Just Kids

In 1967 Patti Smith left her childhood home in South Jersey and, with very little money, moved to New York City to make it as an artist. On one of her first days there she met Robert Mapplethorpe who would become her friend, lover and artistic booster. In Just Kids the legendary musician recounts the evolution of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, the excitement of living in NYC during this world-changing era and her development as a poet and leader of a rock band.

I started Just Kids three times before I finally finished it. I loved, absolutely loved, the beginning of the book when Smith writes about her childhood and teen years and her decision to try her luck in New York. It’s beautifully nostalgic and lyrical – quite poetic. Toward the middle of the book I kept getting stuck. There is something about the book that made me sad and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I finally finished it. It’s all about death. So many deaths happen to artists that Smith loves and identified with – Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. And then, of course, the tragedy of the entire story is the death of Mapplethorpe in 1989. By this point their relationship was not very solid and they had drifted away from each other, however the connection they had formed as young artists could never be broken.

Smith’s writing is wonderful and thoughtful, documenting her artistic inspirations and yearning for expression with gentleness for herself and for the broken people around her. I closed the book with a sense of sadness yet peace and an appreciation for the life-saving and refining effect art and creation can have on a determined person.

Smith won the 2010 National Book Award for this memoir and it is well-deserved.

 

7 Comments

  1. I read a profile of Patti Smith in a magazine a few years ago – before this book came out. I grew up in a pretty non-musical house, and I don’t think I’d ever even heard of her before that. I am in awe of these adventurous, gifted people who just follow their dreams, their drive. What an amazing life she has had – and is still having!

    • I’d only ever heard a few of her songs, but I didn’t know much about her or her life until I read this. She is a fascinating and inspiring woman. And fearless! I wish I had the same drive.

  2. I felt exactly the same way, it was such a rich and stunningly written memoir, and it catches you in your throat. I struggled a tad mid way, I think for the same reason as you – there is so much depression to match their highs. Smith really does struggle through this part of her life, but it all leads to immense growth and artistic output.

    • Yes, I love how she came through the struggles a better artist and person. She’s a great example of letting suffering go through you instead of going through suffering.

  3. I wouldn’t have been inclined to pick this one up, but now you have me thinking that if the library has a copy I just might ….

    • It’s not really what I was expecting from a punk singer – so thoughtful and self-aware and really quite lovely. Sometimes books that don’t appeal on the surface turn out to surprise you!

  4. My husband and my daughter loved this book. Now that you have reminded me of it, I will be sure to read it. Thanks for a lovely review!

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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