Published by Harper Audio on July 26th 2011
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Also by this author: M Train
It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous—the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.
Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.
“‘Nobody sees us as we do, Patti.’ . . . Whenever he said things like that, for a magical space of time, it was as if we were the only two people in the world.”
Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe before picking up Just Kids. This didn’t prevent me from becoming immediately enthralled in their tale. Patti Smith lived with her parents and slept on a cot in the laundry room until she boarded a bus to New York City with a measly $32 in her pocket. The friends she had planned to stay with had moved but was more serendipitous than she knew because this is where she would first meet Robert Mapplethorpe. Their bond with each other had almost a preternatural feel and was truly extraordinary.
We were 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 to me to tell it to you.
This is a poetic story about a time that I didn’t personally experience. It’s a time period that would be difficult to fathom yet Patti Smith writes with such crisp clarity that allowed her story to truly come to life. Listening to the audio version of this and hearing Patti Smith personally narrate this was a wonderful way to experience this book. (Listen to a clip here.) Just Kids is a poignant story that showcases the innocence of her life before she became well known by the world. It’s a stunning yet haunting dirge to everything that once was and everything that was lost.