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Just Kids Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 19, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe weren't always famous, but they always thought they would be. They found each other, adrift but determined, on the streets of New York City in the late '60s and made a pact to keep each other afloat until they found their voices--or the world was ready to hear them. Lovers first and then friends as Mapplethorpe discovered he was gay, they divided their dimes between art supplies and Coney Island hot dogs. Mapplethorpe was quicker to find his metier, with a Polaroid and then a Hasselblad, but Smith was the first to fame, transformed, to her friend's delight, from a poet into a rock star. (Mapplethorpe soon became famous too--and notorious--before his death from AIDS in 1989.) Smith's memoir of their friendship, Just Kids, is tender and artful, open-eyed but surprisingly decorous, with the oracular style familiar from her anthems like "Because the Night," "Gloria," and "Dancing Barefoot" balanced by her powers of observation and memory for everyday details like the price of automat sandwiches and the shabby, welcoming fellow bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel, among whose ranks these baby Rimbauds found their way. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In 1967, 21-year-old singer–song writer Smith, determined to make art her life and dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities in Philadelphia to live this life, left her family behind for a new life in Brooklyn. When she discovered that the friends with whom she was to have lived had moved, she soon found herself homeless, jobless, and hungry. Through a series of events, she met a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe who changed her life—and in her typically lyrical and poignant manner Smith describes the start of a romance and lifelong friendship with this man: It was the summer Coltrane died. Flower children raised their arms... and Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, and the summer of love.... This beautifully crafted love letter to her friend (who died in 1989) functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing. Smith transports readers to what seemed like halcyon days for art and artists in New York as she shares tales of the denizens of Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner's, Brentano's, and Strand bookstores. In the lobby of the Chelsea, where she and Mapplethorpe lived for many years, she got to know William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Johnny Winter. Most affecting in this tender and tough memoir, however, is her deep love for Mapplethorpe and her abiding belief in his genius. Smith's elegant eulogy helps to explain the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe's life and work. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (January 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006621131X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066211312
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (804 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. Her books include Just Kids, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, Wītt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.

In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor given to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

In 1980, she married the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit. They had a son, Jackson, and a daughter, Jesse. Smith resides in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

375 of 405 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bartholomew VINE VOICE on January 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Before she became the Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith was just some girl who came to New York in search of herself. We have a tendency to view her as always having been a rebel, guitar in hand, spouting her distinctive mix of poetry and invective at society. But the reality was that Smith came to New York as a refugee, uncertain of who she was and what she wanted to be. That's sometimes a bit hard to believe or realize, but in "Just Kids" Smith reveals just that: she wasn't one half as confident then as she is now, and that she had no idea what she was going to do once she arrived in New York. While this is true of almost everyone from her generation, it is somehow shocking and bizarre to ponder. More interesting was that her first lover and partner in New York was none other than future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The bulk of "Just Kids" is Smith's recollection of Smith's early years in New York with Mapplethorpe and how they came to create their own image as artists and autuers and to craft their image and art. Again, it seems weird to think of either of them as being anything other than fully formed individuals, and that, in and of itself, seems supremely bizarre. We seldom think of the intervening events that came to create them as artists, yet here is Patti Smith lying bare exactly how she came to be what she became. The result is a fascinating and spellbinding narrative that you can scarcely set down. Ultimately Smith learns that Mapplethorpe is gay and both go on to find their own loves and their own directions in life and in art.Read more ›
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122 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Jym Cherry on January 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 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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85 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Ray O'Keefe Cruitt on February 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Have you ever awoken from a dream and yearned to tell someone close by all the seemingly concrete details that made so much sense in unconsciousness, but upon consciousness are rendered incomprehensible, even worse, banal when spoken? Or, have you ever had to retreat midway through a story about how interesting a scene or city was to have experienced with that sad qualifying statement: "Well, I guess you had to be there," those blank stares and yawns from listeners way too much to bear?

Well, I have. Patti Smith has not, at least not in the case of her exquisite new memoir, "Just Kids". The difference between me and her is that my attempts to transcend mere description when writing about my past always deflates either into senseless name dropping or banal "my summer vacation essay" style explorations, whereas Smith, in "Just Kids," transcends all the pitfalls of the memoir genre and tells a poignant tale of two struggling artists in the late 60s - 70s in New York City--her and Robert Mapplethorpe--without sounding pompous, pretentious or boring.

It's always the inexplicable that's most interesting. If you strip away what's ineffable about the spirit of a defining period of time you are left mainly with the banal: eating, sitting, hanging out, arguing, making money, paying rent, and so on. That's why memoirs are so difficult to execute and only a talented writer tempered with restraint, such as Patti Smith, can adequately do the genre any justice.

As I was reading "Just Kids" I was continually struck with just how easy this book could have degenerated into a self-absorbed, indulgent tale of bohemianism and name dropping. The story itself is set up to lend itself to this sort of abuse.
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