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Just Kids Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 19, 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
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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I especially loved Smith's stories about her time living in the Chelsea Hotel. She knew most of the great's of that time, including Andy Warhol, and I loved her perspective on them. Her writing vividly evoked New York City in the 1970s and brought me back to the city of my adolescence and twenties.
Smith's writing is easy to read and both funny and touching. Robert Maplethorpe emerges as a flawed but fascinating and, at times, lovely person. It is as interesting to read his beginnings as an artist as it is to read about Smith's own.
Both as the story of a musical artist's development and a very special friendship Just Kids is a wonderful read. Even for those who are not as big a fan of Smith's work as I am, I believe the inside view of the artistic world of 1970s New York is a fascinating and fun read.
I recommend this book to everybody but especially those interested in the evolution of arts and views of an artist's world and times.
Reading 'Just Kids' allowed me to see Patti Smith in a much richer fuller light, and for that I am very grateful. This is a beautiful love story, a story that transcends one's previously programmed boundaries. I am richer for having read this.book.
Patti Smith comes from a liberal family in a conservative town near Philadelphia. She doesn't fit in, so she takes a bus to Brooklyn and expects to stay with friends near the Pratt Institute. When she gets there, they've moved out, so she couch surfs and ends up with a dropout artist named Robert, who might be gay. For the next four years, they hop from one dirt-cheap pad to the next, eating one meal a day, and making art from cast-off junk.
The title of "Just Kids" is perfect for the book. It's about young people doing what all young people dream of; living far from their parents, doing whatever they want, not having a care in the world, working just enough to support themselves. All those things were possible in 1968 New York. Rent was cheap, and as long as you didn't carry any valuables, you were relatively safe.
Nowadays, however, I can't see any of this happening. If Patti and Robert had come to New York City (or even Brooklyn) in 2013, they'd never be able to live this way. The only cheap apartments are in the worst neighborhoods, far from everything. The commute to work would be long, and you'd never be able to have an apartment on a bookstore clerk's salary. Would they mind living six to a tiny apartment in Williamsburg? Would they mind commuting from Brighton Beach all the way to middtown? Would they be happy without an iPhone, a laptop, internet, gym membership, the latest footwear?
Bohemian life doesn't flourish in this city the way it did in the 60's. Most of the so-called "hipsters" live on money from they parents. You've got to remember, patti and Robert wear a mix-and-match of whatever they can get. Today's "hipsters" wear expensive clothing, eat in costly restaurants, and have high-priced technology.
I give this book 4 stars instead of 5, only because it's repetitive. There's too much name-dropping about all her favorite poets, and that distracts from things. I would have like to have seen a greater description of the physical aspect of New York at the time.