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
Rating:
ISBN:006621131X
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:304 pages

Just Kids Reviews

  • Eddie Watkins
    Feb 23, 2010

    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
    Nov 25, 2010

    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 prodigous artistic drive and the good looks to attract a series of male gateways to the New York arts scene.

    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, Wiliam 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.

    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 travellers (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.

  • Nicholas
    Dec 21, 2010

    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.

  • Patrick Brown
    Dec 21, 2010

    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.

  • Janet
    Jan 21, 2011

    This book will be added to "The Art Spirit" as an essential volume on my writer's "behind the desk" bookshelf, the story of two baby artists and how they grew. There's an oddly innocent tone to this all--for instance, the sexual relationship between the two of them is never really discussed, only accepted--when Patti gets the clap, we understand it's from him, but this is not a kiss and tell memoir. It's an opportunity to walk a mile in Patti Smith's head, in a less coded and more factual way th

    This book will be added to "The Art Spirit" as an essential volume on my writer's "behind the desk" bookshelf, the story of two baby artists and how they grew. There's an oddly innocent tone to this all--for instance, the sexual relationship between the two of them is never really discussed, only accepted--when Patti gets the clap, we understand it's from him, but this is not a kiss and tell memoir. It's an opportunity to walk a mile in Patti Smith's head, in a less coded and more factual way than in her music or poetry, but no less poetic for having been a lived life.

    Patti Smith has always been my idea of an artist--that an artist is different from an intellectual. The artist's way of being in the world is not about mincing and dicing experience, but about allowing oneself to resonate with events, to be played by the texture of life, and seeing what one is naturally drawn to, and how that stimulates an artistic reaction. Her way and his way. I like the unselfconsciousness of this writing--in an odd way, unself-examining, a paradox in a memoir.

    I have read the Patricia Morrisroe bio of Mapplethorpe--admittedly for the Patti Smith/Mapplethorpe material--and it's a revelation to read Patti's take on that time versus the reportage of people who had known them at the time. I love the layering of experience that way, as anyone who's read my work will know--the difference between the lived life and the way it looks from the outside. If it were someone else, I would even question the simplicity of the tale-tellling, the innocence portrayed, say, if it were Dylan or other more manipulative figures--but having listened to Patti Smith for 25 years, I believe this awkward innocent visionary quality. This is what we need, what I need, in our pathetic, overfacebooked, overstudied 2010s. More living, more art, more innocence, more faith, more poetry, more friendship, more acceptance.

    ***********************************

  • Ian
    Mar 11, 2011

    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.

  • Elizabeth Fleming
    Dec 30, 2011

    I found this book incredibly boring. It started off ok, but after a bit her writing style began to get on my nerves (examples: using the word "for" instead of "because," as in "I went to the diner, for I was hungry" and "I hadn't any money" instead of "I didn't have any money" and "I lay upon the mattress" instead of the simpler, just fine, "I lay on," ugh. Pretentious). Then she goes on and on and ON about Rimbaud. Enough about Rimbaud already. Seriously. I'm not kidding. And Baudelaire. Shut u

    I found this book incredibly boring. It started off ok, but after a bit her writing style began to get on my nerves (examples: using the word "for" instead of "because," as in "I went to the diner, for I was hungry" and "I hadn't any money" instead of "I didn't have any money" and "I lay upon the mattress" instead of the simpler, just fine, "I lay on," ugh. Pretentious). Then she goes on and on and ON about Rimbaud. Enough about Rimbaud already. Seriously. I'm not kidding. And Baudelaire. Shut up. Yawn. Her sentences were choppy and repetitive--I could basically sum it up as: "I met a boy named Robert. We loved each other. We hadn't any money. One day I bought a raincoat from a thrift store. I went to France and visited Rimbaud's grave and wore my raincoat for it was raining. Robert was a genius and we lay upon a mattress. One time I met Jimi Hendrix. Then he died. Then I wore my raincoat out in New York and I bumped into Ginsberg. He bought me a sandwich for I was hungry and hadn't any money. The end."

  • B0nnie
    Jan 19, 2012

    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.

  • PorshaJo
    Oct 12, 2016

    I loved this book. I did not want it to end. To be honest, I did not know much about Patti Smith other than her music. When the book initially came out, I heard so many wonderful things about it. I thought I should give it a shot. But frankly, I was a bit tired of the 'musician' bio books as some were just so dreadful. I was so wrong to think that and hold off on this book.

    I decided to go with the audio. I was immediately enthralled with it. The audio is narrated by Smith and she does an incredi

    I loved this book. I did not want it to end. To be honest, I did not know much about Patti Smith other than her music. When the book initially came out, I heard so many wonderful things about it. I thought I should give it a shot. But frankly, I was a bit tired of the 'musician' bio books as some were just so dreadful. I was so wrong to think that and hold off on this book.

    I decided to go with the audio. I was immediately enthralled with it. The audio is narrated by Smith and she does an incredible job. Who else to 'read' the story of her life other than the one wrote it and lived it.

    Just Kids tells the story of Patti growing up and following her desires to go to NYC and grow and become an artist. She tells of the wonderful life-long friendship that she had with the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. I had no idea how talented Patti Smith is - she's a poet, artist, writer, musician, singer, actress. She has been in photos, acted in plays, wrote lots of songs, wrote books on poetry and non-fiction. She came into contact with so many different types of artists that helped her grow - various notable musicians, poets, artists. There were a lot of famous people mentioned but these are the people that were in NYC during this time when it was on the cusp of art and artists coming alive. She talks of her time spent in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC which, at the time, was a haven for artistic folks. But out of all those mentioned, it was Mapplethorpe who pushed her and helped her find her artistic abilities and find out who she was/is. It's amazing that these two found one another and pushed each other. It's a beautiful story.

    I saw Patti Smith speak recently and she said that Mapplethorpe, before he died, asked her to tell their story. Just Kids is that story and a story that took her 20 years to write. I know why this book won the National Book Award and why it's #4 on the 100 best music books of all time. It reads like poetry. Link to this list of 100 best music books:

    I'm so glad I read this. A true highlight for me, my favorite of 2016, and one I plan to read again.

  • Warwick
    Feb 16, 2017

    —‘Sleepless 66’

    Patti Smith writes to us out of the great and endless narcotic American night in a language inherited from the Beats and refined across a lifetime of lines scribbled on journals and diner napkins and hotel matchbooks, carving out her version of the truth. Despite all her awed talk of Mallarmé and Baudelaire, she is much more in sync with her compatriots like Paul Bowles and Hunter S. Thompson, and when she walks through a New York c

    —‘Sleepless 66’

    Patti Smith writes to us out of the great and endless narcotic American night in a language inherited from the Beats and refined across a lifetime of lines scribbled on journals and diner napkins and hotel matchbooks, carving out her version of the truth. Despite all her awed talk of Mallarmé and Baudelaire, she is much more in sync with her compatriots like Paul Bowles and Hunter S. Thompson, and when she walks through a New York crowd she sees, like Pynchon or a grungy Walt Whitman, ‘Boys on shore leave, prostitutes, runaways, abused tourists, and assorted victims of alien abduction’.

    Her writing is deadpan and matter-of-fact; reading this book is like talking to some hoarse, hungover stranger in the kitchen after an all-weekend party, someone in an oversized T-shirt chain-drinking coffees, exhausted but full of mysteries to relate. She never overdoes it, but the easy colloquiality of her tone disguises a faultless understanding of where the focus of her memoir should lie – when to skip through several years within a paragraph, and when to lavish pages on a single mesmeric afternoon.

    The time and place she is dealing with have passed into legend, and fortunately she is not averse to the pleasures of namedropping:

    Just another day at the Chelsea Hotel, circa 1969…. It must be tempting to overplay your involvement in things if you were around then, but Smith is all cool circumspection; ‘I was there for these moments,’ she allows, ‘but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.’ Instead, all her attention was given over to the one man who seemed to have dominated her emotional life and her artistic development, Robert Mapplethorpe.

    I didn't know Mapplethorpe's work very well, associating him mainly with the all the controversial 1980s black nudes, and it was strange encountering him through Patti Smith – he seems so unlike his image that for a while I was convinced I'd confused the name with someone else. Her descriptions of their often-grim early days together are among her most evocative passages, and show off her direct sense of atmosphere to good effect.

    I have to admit, I felt a little churlish about her obsession with him at the beginning of the book, having chiefly wanted a memoir of Patti Smith and not of Robert Mapplethorpe. But that feels very ungracious as the book goes on and she convinces you of his importance to her. What exactly drew them to each other is never made completely clear; a mixture of desire and support and artistic inspiration, but one that caused them both a lot of pain as Mapplethorpe started to explore his interest in men and in New York's S&M scene. Smith describes the two of them, in one of her many astute references to French literature, as being ‘irrevocably entwined, like Paul and Elisabeth, the sister and brother in Cocteau's

    ’.

    I was charmed by the sartorial nature of Smith's memory. Almost every scene is introduced by way of a run-down of what she was wearing at the time, and the details of her outfit are often much more vivid than any of the conversations; this is not reeled off in a label-conscious fashionista way, it's just clearly the way she sees the world. ‘I don't remember what I read,’ she says of one of the early poetry readings that would lead to her rock career, ‘but I remember what Robert wore….’ Sometimes whole anecdotes are built on this clothing recall: when at a party the designer Fernando Sánchez questions her choice of white sneakers with black jacket, black tie, black silk shirt, and ‘heavily pegged black satin pants’, she tells him she's in costume as a tennis player in mourning. And when she auditions guitarist Tom Verlaine, she almost treats it more as a test of wardrobe than of musical compatibility:

    Oh for a photograph. Patti Smith is – there's no getting away from the word – incredibly cool. While at the Chelsea Hotel, she talks about her fascination with all the legendary former guests, and writes about scurrying from floor to floor, ‘longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars’. It's hard to imagine that kids won't be longing for the same thing with her years after she's gone, and this raw and touching memoir of late-60s, early-70s New York is, if nothing else, a beautiful gift to them.