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Just Kids Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 2, 2010
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The point is, this book was on my radar because I'd heard great things about the book, not because I knew who anybody was. What a tale! I'm not even sure something like this could ever happen again. It was the late '60's early '70's (my favorite time period musically, incidentally) and Patti was a literal starving artist on the streets of New York. No job, no direction, no place to live. A creative being wanting to create but not knowing how it should manifest.
She meets Robert Maplethorpe and they embark on a lifelong friendship/love affair. They lived in the time and place of Jimi, Janis, and Andy Warhol. Just Kids, literally starving. It was a great adventure.
Patti was lucky enough to have a couple breaks musically, and Robert not long behind her with his art. I can't say I'm a fan of either of their work. I looked at Robert's art after reading the book and thought no wonder he struggled.
I thought a lot about making a living, and what artists have to do to survive. These tortured people who literally must create, have to get day jobs at bookstores. Barely scraping enough money together to share a hot dog with a friend. It's sad. Behind every Jimi there are thousands of other Jimis.
Anyway, I was engrossed in this tale of friendship and life in the summer of love and beyond. The audio was read by Patti and that itself was an experience. Beautifully written passages spoken in a strong New Jersey accent. Drawing was Drawling. Piano was piana. Laughing was laughin'. Sunday was Sundee. It was a little weird at first, but ultimately gave an intimacy to the story. Her story. I couldn't put it down, and I sobbed at the end.
This would be a great audio for people who don't normally do audio because if you wander off it's easy to find your way back in. Loved it!
The strongest part of the memoir is the beginning, when she talks about the kind of person she was as a child, and about the magic she felt upon meeting Mapplethorpe. Soon, her story dissolves into endless details about what she is wearing and who was at Max's as well as a surfeit of random French references that come off as insufferably pretentious. She didn't like a film because it "wasn't French enough."
If you want to get a real window into Smith, just listen to her beautiful Memorial Song for Mapplethorpe. That will tell you more about her than this book.
It was interesting to read about places in New York City that I knew a few years later. I was thinking, "Oh yeah. I remember Gem Spa." Things like that. But I read a little more than a third of the book when I realized it was getting boring and devolving into name-dropping — and many of the names weren't people Most people have heard of. But she's Patti Smith; she doesn't need to name drop...so, why?
As others have mentioned, the complete lack of emotion and matter-of-fact stating of facts is off-putting. "And then I found out he was gay and that was different and then he started getting into evil stuff like Satan and oh well and then he gave me gonorrhea and that was inconvenient because I would need to get shots and I don't like needles..." (Not an actual quote.) This is not a portrait of a real person with feelings. It's like she's a dead husk instead of a flesh-and-blood human being. I kept thinking, "Why wasn't she freaked out by this or bothered by that. Why was she so matter-of-fact about getting an STD? And when I'm asking myself these questions while reading, I'm not in the book anymore.
Ultimately, I don't care what happens in the other ⅔ of the book. And that, my friends, is a fail.