinated by what I saw but also more than a little
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puzzled. There was something more there than just music. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was art with a capital A.

As I grew older, I also grew fairly tired of the harsh, dissonant sound of punk. It seemed to me it became an affectation rather than a belief, an excuse rather than a stand. But I never grew tired of Patti Smith and her raspy, atonal vocals and raw, poetic lyrics. After awhile though, she disappeared and I forgot about her and her music/art.

Until I read a review of Just Kids, which I knew I had to get my hands on.

Just Kids is the story of Smith and her lover/friend/soulmate Robert Mapplethorpe, a trailblazer in his own right. Smith’s elegant, lyrical prose begins with her own childhood and eventually blends into her early life in NYC, where she wandered the streets alone, until she met Mapplethorpe.

She describes their early life together as one full of discovery and expression — both creating art as they felt it and experienced it in their daily lives. Objects held great importance for Smith and Mapplethorpe – how objects are made, used, treasured, seen. Smith used words and music to describe, while Mapplethorpe used the camera and both succeeded in making us see things differently.

Smith opens a window into the NYS art scene of the 70s and 80s, populated by such people as Andy Warhol and his entourage. While she writes about living and interacting with people now considered icons, Smith makes them all seem like regular human beings living out their purpose. None of the woke up one day and said “I’m going to create an icon today.” Instead they simply lived their lives and created as they went.

Art was as natural to them as breathing.

Throughout it all, Smith gives a human voice to Mapplethorpe, who continues to be considered one of the most controversial artists ever. He was just a beautiful boy trying to help people look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary.

Smith handles Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS with gentleness and authentic remorse. She uses a number of his photos of her throughout the book which reveal a stark but elegant beauty. Her account of Mapplethorpe’s last days and the aftermath of his death is heartbreaking.

Just Kids is a beautiful book and well worth the reading.

Mapplethorpe asks Smith at the end, “Did Art get us, Patti?” Maybe it did.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
An extraordinarily personal recounting of the relationship between Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The author is consistently honest and forthright in discussing the intimate relationship she had with her muse for decades. It is rich in detail and describes how, as an inexperienced
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girl, she summons the courage to leave her South Jersey home and come to New York City, where she meets Mapplethorpe serendipitously on the first day she is in town. Also this is a cultural history of the artistic scene in New York in the 60s and 70s. All the players and places are there. Possibly the best thing about the book is the author's voicing: she talks to each reader in an intelligent, personal fashion; it almost seems as she's relating the tale as she sits in your living room sharing a glass of wine.
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LibraryThing member CK25_00
While reading Patti Smith's memoir I kept noticing something in the language that made me wonder what she might be like had she not become such a celebrated poet/singer/songwriter. At times her prose paints a descriptive picture of Manhattan as it suffers at the hands of some rather dangerous folks
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running around the city. Other times it feels like she's too into the spiritual side of her art. Then again I suppose that's what makes it so unique.

Smith's memoir covers some early memories of her life in Chicago and New Jersey before leaving for NYC. Pale, skinny, and bookish, with a knack for reading old poetry and drawing, she moves to NYC without a place to live in the late 1960's, hoping for nothing more than to crash with some friends at Pratt University (whom she eventually finds moved away). She eventually meets the man who would change her life completely, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Much of the book is spent narrating the duo's travels around the city, first renting a place in Brooklyn, then going to Manhattan once their place is robbed. Though they're mostly broke, any pennies scrapped together goes toward their art, buying cheap crafts and salvaging whatever they happen to find. They clearly inspire each other and have a great deal of admiration for whatever they're attempting to express through their crafts. Along the way they meet the colorful cast of what are now known as NYC's most celebrated writers/artists, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Wagstaff, Warhol, Dylan, etc.

It's weird to think that just forty years ago, a front room loft space on the top floor of a building on 23rd st. in Manhattan could be had for nothing more than $100 and a promise to clean the place within a month. I'll admit that I was more interested in the descriptions of the city and its carefree attitude and I like Smith's willingness to be so open at a time when the city was still in a frenzied state. Just Kids is a great read, whether you appreciate photography, early rock/roll, or city life in NYC.
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LibraryThing member michaelbartley
this was a very powerful story of two friends and artist. the time that patti and robert shared was amazing. it is a story of friendship and art. the struggle to be true to your art and to yourself
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
looked at the synopsis for this one when it won the National Book Award and found I just wasn't all that interested in it. I didn't recognize Patti Smith's name at all and the only thing I knew about Robert Mapplethorpe was a vague recollection of the major bruhaha over his homoerotic photographs
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way back when I was in high school. Not exactly the sort of "oh wow, I'd love to read about these people and their friendship" that might have driven me to get the book. And then my bookclub decided to read it, so despite my continuing disinterest, I was going to read it too. Unfortunately it didn't exceed my expectations although inexplicably most of my bookclub liked it a lot better than I did.

Starting with her own childhood and teen years, Smith contrasted her own family and upbringing before moving to New York City with Mapplethorpe's similar family background. Quickly shedding the constrained and pre-determined life she'd face if she stayed in the suburbs, Smith moved to New York City, stumbling into the arty bohemian culture that would prove to be her lifeblood and which would lead her to Mapplethorpe, her best friend and long time love. They sort of fall into a relationship as lovers and enthusiastic supporters of each others' varied artistic endeavors; sharing cheap apartments, studios and, for a time, the storied Chelsea Hotel; starving together when they can't afford food; nursing each other through illness; and encouraging each other to break into the music and art circles that could make a difference to their future successes. As Smith and Mapplethorpe try to find themselves and the artistic mediums in which they want to showcase their messages, they wend their way through the riotous world of the late 60's and early 70's in New York. From desperate young lovers to dearest platonic friends and eventually through Robert's terrible, early death from AIDS, Smith has written a tepid love-letter to a man forever in her heart.

Although her relationship with Mapplethorpe must have been very complex and multi-faceted, Smith has not managed to convey a real sense of depth to what should be the main focus of the book. She herself comes off as naive and boring while Mapplethorpe comes off as a social climbing, egomaniacal user. But her lack of insight into herself and Mapplethorpe is only one of the problems with the book. Set in a vibrant and unique time and place, Smith doesn't manage to evoke that time and place very well at all. She focuses on heavy descriptions of the apartments they lived in and the clothes they wore but manages to miss conveying the overarching sensibility of the time, presenting little actual substance about the people and artists inhabiting this world and even less about herself and Mapplethorpe. Great writing, as opposed to the self-conscious and forced attempt at poetic writing found here, would have been able to bring me into the scene despite my own safe, suburban life and yet this was so pedestrian that I never felt as if I was there.

Despite the great love Smith harboured for Mapplethorpe, there was a detachment that belied the depth of feeling she tells us over and over was the centerpiece of their relationship. The middle portion of the book was a list of the famous and not so famous people that she and Mapplethorpe encountered as they practiced their art and searched for a way into the inner circle of folks like Warhol. This name dropping was not only dull but ineffective, making the reader care not at all for the brief scenes invoked only to mention the names (many of which this reader didn't recognize nor have any interest in looking up). And really, there were very little scenes of any substance at all with more of the book feeling like blurry snapshots where any and all action happened just outside the frame of the picture. As one of the few sober people on the scene, Smith's memories, aside from the apartments, studios, and clothing are less vivid and interesting than one might hope causing the reader to wonder what experiences she is glossing over. The narration is pretentious and filled with studied offhand references to French poets Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Genet but little to no information on her own career and eventual success or Mapplethorpe's either. Apparently the struggle was all. But it wasn't. Frankly for me, the struggle to read and finish it was all. Deeply disappointing, that this very uninspired, uninteresting memoir won the National Book Award and continues to garner highly laudatory responses is completely baffling to me.
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LibraryThing member TomMcGreevy
A loving remembrance of youth, of a relationship past, but one that remained ongoing as long as either partner lived, because the interaction of the two was so central to the concept of self that both held. AIDS ultimately gave a sad ending to the narrative, but the telling of the story settles a
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promise made.
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LibraryThing member drmarymccormack
I loved this book. I'm not really a fan of Patti Smith's. I don't know her work but I'm going to look into it now. I hope I like her music as much as I enjoyed her writing. What a beautiful writer. Wonderful story. I couldn't put it down!
LibraryThing member dugenstyle
The banality of this book can easily be exposed through a short thought experiment: Change all the names in Patti Smith's memoir to those of fictional characters. A "holy shit" anecdote about Allen Ginsberg mistaking Patti for a boy and buying her a sandwich becomes stupidly boring, and her
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unimagined descriptions of her affair with Robert Mapplethorpe falls flat. Smith's prose is filled with name dropping and cultural reference points. Her adjectives are movies, books and celebrities. If you don't revere Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, or the New York art scene of the late 60's and early 70's, then there is nothing for you in this book.
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LibraryThing member voracious
I have to admit, I knew very little about Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe prior to reading "Just Kids". I'm so glad that my ignorance didn't stop me from picking this memoir about Patti's relationship with Robert, and the story of their lives together. Patti and Robert were in their late teen
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years when they first ran into each other in New York City. Drawn together by their shared need to create, Patti and Robert began their relationship with almost nothing, barely getting by without money to even eat consistently. Patti eventually found work in bookstores and reviewing records for magazines and Robert picked up odd jobs or occasionally by hustling for sex with men on 42nd street to bring in extra income. Patti dreamed of becoming a famous poet and Robert was a mixed media artist, without any connections to sell his work.Life began to change for the couple, who were primarily roommates and best friends, after they moved into the famous and historic Hotel Chelsea, where emerging rock stars, artists, and writers of all types lived in the 1960's and 70's. Having grown up in a conservative Catholic family, Robert struggled to understand his homosexuality and began exploring his conflicts through his art and relationships with men. Patti began to have other relationships as well, mostly shortlived but supportive, as both she and Robert began to cultivate small successes in the art world. Robert was particularly drawn to the work of Andy Warhol and he coerced Patti to come with him to hang out in the places those in Warhol's inner circles were known to frequent. As both began to achieve real success, Patti met the man who would become her husband and Robert drew close to his partner and each went their own way. Within a few years, however, Robert contracted AIDS, which eventually lead to his untimely death at the age of 42.

Patti's memoir of their lives together is an interesting and emotionally evocative story of two young kids without anything but a love for art and music, who cultivated creativity and success in the other. I really enjoyed reading about their lives and I was particularly drawn to Patti's descriptions of Robert, as she described him as a haunted but passionate soul, consumed with exploring and exposing the forbidden in society. An excellent and very well written account of love, art, and the NYC art scene in the 60's & 70's.
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LibraryThing member KatPruce
I've been a long-time fan of Patti Smith...ever since I saw her perform at a Green Party rally when I was in High School. This memoir took me quite awhile to read. Not because I didn't like it but because this is not a book to devour, but rather it's one to savor. So, I stretched this wonderful
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story out for as long as I could.

Here's just one example of her amazing writing:
"It is said that children do not distinguish between living and inanimate objects; I believe they do. A child imparts a doll or tin soldier with magical life-breath. The artist animates his work as the child his toys. Robert infused objects, whether for art or life, with his creative impulse, his sacred sexual power."

Not only was the writing beautiful but the story of Patti's and Robert Mapplethorpe's trials and tribulations in their quest to become bona fide artists was fascinating. There are so many great anecdotes about encounters with famous artists of that era (i.e. Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, Todd Rundgren and many more). Also, their will to persist in the face of some serious obstacles was extraordinary. She does such a wonderful job portraying the artist's quest for finding herself and the ultimate outlet for her talent.

As a somewhat random aside, I wonder if artists do not pursue their craft as wholeheartedly as Patti portrays her and Robert's journey. Have we lost something in this modern age? I'm not trying to condemn everyone...there are some great musicians and artists out there right now; however, it seems that those who are the most significant in the public conscience are lacking depth. It just makes me wonder which is more true: is there a dearth of quality artists and musicians in this day and age...or are we spreading the talent pool too thin by amusing ourselves to death as entertained in Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World? Patti expressed similar musings in a far superior manner when describing the journey of her band. She said:

"We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect, and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll. We feared that the the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance, and vapid technical complexity."

Interesting things to ponder, no? Anyways, after finishing this enchanting novel I was left with the impression that, while this book is many things, ultimately it is Patti's extended love letter to her best friend Robert. Honestly, this is one of the best memoirs I've ever read...I highly recommend Just Kids.
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LibraryThing member twp77
This is quite simply one of the best pieces of writing I have read in many years. The story of Patti and Robert is that of an unconditional love, friendship and companionship in a very tumultuous political and musical time period.

It is an absolute pleasure to read about all of this from the
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perspective of one of the last great rock and roll poets of the age. Every fan of New York, poetry, music and art should have a copy of this excellent book in their collection.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe during the late 1960s and 1970s in NYC captures the flavor, fashion and passion of lower Manhattan from the Chelsea Hotel to CBGB and out to Coney Island. I remember; I was in the city during the last half of the 70s, though I didn't
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travel in Smith and Mapplethorpe's rarefied circles. Smith's memoir is the tale of two beautiful narcissists who lived for art and loved each other.

"There are many stories I could yet write about Robert, about us. But this is the story I have told. It is the one he wished me to tell and I have kept my promise. We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined."
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LibraryThing member mikewick
If you're an artist who is disillusioned with your craft or just tired of having to work so damn hard for diminishing returns, it's time to sit down with Patti Smith's National Book Award-winner and center yourself. A beautiful paean to art, love and friendship, Smith recollects her emergence as an
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artist thanks in large part to a young Robert Mapplethorp, who is also finding his way in the art world. Art is the most important endeavor in their lives, which may strike some readers as overly romantic, but you can't argue with the effectiveness of Smith's prose as it catches you up in the idea. Well worthy of its place as a NBA winner, this book should quickly assume a place in any music and art-lovers cannon.
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Original publication date


Physical description

278 p.; 25 cm


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