- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 9 hours and 54 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: HarperAudio
- Audible.com Release Date: July 26, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005EJFVHY
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Just Kids Audiobook – Unabridged
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Second: It helps if you're a Smith rock fan and/or a Mapplethorpe photography aficionado.
OK, that said this is Smith's memoir of the early formative years of the artists Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe and their unusual love affair. Unusual because while their affair was heterosexual at its outset, Mapplethorpe discovered (?) he was gay midway into it but until Mapplethorpe's untimely death from Aids, they professed their love for one another. (If you want salacious, look elsewhere.) The book also provides a first-hand portrait of New York's art/punk-rock scene during the CBGB years. My favorite part: how Beat poet Allen Ginsburg met Patti Smith at the no-longer-in-existence Automat on West 23rd St. For more detail read the book. I won't spoil it for you.
Anyway, if any of this interest you, you'll enjoy Just Kids. If it doesn't . . . well, it did win a National Book Award.
”It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of “Crystal Ship.” Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played “Ode to Billie Joe.” There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter change the course of my life.”
It was that summer when Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe. Just Kids is a love story of these two young people who, against all odds, meet, fall in love, and cling to that love long after they’ve chosen other partners, other ways of life, and love. It’s a love story of the city where they fell in love, and perhaps even a bit of a love story to the art and poetry and music that was created in the course of their love story.
They combined their meager possessions, but money was problematic, they barely made enough money for food – and frequently went without. Extras were out of reach. Books they had already owned were their prized possessions, as was their music limited to those albums they’d brought into this relationship. And still, they were able to enjoy some concerts just by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right person.
”Yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods.”
There are a very few years that they were not in touch, Smith’s focused on her music career, her marriage to Fred “Sonic” Smith, and Mapplethorpe focused on his art, his partner. Time passes, children come along, and when Smith is expecting a second child, they re-establish communication.
”We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. Only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And having gone, he left the task for me to tell it to you.”
I knew very little about Patti Smith, I knew who she was, is, and that I’ve heard some of her songs, knew she was a musician… beyond that, nothing. So, when this book first came out, and my brother sent me a signed copy of this, along with a few other books, and I vaguely recall seeing it and wondering why he sent it to me. And then, years later, also sent me a signed copy of M Train. I was beginning to feel a little guilty.
I loved this. There’s a bit of that raw energy and the grittiness of living in their early days together, the descriptions of the city, especially at night. The Romeo and Julietness of it all. Beautiful prose.
Their story reminded me of one of my favourite poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ”Sonnet XXX – Love Is Not All”
”Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.”
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.