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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
Everyone either liked the book or loved it. I think we actually have better discussions when there's some minor disagreement, but this was a very pleasant and, for many of us, a rather nostalgic evening.
There were a few comments that Patti's style of writing was simple and repetitive at times, which could be distracting. We all agreed that the writing was tender and sweet, wistful in its poetry, especially considering that it covers some difficult times for Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe and the punk period in general. It's all very down to earth and human.
"Just Kids" is a perfect period piece. It describes a specific scene from the inside and gives some minor insights into the places and characters that dominated the art and music communities at the time. The connection between Patti and Robert was strong, and their mutual connection to the art and music world was equally strong. Patti admired the worlds of Mickey Spillane, Arthur Rimbaud, and Jean Genet, but it was Robert who lived the adventure. It was not the most positive or endearing portrait of Robert, but was ultimately very moving.
Robert was a striver and wanted to be rich and famous. It almost seems like Patti gently fell into her role as a poet and musician; "Just Kids" doesn't describe her struggle, just that she knew that she was going to be an artist - and eventually was.
For those of us who have lived in NYC for a while, and especially those of us who lived (or visited) NYC during that period, a map would be an interesting addition to the book. Many of the places that Patti describes are very close together. In addition to this being a punk memoir, it's also often a neighborhood memoir.
I think that if there was one point of contention about "Just Kids," it was Patti's reluctance to discuss sex. She was screwing Robert Mapplethorpe at the beginning and much of his photography was very sexually explicit, so it seems a bit old fashioned or puritanical that Patti would avoid it so strenuously. Both she and Robert were Catholics, but they took very different approaches to it in their artistic development.
Ultimately, "Just Kids" - as the title suggests - is a story about how two artists lost their childhood innocent sense of wonder and turned into famous artists, and finally how Robert lost his life and Patti lost her friend.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
embedded in the lines. Having seen one of Robert's exhibits at the Whitney in 1988, the power of the photos...Read more
So glad I read this book, one of my favorites now.