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Just Kids

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In Just Kids, Patti Smith's first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work--from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published January 19, 2010

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About the author

Patti Smith

160 books10.7k followers
PATTI SMITH is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. Her books include Just Kids, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, Wītt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.

In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor given to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Smith married the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit in 1980. They had a son, Jackson, and a daughter, Jesse. Smith resides in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 18,766 reviews
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,470 followers
October 8, 2014
I never thought much about Patti Smith. The images I saw of her never attracted me, and what I knew of her Rimbaud fixation turned me off. I always had a problem with the Beat and Punk appropriation of Rimbaud as more a figure of rebellion than a sophisticated poet. For me poetry is a phenomenon of the page, not an outfit you wear down the street. I also never got into Punk Rock. Going to college in the fall of 1983 I had probably only heard of The Sex Pistols, though I had never listened to them. Then when I got to college I was immersed in it, without my choosing to be. I loved some of it but just never pursued it as an interest or as a lifestyle, it was just the soundtrack to my experiences. At the time I was more into focused listening of Prince (and King Crimson and The Talking Heads) than Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys. And somehow, even during college, I managed to never listen to Horses... until a couple years ago. But what a great album! and I would say about it what I would say about other Punk I've gotten into since - such as Television and The Minutemen - that it is nothing other than simply great Rock & Roll. So I grew curious about Patti Smith and then this book came out and I snatched it up. It's a sweet and gritty account of her growing into maturity and how it coincided with her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. There's a wise naturalness in how she grew into the woman we now know. There was ambition, but only on her own terms, and there was no striving to be part of a scene outside of herself (& Robert), though she ended up in one fascinating scene after another as the grimy and vibrant New York art/bohemian landscape tumultuously morphed into the previously unknown seemingly by the hour in the late 1960's and early 1970's. She portrays these scenes as the outsider she always felt she was, yet they're portrayed head-on, not through a scrim of self-consciousness or psychic distance: she was in the thick of it, even acting as a nurturing figure to many, yet she was also strangely apart from it. Throughout there's a focus on her intimate relationships and how their effects radiated out into the situations she was involved in, which gives the feeling of a real groundedness regardless of how crazy things were. But whoever she was with - Jim Carroll, Sam Shepard, a guy from Blue Oyster Cult - Mapplethorpe sill permeated her consciousness. In many ways they were alike, but in even more important ways they were very different, and part of the fascination of this book is pondering the duality they set up - Robert alienated from his family and erasing his past to find the future while Patti was always firmly bedded in her past and in her family, Robert's wild drug use and Patti's basically straight life, Patti's Victorian sloppiness and Robert's decadent minimalism, and of course the sexual complications. This book is not only entertaining but lovely and wise too.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
February 1, 2012
Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel...

Just Kids makes me feel so damn left out. If only I had been able to show up at the Chelsea in the early 1970s. I coulda been a contender, I could have lived for art. Oh yes, I would have been very naïve just like Patti had been at first. I totally get that. I don’t think I could have been as brave tho'. Art is a harsh mistress.

Suddenly [Robert] looked up and said, “Patti, did art get us?”

I looked away, not really wanting to think about it. “I don’t know, Robert. I don’t know.”

Perhaps it did, but no one could regret that. Only a fool would regret being had by art; or a saint. Robert beckoned me to help him stand, and he faltered. “Patti,” he said, “I’m dying. It’s so painful.”

He looked at me, his look of love and reproach. My love for him could not save him. His love for life could not save him.

What I loved about this memoir is how it communicates (in a rough, rambley sort of way) what it was like to be there. In that milieu. It almost seems irrelevant that they all became famous.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
August 4, 2022
Hi Ho, the artistic life.

I had very divergent feelings about Just Kids, Patti Smith's National-Book-Award-winning memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. There were times that I felt moved by the beauty of her writing, and others in which I found her to be nothing more than another spoiled, entitled kid who got where she got to, talented or not, because of connections. It is not that Smith arrived in NYC with a list of names and numbers. But she did have the good fortune to encounter a knight in shining armor who had a prodigious artistic drive and the good looks to attract a series of male gateways to the New York arts scene.

Patti Smith - image from El Pais - photo credit - Cordon Press

There is no doubt about the deep connection Smith formed with Robert Mapplethorpe, famed photographer to-be. They were not only lovers, but bffs. And that continued long after they stopped sharing a bed.

Smith takes us on a journey through the gritty and some not-so-gritty portions of the New York arts scene, offering glimpses of the many, many people she and Mapplethorpe met. It is a veritable who's who, including bits and pieces on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sam Shepherd, Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, and a cast of hundreds. I never got the impression that Smith was name-dropping. She was as amazed as any aspiring artist might be at finding herself among so many notables. One downside to this is that so many shining lights speed by like houses at night as seen from a train. I would have liked it had she gone into a little (or a lot) more detail on more of these luminaries. She certainly does reinforce the image of the Chelsea Hotel as a cauldron of creativity in its day.

The story of her arrival in New York, meeting Mapplethorpe and struggling to get by is worth the price of admission, a real look at what it means to be a starving artist. And that is not just a glib turn-of-phrase, as Patti, at times, made use of the five-finger discount in order to eat. It is also fun to read about how she and Robert trolled discount stores for materials they would use to make jewelry or incorporate into other artistic projects.

Smith and Mapplethorpe back in the day – image from Vanity Fair

Despite the minimal physical mileage traversed here, Just Kids is a bit of a road story. Instead of crossing continents, she and Mapplethorpe cross from obscurity to fame, from outsiders to insiders, from fellow travelers (in a very non-political sense) to lovers to soulmates

I was surprised at a few things. Ok, look at almost any photo of Patti Smith and tell me with a straight face that she doesn't make you think of the Calvin Klein ideal of physical appearance. Yet, when she appeared in a play as a person with drug issues she was completely uncomfortable pretending to shoot up. Even her director was shocked at her lack of hard drug experience. A little weed here and there does not give one that lovely Ginger Baker look. A diet sprinkled with stolen food contributed for sure, but nature sculpted that body, not dark substances. I was also surprised--having come to the book with no familiarity with Smith beyond her recording of “Because the Night”--about the diversity of her artistry, running from drawing to poetry, to playwrighting, to acting, and so on.

I have read better memoirs, and I do not think this should have won the National Book Award. But there is no missing the real feeling she communicates, the love she and Mapplethorpe had for each other. Her writing is good, sometimes better than good, and you will not be disappointed. But for many, the lifestyles presented here might be discomfiting, the willingness to engage in hustling, thievery, and very open relationships make the artistic world Smith and Mapplethorpe inhabited a decidedly acquired taste.

Review first posted - 2010

Published - January 19, 2010

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Instagram and FB pages
Profile Image for Nicholas.
Author 7 books74 followers
December 21, 2010
There are some moments of real poignancy here and some very deft turns of phrase, but I was also just bored stiff for most of it. Clearly Smith has led a really interesting life, but she's just not a great writer. The great bulk of the book was a long series of "Then this happened. Then that happened. Then Robert did this. Then I did that." And while there is a lot of reflection about art, there is very little on the subject of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, supposedly the purpose of writing the book. How and why did she stick with him -- as a lover -- through his gay hustling? What did she feel about this? She is by turns squeamish about his homosexuality and also fully accepting of everything he does. There's nothing inherently wrong with either reaction but I'd like to hear a little more about them.

Bottom line: had this not been Patti Smith writing about Robert Mapplethorpe, and had I not been in a book group where we were discussing the book, I wouldn't have kept reading past the 50th page.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,384 followers
May 26, 2022
I'm not sure how to do this book proper justice in a review. Just Kids is a book that enthralled me, surprised me, and ultimately, a book that I have fallen in love with. Not only is it one of the best books I've read this year, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Knowing very little about Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe going into reading this, I figured I would enjoy it but not quite appreciate it as much as someone who is a big fan of either. And while that might be true, I still came out of this book with the utmost appreciation for both and for those people living, breathing, and being artists today.

Because, this book is about art.

It's about art that you love so much that you make sacrifices like sleeping on doorsteps or eating anchovy sandwiches. It's about art that consumes you, that frustrates you, that makes you feel alive.

Patti Smith is an artist through and through. And I am completely inspired by her story and her companionship with Robert. Hearing about their lives in 1960's and 70's New York City was incredible, meeting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, William Burroughs, and so many more incredibly talented artists, poets, musicians, writers, etc.

For a short time I was transported into the mind of an artist, into the time of her creative birth, and came out of it with an experience that I won't soon forget. I am sure that I will read this book again in the future and each time take away something more. 5/5 stars
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,715 followers
March 29, 2021
“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of 'Crystal Ships.' 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 changed the course of my life. It was the summer I met Robert Mapplethorpe.”

*Warning: Slightly gooey, syrupy review ahead. Written on the eve of my daughter’s seventeenth birthday, with all the standard warm and fuzzy feelings you might expect and loathe.*

This beautiful, magical memoir is an ode to art, to music, to writing, to New York City, to life, to love, but most of all to enduring friendship. True friendship that lifts the other up, affirming one’s worth and sustaining the soul. While this is Patti Smith’s memoir, I had the feeling throughout that it was really a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe and his art. As it turns out, Patti made a promise to Robert that she would one day write their story. What a story this is! I knew little about Patti, other than a couple of her songs, before reading this. I knew almost nothing about Robert. To think that I could have missed out on such an inspirational life adventure! This is a quintessential tale of struggling artists, living in New York City, trying to make their big break.

“I felt constantly confined by the notion that we are born into a world where everything was mapped out by those before us. I struggled to suppress destructive impulses and worked instead on creative ones.”

“A child imparts a doll or tin soldier with magical life-breath. The artist animates his work as the child his toys. Robert infused objects, whether for art or life, with his creative impulse, his sacred sexual power.”

Smith’s writing is poetic, conversational, and candid. She talks about her romantic relationships with Robert and later with other men, as well as Robert’s relationships with his other lovers, including his most lasting with his patron and lifelong friend, Sam Wagstaff. She never apologizes or shows regret for any of their choices. Life was what it was, bringing the good with the bad. They lived the lives they chose, and there is nothing to be sorry for in doing just that. It makes one feel wholly nostalgic for a different sort of past.

“I was attracted to Robert’s work because his visual vocabulary was akin to my poetic one, even if we seemed to be moving toward different destinations.”

Naturally, in a book like this, one is likely to stumble upon some name-dropping. It didn’t bother me one bit. When an artist is making his or her way in the world, there are going to be others that come into their orbit and influence their lives. It seems to me that it would be impossible to write a story of one’s life without mentioning those persons that played a large part. Living for a time in the iconic Chelsea Hotel, Patti and Robert ran into a number of other musicians, artists, and writers. I’m not going to mention names here, but these were sometimes funny little stories, often involving misunderstandings. Many of these went on to become household names, while others never made it to the big leagues. Patti seemed very humble about all of it. There’s no affected swagger to her eventual fame.

“Many would not make it… Taken down, the stardom they so desired just out of reach, tarnished stars falling from the sky. I feel no sense of vindication as one of the handfuls of survivors. I would rather have seen them all succeed, catch the brass ring. As it turned out, it was I who got one of the best horses.”

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but I’m going to have to say this has got to rank up there with the best of them. I love to read about the creative process, what gives one the urge to share something sacred, something that reveals the stuff of one’s self. What does it take to succeed? Everyone has dreams, but only a select few actually realize them. I spent some time this past weekend listening to Patti Smith on Spotify and searching for Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography on the internet. I’m smitten by the two of them now, and I’m not ashamed to say I couldn’t close Just Kids without grabbing a tissue. A genuine celebration of art and life!

“Only a fool would regret being had by art; or a saint.”
Profile Image for Elizabeth Fleming.
16 reviews24 followers
November 7, 2019
I found this book to be quite boring, unfortunately, especially given the fact that Smith is arguably an artistic genius. It started off strong, but after a bit the writing style began to wear on my nerves (examples: using the word "for" instead of "because," as in "I went to the diner, for I was hungry" and "I hadn't any money" instead of "I didn't have any money" and "I lay upon the mattress" instead of the simpler "I lay on," which all felt somewhat pretentious). Then she goes on and on (and on) about Rimbaud. So much Rimbaud. And Baudelaire. So. Much. Baudelaire. Her sentences were also quite choppy and repetitive—I could essentially sum it up as: "I met a boy named Robert. We loved each other. We hadn't any money. One day I bought a raincoat from a thrift store. I went to France and visited Rimbaud's grave and wore my raincoat for it was raining. Robert was a genius and we lay upon a mattress. One time I met Jimi Hendrix. Then he died. Then I wore my raincoat out in New York and I bumped into Ginsberg. He bought me a sandwich for I was hungry and hadn't any money. The end."
Profile Image for Patrick Brown.
142 reviews2,470 followers
February 7, 2011
This book is remarkably easy to parody. Here, I'll try:

"I was crossing Tompkins Square Park when I ran into a young man wearing a gabardine vest. He smiled at me and called me "Sister." It was a young George Carlin. Robert hated him because he frequently had flakes of rye bread in his beard, but I loved how he could make me laugh with his impressions of Mick Jagger. On this morning, though, we wept together at the news that Paul McCartney would have to sell his house in Cannes. It was a sort of paradise for us, even though we'd never been. George gave me a feather to put in my hair, and I took it home and pressed it between two pieces of crepe de chine, where it left a ghostly impression. Robert insisted on using it in a construction, and finally I relented, though I knew I'd never get it back. It was a sacrifice to art, the sort of thing Rimbaud would've done."

I think this parodic potential arises from the book's total and complete lack of irony. This is the most earnest, sincere book I've read in a long time, and that's what makes it so heartbreaking. Smith begins the book with an abundance of naivete, and in many ways, she never loses the idealism with which she begins her career. Written in a lyrical, elegiac tone, this is, at its heart, a book about the bond two artists develop. There's a remarkable amount of honest in the pages, and Smith's and Mapplethorpe's friendship is unique. They were lovers, collaborators, confidants, rivals...Their lives were the stuff of legend, and this book is a valiant effort to put that legend on the page.

If you've ever held the romantic "starving artist" cliche in esteem, this is the book for you. Smith spends paragraphs talking about how hungry she was when she first moved to New York, and she isn't using the word as a euphemism for ambition -- she really needed to eat. Upon her return from a season in Paris, Mapplethorpe greets her in a feverish state, suffering from abscessed wisdom teeth and gonorrhea. And yet! They lived the lives of artists, staying up into the wee hours creating, writing, singing. They knew everyone. Harry Smith, Allen Ginsburg, Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll, Todd Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin -- they all passed through Smith's life, and they all make memorable appearances in the book. It's a name-dropper's paradise, and yet, I didn't come away from the book feeling as though Smith was boasting or exaggerating her own life. I'm sure she's omitted some unfortunate moments on her rise to the top, but she seems honest about her own shortcomings (She freely admits that she acted like a jerk after her first big poetry reading, for instance).

I knew nothing of Robert Mapplethorpe beyond his work and the controversy it had caused in the late 80s (I was too young to understand much of what he was trying to say, though I could understand the controversy just fine). The portrait Smith paints of Mapplethorpe is one of a passionate, wildly creative artist, and also of a man driven by his ambition to become famous. Her friendship with him was clearly the defining moment of her life, and reading about it was a pleasure. I often felt lost in this book, and I suspect that that's the only way to read it -- to just plow through it. I don't think I share all of Smith's ideas about art, but I respect her passion and her talent as a writer. Her prose is clear and direct and eminently readable.

And maybe best of all, wherever I took this book, people would comment on it. "I just finished it. It's heartbreaking." Or "I wish I had her passion." I love when I read a book that inspires that kind of connection between people. It makes me feel, even if only for a moment, that I live in the kind of world that Patti Smith lives in.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,265 followers
May 19, 2015
Looking For You (I Was)

I can see why some reviews detect white-washing or sugar-coating in "Just Kids", but I wanted desperately to believe the story Patti Smith was telling about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Glitter in Their Eyes

Patti admits to her naivete, but I don't think she was trying to hide stuff from her kids or anything.

Nor do I think she closed off her emotions about her past.

Ultimately, the book is a love story, only the love extended over a long period, and sometimes it was requited, sometimes not.

Just Kidding

Lots of things got in the way, sexuality for starters, drugs for main course, other partners for dessert.

But the book is about a love that they shared, and a youth that they both retained the whole of their lives, no matter what happened on the inside or the outside and no matter how poor or successful they were.

The name of the book asserts her belief that all that time they really were "just kids", those two kids that the tourists photographed soon after they first met.

About Another Boy

Although Patti reveals a lot about Robert, I think ultimately the book is her final expression of love for him.

I think it's important that she express her sugary side anyway, rather than "hide your love away".

The book might be relatively sugar-coated for our image of Patti Smith, but her sugar isn't as sickly sweet as most sleb love stories.

Memento Mori (Postscript)

One of the reasons I empathise with this book so much is my passion for Robert Mapplethorpe's photography (not to mention Patti's music, lyrics and poetry).

In March - April, 1986, I was on the Board of the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, at the time we helped to bring an exhibition of Robert's photos to Australia.

It was a time of great political and moral conservatism in Queensland.

The Board included artists and academics who feared the loss of their jobs, if they were involved in the exhibition of photography that might later be found to be obscene under our criminal laws.

Many Board Meetings in the lead up to the exhibition debated whether we should not proceed with the exhibition or remove particular images (including "Man in Polyester Suit").

I made some tentative preparations to deal with a potential criminal action against the Board Members, including getting expert evidence on Robert's artistic status.

In the end, we decided to proceed with the exhibition in an uncensored form. All images were displayed in the form submitted by the artist and the curator.

The exhibition was highly popular and no complaints were made to the Police.

No criminal prosecution occurred.

The important lesson is that we could have self-censored and lost our own freedom.

Instead, we asserted and preserved our freedom in the face of fear.

For me, Robert and Patti represent, not just the existence of freedom in the abstract, but the assertion of freedom in reality.

They more than earned the right to their love.

"Your ancestors salute you."
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,075 followers
July 5, 2017
I admire this woman. She writes a deft, deeply felt prose. She has a peerless memory. She remembers gestures, apparel worn thirty years ago, favorite objects, facial expressions, stretches of dialog. She can reanimate for us moments of deep emotional complexity. This was clearly a labor of love. The character study of Robert Mapplethorpe is disturbing, shattering. We watch Smith living with him as a veil is lifted from her awareness, as her empathy broadens and she carries the reader along with her. This is memoir as maelstrom, cataclysmic in its effect. There's more than sufficient foreshadowing. We know that Robert will die. Yet one still finds oneself grabbing futilely for the gunwales, whirling ever faster, ever downward and inward.

The book reminds me of Jean Stein and George Plimpton's Edie: American Girl in it's New York setting. But Stein and Plimpton's book consists of transcripts of recorded conversations worked up into semi-confessional monologues. It's compelling, but it doesn't touch the nimble pairing of image and incident we find in Just Kids, nor does it have the latter's exquisite verbal compression. Like Edie, this book details an era of New York's art and cultural scene, but with a vividness I've never come across before. This intensity radiates from The Hotel Chelsea where Mapplethorpe and Smith occupied a room.

The middle third of the book gets a little lost in name dropping. I suppose that's inevitable. There's less insight into Mapplethorpe, whom the author is growing away from. The sixties greats parade by: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, et al. Then the artists and then the poets and so on. The narrative dissipates under this welter of names. Smith dates poet and rocker, Jim Carroll ("People Who Died"). She dates playwright Sam Shepherd (True West, etc.) One begins to lose track. Who's Matthew with the 45s again? We watch Smith's astonishing evolution from visual artist to poet to rock and roller. If someone were to write this story as fiction, it would probably be criticized as unrealistic.

The theme, one of them, is the artist being true to his or herself and doing the work. Fascinating is the level at which which both Mapplethorpe and Smith learn their art. They are huge talents but they have entered a talented artistic circle that beggars description. When Shepherd has to leave Smith to return to his wife, they pen a valedictory play which is later staged at the American Place Theater in midtown. Mapplethorpe falls in love with photography when curator John McKendry brings him into the Met vaults and shows him rarely exhibited works by Stieglitz, Strand and Eakins. Until then he was hesitant to do his own photography, though Smith had repeatedly encouraged him to; he worked in photo collages with images from male magazines. Smith in her turn is cajoled into poetry by Gregory Corso and into song writing by Bobby Neuwirth. Who can claim such mentors and so many of them? Most artists' develop in far less encouraging settings. Smith and Mapplethorpe have been incredibly blessed.

Toward the end the author reaches for a kind of ecstatic prose flight that seldom works. Fortunately the attempts at woolgathering are few. We are soon returned to earth by way of Mapplethorpe's suffering. I was especially pleased to learn that in his last 15 years or so, he had found a partner, Sam Wagstaff, who supported him in all he did. Wagstaff was both patron and lover, and rich as Croesus. Mapplethorpe no longer had to hustle sex on 42nd Street to make the rent. Wagstaff bought him a studio on Bond Street, walking distance from his own flat. Smith herself no longer needed to work at Scribners bookstore either. She recorded Horses which made her an international star. So when the end comes at least it is unmarked by the poverty and obscurity of Smith and Mapplethorpe's earlier years. Smith, living in Detroit by then with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, drives to New York to see both men—Sam is sick, too—during their final illnesses. Her last encounter with Robert, before he's wheeled off, was for this reader Sophoclean in its tragic impact. The love these two shared, the exquisite trust! Suddenly, it's gone. A void prevails.

By no means perfect, this is still an astonishing, emotionally affecting book. As with all great writing, its effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Please read it.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,944 reviews610 followers
July 4, 2023
I closed Patti Smith's book; my heart squeezed with emotion. The fusional meeting of two beings, who recognize themselves at first glance, is shared by a single ambition to devote their lives to art. This drive takes us to the heart of creation in the sixties and seventies in New York, with the periods of lean cows, the belly screaming famine, odd jobs, shoddy plans, and shabby piles to land but far from discouraged the total osmosis between Robert Mapplethorpe and the native of New Jersey, convinced of their talent. Patti Smith recounts this period with a tremendous narrative sense, with random encounters and an incredible cast: Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, Allan Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Shepard, and Bob Dylan. His loving poetry, Rimbaud, an unlikely pilgrimage to Charleville, recklessness of an era that many will pay with their lives in the eighties and the arrival of AIDS. A testimony to keep a promise made to his artistic double. Sincere, overwhelming, and full of modesty, the hope is held and in what way. Thanks, Patti, if I can.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
467 reviews672 followers
October 13, 2016
I loved this book. I did not want it to end. To be honest, I did not know much about Patti Smith other than her music. When the book initially came out, I heard so many wonderful things about it. I thought I should give it a shot. But frankly, I was a bit tired of the 'musician' bio books as some were just so dreadful. I was so wrong to think that and hold off on this book.

I decided to go with the audio. I was immediately enthralled with it. The audio is narrated by Smith and she does an incredible job. Who else to 'read' the story of her life other than the one wrote it and lived it.

Just Kids tells the story of Patti growing up and following her desires to go to NYC and grow and become an artist. She tells of the wonderful life-long friendship that she had with the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. I had no idea how talented Patti Smith is - she's a poet, artist, writer, musician, singer, actress. She has been in photos, acted in plays, wrote lots of songs, wrote books on poetry and non-fiction. She came into contact with so many different types of artists that helped her grow - various notable musicians, poets, artists. There were a lot of famous people mentioned but these are the people that were in NYC during this time when it was on the cusp of art and artists coming alive. She talks of her time spent in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC which, at the time, was a haven for artistic folks. But out of all those mentioned, it was Mapplethorpe who pushed her and helped her find her artistic abilities and find out who she was/is. It's amazing that these two found one another and pushed each other. It's a beautiful story.

I saw Patti Smith speak recently and she said that Mapplethorpe, before he died, asked her to tell their story. Just Kids is that story and a story that took her 20 years to write. I know why this book won the National Book Award and why it's #4 on the 100 best music books of all time. It reads like poetry. Link to this list of 100 best music books:

I'm so glad I read this. A true highlight for me, my favorite of 2016, and one I plan to read again.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
October 6, 2018
fulfilling book riot's 2018 read harder challenge task #12: a celebrity memoir

extry points given to me, by me, for choosing a book that i have owned for more than a year. super-extry points for selfishly using the opportunity to interview nancy pearl for my own personal readers' advisory needs, to suggest a celebrity memoir that wasn't gonna waste my time. thanks, nancy pearl!

review to come!
review is now!

my tepid reaction to this book is in no way the fault of nancy pearl, who gave me exactly what i’d asked for:

any type of celebrity; any gender, age, race, or currency, and my only criteria is that it be more substance than flash, and that it not follow the narrative-arc-cliché of “early success ruined by overindulgence in perks of success leading to downfall, followed by peace and self-reflective wisdom.” Good stories, decent writing, humor a plus.

i just didn’t respond to it the way i’d expected/hoped.

on the one hand, patti smith writes a highly detailed account of what it was like to be young and poor and artistically ambitious in the creative powderkeg of new york city in the late 60’s-70’s.

on the other hand, patti smith writes a highly detailed account of what it was like to be young and poor and artistically ambitious in the creative powderkeg of new york city in the late 60’s-70’s.

the details killed it for me. there’s so much here that feels like an itinerary - what they wore and where they walked and all the trinkets they collected, photographed, then lost along the way, and it’s a focus on props at the expense of any emotional appeal - what should be an intensely moving elegy for youth, for new york, for power-twin/bestie/lover mapplethorpe,

is instead frustratingly detached and the reader is kept at arm’s length with details about ribbons, huaraches, hats, haircuts, portfolios, and grilled cheeses.

it is, as nadine astutely points out, both listy and emotionally distant.

smith mentions more than once her “flexible imagination,” so the improbable “i remember every moment of every day, many of which had tremendous import/foreshadowing/symbolism” slant is somewhat mitigated by poetic license, but it’s equally true that pattiandrobert’s days had a disproportionately high level of import, just from the circles they were lucky enough to break into across the entire spectrum of the arts - music, literature, theater, painting, photography, every one of them bristling with mentors generous with their time, advice, introductions to still more luminaries, raw materials for their artistic pursuits, and other gifts that pile up into those listy details; a sweater from jackie curtis, a tattoo from vali, a guitar from sam shepard, Crosses of braided hair, tarnished charms, and haiku valentines made with bits of ribbon and leather and on and on &etc.

and the things that most interested me were often floated without introduction or context; surfacing and withdrawing - her buying and selling of used books, her reviewing records - just mentioned as “things i did” without any of the details so very cluttered elsewhere. one does not just casually mention finding a twenty-six volume set of the complete henry james in perfect condition and reselling it in a mere two sentences.

and how does she get to go to paris three times when she can’t even afford to eat some days, and she and robert are splitting sandwiches? true, her parisian hotels were rundown and lice-ridden, but given the choice between lice and finery, i’m pretty sure patti would have chosen to slum it after a quick WWRD* consultation in order to achieve maximum artistic authenticity through squalor.

but yeah, the details around that bit of financial magic is something i would love to know. for a friend.

it’s an okay read - it wasn’t a drag or anything, but i never felt like i was being encouraged to enter into the story, and at a distance, you don't feel the fire. it’s a couple of sweetly pretentious kids dreaming about art and being so, so earnest and self-conscious about looking the part, surrounded by the trappings of capital-a art.

but it has its moments:

One evening in late November Robert came home a bit shaken. There were some etchings for sale at Brentano’s. Among them was a print pulled from an original plate from America: A Prophecy, watermarked with Blake’s monogram. He had taken it from its portfolio, sliding it down his pants leg. Robert was not one to steal; he hadn’t the nervous system for theft. He did it on impulse because of our mutual love of Blake. But toward the end of the day he lost courage. He imagined they were on to him and ducked into the bathroom, slid it out of his trousers, shredded it, and flushed it down the toilet.

I noticed his hands were shaking as he told me. It had been raining and droplets trickled down from his thick curls. He had on a white shirt, damp and sodden against his skin. Like Jean Genet, Robert was a terrible thief. Genet was caught and imprisoned for stealing rare volumes of Proust and rolls of silk from a shirt maker. Aesthetic thieves. I imagined his sense of horror and triumph as bits of Blake swirled into the sewers of New York City.

We looked down at our hands, each holding on to the other. We took a deep breath, accepting our complicity, not in theft, but in the destruction of a work of art.

“At least they’ll never get it,” he said.

“Who are they?” I asked.

“Anyone who isn’t us,” he answered.

there's a great deal of struggle, but there's just as much coincidence, timing, and right place right time at play. here's some understatement: for ya:

I had no concept of what life at the Chelsea Hotel would be like when we checked in, but I soon realized it was a tremendous stroke of luck to wind up there.

i'll say.

i do like her description of the “shabby elegance” of the chelsea; everyone who has ever even walked by the place has written about it, but hers is memorable:

The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thomson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums.

three stars - fine but not the riveting tearjerking rock and roll experience everyone built it up to be.

and even though no one asked me, i hate deckle edges on paperbacks.

*what would rimbaud do?

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,389 followers
June 10, 2017
4.5 Stars

”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.”

Profile Image for Chrissy.
109 reviews110 followers
December 30, 2022
Patti Smith's ode to Robert Mapplethorpe. She writes about their time in late '60s and early '70s New York City. A love story of enduring friendship and art in many forms.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
April 14, 2017
Just Kids

★★★ 3 Stars

I am frankly pretty surprised that this popular memoir didn't quite click with me. Just Kids should've been a perfect match and yet somehow I could never completely connect with the world and the lives of the people it chronicles.

Don't get me wrong, Smith's wordsmith is gorgeous and she is a wonderful storyteller. Her account of how she and her lover/collaborator/friend Robert Mapplethorpe, met and ended up right at the center of New York's influential art and music scene during the 60's and 70's is nothing short of remarkable.

Just Kids reads like an emotional elegy to Robert Mapplethorpe and a love letter to both him and the city of New York, which was at the time the indisputable mecca of the rock and punk movements. Smith is sort of an oral curator as she recounts numerous encounters with an impressive group of artists, the city's rich cultural legacy and how she and Mapplethorpe became deeply ingrained in it.

But throughout most of the narrative I had the sense that Smith seems to define herself and her claim to fame, in direct proportion to her proximity to other well-known artists. She and Mapplethorpe are never more than two or three degrees separated from the likes of Hendrix, Joplin, Warhol or Dylan. And she makes sure to remind us, over and over again.

Her relationship with Mapplethorpe was complex and, at least from the outside, difficult to characterize. But it's obvious that in spite of his sexuality and his very conflicted attitude about it, they seemed to have found in each other a true soul mate. The final chapters, in which she describes Mapplethorpe's last months before dying of complications from HIV/AIDS, are very moving and felt to me like the most authentic part of their story.

Maybe this memoir would've had a bigger impact on me had this been the musical soundtrack of my youth. My impression is that I lack both the cultural context and perhaps the creative sensibility to fully appreciate the contributions made by these artists. Nevertheless, this was an interesting read as I learned quite a lot about a fascinating and influential artistic period.

Finally, I suspect that it'd be difficult to replicate the cultural and social atmosphere that allowed Smith and Mapplethorpe to blossom as such iconic figures. It's hard to imagine today's most prominent artists casually rubbing elbows like they did at the Chelsea Hotel back then. I think that's mostly a reflection of a more idealistic and innocent time in America.

I read and simultaneously listened to the audio book, which I have to say is beautifully narrated by the author.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 24 books87.8k followers
February 12, 2011
This book will be added to "The Art Spirit" as an essential volume on my writer's "behind the desk" bookshelf, the story of two baby artists and how they grew. There's an oddly innocent tone to this all--for instance, the sexual relationship between the two of them is never really discussed, only accepted--when Patti gets the clap, we understand it's from him, but this is not a kiss and tell memoir. It's an opportunity to walk a mile in Patti Smith's head, in a less coded and more factual way than in her music or poetry, but no less poetic for having been a lived life.

Patti Smith has always been my idea of an artist--that an artist is different from an intellectual. The artist's way of being in the world is not about mincing and dicing experience, but about allowing oneself to resonate with events, to be played by the texture of life, and seeing what one is naturally drawn to, and how that stimulates an artistic reaction. Her way and his way. I like the unselfconsciousness of this writing--in an odd way, unself-examining, a paradox in a memoir.

I have read the Patricia Morrisroe bio of Mapplethorpe--admittedly for the Patti Smith/Mapplethorpe material--and it's a revelation to read Patti's take on that time versus the reportage of people who had known them at the time. I love the layering of experience that way, as anyone who's read my work will know--the difference between the lived life and the way it looks from the outside. If it were someone else, I would even question the simplicity of the tale-tellling, the innocence portrayed, say, if it were Dylan or other more manipulative figures--but having listened to Patti Smith for 25 years, I believe this awkward innocent visionary quality. This is what we need, what I need, in our pathetic, overfacebooked, overstudied 2010s. More living, more art, more innocence, more faith, more poetry, more friendship, more acceptance.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,168 reviews21.9k followers
June 4, 2016
I always liked Patti Smith, but I was never that much into her music. I have tried in different moments of mi life to listen to her, and there are a couple of songs of hers which I consider an important part of my personal soundtrack. But this book has made me completely love her. Her dedication to art, her fierce loyalty to her friendship with R.M. is something beautiful and worthy of reading about. I loved it.
Profile Image for Warwick.
844 reviews14.6k followers
February 16, 2017
its dark no im wrong its dawn i have my shades on
—‘Sleepless 66’

Patti Smith writes to us out of the great and endless narcotic American night in a language inherited from the Beats and refined across a lifetime of lines scribbled on journals and diner napkins and hotel matchbooks, carving out her version of the truth. Despite all her awed talk of Mallarmé and Baudelaire, she is much more in sync with her compatriots like Paul Bowles and Hunter S. Thompson, and when she walks through a New York crowd she sees, like Pynchon or a grungy Walt Whitman, ‘Boys on shore leave, prostitutes, runaways, abused tourists, and assorted victims of alien abduction’.

Her writing is deadpan and matter-of-fact; reading this book is like talking to some hoarse, hungover stranger in the kitchen after an all-weekend party, someone in an oversized T-shirt chain-drinking coffees, exhausted but full of mysteries to relate. She never overdoes it, but the easy colloquiality of her tone disguises a faultless understanding of where the focus of her memoir should lie – when to skip through several years within a paragraph, and when to lavish pages on a single mesmeric afternoon.

The time and place she is dealing with have passed into legend, and fortunately she is not averse to the pleasures of namedropping:

At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde.

Just another day at the Chelsea Hotel, circa 1969…. It must be tempting to overplay your involvement in things if you were around then, but Smith is all cool circumspection; ‘I was there for these moments,’ she allows, ‘but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.’ Instead, all her attention was given over to the one man who seemed to have dominated her emotional life and her artistic development, Robert Mapplethorpe.

I didn't know Mapplethorpe's work very well, associating him mainly with the all the controversial 1980s black nudes, and it was strange encountering him through Patti Smith – he seems so unlike his image that for a while I was convinced I'd confused the name with someone else. Her descriptions of their often-grim early days together are among her most evocative passages, and show off her direct sense of atmosphere to good effect.

It was a terrible place, dark and neglected, with dusty windows that overlooked the noisy street. […] I sat there watching him sweat and shiver on an iron bed. The springs of the ancient mattress poked through the stained sheet. The place reeked of piss and exterminator fluid, the wallpaper peeling like dead skin in summer. There was no running water in the corroded sink, only occasional rusted droplets plopping through the night.

Despite his illness, he wanted to make love, and perhaps our union was some comfort, for it drew out his sweat…

I have to admit, I felt a little churlish about her obsession with him at the beginning of the book, having chiefly wanted a memoir of Patti Smith and not of Robert Mapplethorpe. But that feels very ungracious as the book goes on and she convinces you of his importance to her. What exactly drew them to each other is never made completely clear; a mixture of desire and support and artistic inspiration, but one that caused them both a lot of pain as Mapplethorpe started to explore his interest in men and in New York's S&M scene. Smith describes the two of them, in one of her many astute references to French literature, as being ‘irrevocably entwined, like Paul and Elisabeth, the sister and brother in Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles’.

I was charmed by the sartorial nature of Smith's memory. Almost every scene is introduced by way of a run-down of what she was wearing at the time, and the details of her outfit are often much more vivid than any of the conversations; this is not reeled off in a label-conscious fashionista way, it's just clearly the way she sees the world. ‘I don't remember what I read,’ she says of one of the early poetry readings that would lead to her rock career, ‘but I remember what Robert wore….’ Sometimes whole anecdotes are built on this clothing recall: when at a party the designer Fernando Sánchez questions her choice of white sneakers with black jacket, black tie, black silk shirt, and ‘heavily pegged black satin pants’, she tells him she's in costume as a tennis player in mourning. And when she auditions guitarist Tom Verlaine, she almost treats it more as a test of wardrobe than of musical compatibility:

Divining how to appeal to Tom's sensibilities, I dressed in a manner that I thought a boy from Delaware would understand: black ballet flats, pink shantung capris, my kelly green silk raincoat, and a violet parasol…

Oh for a photograph. Patti Smith is – there's no getting away from the word – incredibly cool. While at the Chelsea Hotel, she talks about her fascination with all the legendary former guests, and writes about scurrying from floor to floor, ‘longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars’. It's hard to imagine that kids won't be longing for the same thing with her years after she's gone, and this raw and touching memoir of late-60s, early-70s New York is, if nothing else, a beautiful gift to them.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,493 reviews2,374 followers
October 3, 2018
Patti Smith's Just Kids is a rare little gem of perpetual bliss. This differs from other memoirs I have read, and it left me with deep feeling of simply being happy to exist in this world. Smith writes about her time living in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe while they were both shaking off the dull scraps of adolescence and trying to break out as artists. Strewn throughout the book are pictures of them as very young excitable artists-in-training. I rarely have come across two people in book that felt very much joined at the hip. Smith's prose reads like a soft-focus fairy tale. The sections set in the Chelsea Hotel, especially, have an almost Dickensian quality to them; they read as a quaint story full of larger-than-life characters, most of whom have hearts firmly of gold. Reconciling this wistful retelling of her youth with the persona I associate with her was intriguing to say the least. And obviously I am not the only one who found the disconnect between Patti Smith's presence and her internal life jarring - there are places in the text where she discusses how those around her took her for a lesbian and even a junkie.

Her prose is wispy, light and airy, and her memories are wholesome, despite the fact that anyone who knows the history of that scene knows just how much death and self-immolation is happening just off screen. Patti Smith herself seems to have waltzed through it to my astonishment seemingly unscathed, and her writing dances along the edges of the darkness that her scene held. The book is structured superbly well, it opens with the moment Smith hears of Mapplethorpe's death, then jumps back in time before they have met. Smith discusses her teenage pregnancy and the process of giving her child up for adoption, her failure at teacher's school, and her time on a New Jersey assembly line in a brisk and somewhat sanitized fashion; again, there seems to be in her writing a distaste for discussions of the negative, of the hard and bleak moments of her life. From there, the book jumps forward to her first meeting with Mapplethorpe, their sweet and heartfelt romance which warms the heart so much, the little poverty-stricken life they build together, and how hard they worked to evolve their relationship with each other when their life trajectories began to diverge. There is a poignant nostalgia throughout, and she comes across as a wholly likeable person, regardless of whether you like her music. A most poetic of memoirs. The only thing that kept me from scoring a five, is that she sometimes distracts from things, and I also would have liked to have seen a greater description of the physical aspect of New York, which must have been one hell of place to be caught up in at the time.
Profile Image for emily.
573 reviews38 followers
May 13, 2012
I didn't just hate this book. I cherished my hatred for this book. Luxuriated in it. Drank deeply of my hatred.

I didn't just find the writing clunky, I found it odd, troubled by an overfamiliar relationship with the passive voice (lots of things "could be seen"), verbs (no one ever god damn says anything; they discourse, spiel, spin, regale, blah blah blah), and prepositions (why say "on" when you can add a syllable to get "upon"? why use the mundane "because" when you can replace it with "for" and sound like a Victorian lady novelist?). You know in the beginning of the movie "Labyrinth," when Jennifer Connelly is reading out loud from that book about the Goblin King? It sounds like that.

I didn't just find Patti Smith kind of strange and off-putting in the way she explains that other people who were not as cool as she may have. I found her (or her portrayal of herself, which is not the same thing) actively frustrating. I'm not sure if she intended, as a writer, for her and Mapplethorpe's pursuit of fame to sound so damn groupie-ish. Lots of tracking down someone who is famous and following him around.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
November 23, 2016
Last year, I read Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road. I didn't know much about Steinem, but her book made me see her in a whole new light -- not an icon, but a lovely dedicated generous person. I had a similar experience listening to the audio of Patti Smith's Just Kids. I didn't know much about her, but certainly wasn't expecting to be so charmed by her. The memoir focuses on her early adult years. She moved to New York, developed a complicated relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and tried to figure out her place in the world. Rather than making herself sound heroic or tragic or dishing out tawdry gossip, she talks with great openness and generosity about her life, her family and her friends. Much of what she describes is mundane, but she recounts it with so much appreciation for small moments in her life that it's hard not to fall in step with her lovely sensibility. In many ways, I didn't find it easy to connect with the way she lived -- pretty gritty at times -- or her relationship with Mapplethorpe -- but I loved seeing it all though Smith's eyes. It helps that Smith writes really well -- occasionally veering into prose closer to poetry -- stark, simple and expressive. It all made me feel like slowing down -- appreciating what's there -- my family, friends and surroundings.

A note on the audio: Smith narrates her own story. She has a slow droning voice. It really grew on me. You're going to love it or hate it. I gather the physical book has many photos.
Profile Image for Lucy.
417 reviews626 followers
May 31, 2020

”We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad. Through the years these roles would reverse, then reverse again, until we came to accept our dual natures.”

In this book Patti Smith tells the story of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. What starts off as a love story, shifts and revolves into a deep connection of friendship and understanding and that of maker and muse.

Patti Smith has some of the most beautiful and lyrical prose I have read. She details her time in New York and the encounters that led her to Robert Mapplethorpe, their struggles as starting artists, lovers, friendship as well as shifting self-identities and questioning self-belonging. It was amazing to read their struggles together, their love for one another, exploring sexuality, exploring their art, and how each influenced the others art.

Patti details all of the artists that she met along the way to her artistry and how these meetings influenced her as a person and her art.

I knew of Patti Smith as the music artist but hadn’t known that she was a budding poet with a keen interest in writing her own poetry and displaying her own art. It details her life as trying to be a poet and to get recognised, the introduction of her poetry with music, and the eventual transition into lyrics and music with a band.

This was an amazing biography dedicated to her time with Robert Mapplethorpe, a friend and previous lover who had such an influence on her life and vice versa. It was amazing to see their growth with each other and remaining by each other’s sides- even when they were far distances apart- how they each thought of the other despite time and distance.

This was an intriguing and fantastic biography and I loved reading about this relationship. I had consistent songs of Patti’s playing through my consciousness while I read this book and loved reading through some of her poetry included at the back.
Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,197 followers
October 27, 2018
My first audiobook and I chose a good one to listen to, love Patti’s speaking voice. I never knew much about her, she’s over a decade older then me and I wasn’t ever into punk music at all. This was very interesting though, how she met Mapplethorpe and how they got by in New York, their bohemian lifestyle, and the people who they spent time with. What a special relationship these two “kids” had!
I will make sure to listen to M Train in 2019!
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 7 books1,216 followers
July 19, 2021
"What should we aspire to as we go on our road? When I was in my early 20s, I was lucky to have William Burroughs as a friend and mentor. When I was with him and I asked him this question: “what should I aspire to?” and he thought, and he said: “my dear, a gold American Express would be good.” but after that he said very thoughtfully, “build your name.” and I said, “William, my name is Smith.” and he said, “well, you’ll have to build a little harder.” but what William meant when he told me to build my name, build a good name, because a name is not to get famous. He wasn’t talking about celebrity. He was talking about let your name radiate yourself. Magnify who you are. Your good deeds. Your coat of honor. And as you go through life your name will serve you.

We might ask ourselves, what tools do we have? What can we count on? You can count on yourself. Believe me, your self is your best ally. You know who you are. Even when sometimes it becomes a little blurry and you make mistakes or [inaudible], just go deeper. You know who you are. You know the right thing to do. And when you make a mistake, it’s alright. As the song goes, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again."

Patti Smith Keynote Speech at Pratt Commencement 2010

One of the most luminous tales of love and grit that I have ever read, set in the mythical and ever-shifting New York City of the 60's and 70's. Watch two young beings become who they are, two small rocks formed by icy water, grain by grain, layer by layer, sustained by an otherwordly faith in their own future.

As I devoured this book (I couldn't put it down for three days), I couldn't help but think of this description of Jay Gatsby, which is at the heart of the American Character:

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the 'creative temperament'--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again."

This is exactly what is being expressed here on every single page: a heightened sensitivity to the promise of life. A romantic readiness such as we rarely get to experience today.

A quintessential American love story.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
January 5, 2016
"Nothing is finished until you see it."
- Robert Mapplethorpe, quoted in 'Just Kids'

"Who can know the heart of youth but youth itself?"
- Patti Smith, 'Just Kids'


A memoir of images, people, and hopes 'Just Kids' explores the funky relationship of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe as they began their unique relationship and struggled to emerge as artists. The power of this memoir is the way Patti Smith works the words to create a canvas broad enough to catch both Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith as they grow and flower.


I fell in love with Patti Smith and her music in college twenty+ years ago and loved her raw power and openness. Through her I discovered Mapplethorpe and although I never quite got excited by his more iconic S&M photos, I loved his flowers and his boldness. I knew their myth, but this book gave a greater glimpse into their relationship and the galaxy of their friends. I never knew about her relationship with Sam Smith, Allen Lanier, etc., or her friendship with many of the Chelsea Hotel crowd, beat poets, etc. The book is a great exploration of friendship, love and art. It is also a great tribute to the role of mentors, art benefactors, work, hope, and no small amount of luck in the creation of great art.
Profile Image for Reem.
23 reviews21 followers
March 19, 2014
I only finished this book so I can justify tarnishing it in this review. This book was absolute penguin shit. Not only was it the most boring load of crap I've ever seen, but also the most superficial. We all spring from apes, but Patti does not spring far enough. Why does she try so hard to make her life feel like a novel? She takes the reader's attention for granted, going on and on with unnecessary information that I won't remember by the next page, as if I HAVE to care for this load of crap. I am going to give concrete examples just to make sure NO ONE would even DARE to disagree with me, but please do excuse foul language (that I am trying my best to minimize), I have very low tolerance for assy writers.

Let's begin with the show. How obvious can it get that all her ideas about the book were last minute? She was just trying to write a book, she wasn't trying to make it memorable and she definitely wasn't trying to make it any good. How can she go from a paragraph about poetry, to one about her first pot experience, to one about some guy being on the 5th floor. Not just that, but I'm sure we all realized that Robert was very obsessed with Andy Warhol, yet she ends the book with a metaphor that compares him to Michelangelo who was only ever brought up once (on page 208). He was mentioned once. Like, why did she do that?

And the lousy timeline of 100 pages all about 1970 (supposedly "their year" but nothing even slightly memorable seems to happen?) and then 50 pages later you're at the end of the 80's 'cause Robert's dead. Evidently this had no previous planning, or any kind of outline.

Also, what's with the random dramatic paragraph endings??? I feel like I'm reading a very long, also very shitty, Tumblr post. For example, on page 6, she talks about her cousins and says that "with them in my corner, anything seemed possible." Ok, what??? These cousins are never mentioned again in the entire book, this means absolutely nothing!!!
ANOTHER EXAMPLE just cause this book is overflowing with reasons to hate this shit, on page 240, she ends a paragraph with "though no one knew it, the stars were aligning, the angels were calling." You know what? I'm glad she told me, because I didn't know either. And I still don't know. Nothing happened.
Page 245: "we too would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone." I hope you're all catching how cheesy this is. I hope you guys fully realize this chick is a grown woman talking like a 13 year old after being inspired by some shitty Hollywood film.
Page 233: "By New Year's Eve, we were ready for anything." Really? Anything? I want to eat this book and spit it at her.
Page 174 just because i can make it clearer how much I hate her: "still, the small rule-hating self within me did not die." That is, by far, the biggest load of crap in this book. Not only is it a remarkable sentence, but it's also false. Because right after this, she rejects a contract that would've gotten her big, and why? Because it was 'too easy'? This chick is absolutely nuts.

Moving on, the inconsistency, OH THE INCONSISTENCY, how at first she sounds all serious using big words and all that (eg. "I was a dreamy somnambulant child" who the flip uses the word 'somnambulant' to describe a child?) building a very formal style. Them boom, before you know it, she's talking to a stuffed raven. And if you all don't remember, then i will remind you: page 133, she has just identified to us a stuffed raven she bought and called Raymond.
"... The heavy glass door opened as if swept by wind and a familiar figure in a black and scarlet cape entered. It was Salvador Dalí. He looked around the lobby nervously, and then, seeing my crow, smiled. He placed his elegant, bony hand atop my head and said: 'you are like a crow, a gothic crow.' 'Well,' I said to Raymond, 'just another day at the Chelsea.' "
I dare you to tell me that doesn't sound like Hannah Montana talking. I dare you.

And, oh my God, the names? Lines and lines on names and names of so many different people. It's as if there's a flipping prerequisite for this shitty excuse for a book. On page 147, you had such a lengthy paragraph about a guy called David, who would serve as Robert's lover for some time, yet I still have no idea about HER HUSBAND?

We venture on. There are so many really really shitty metaphors. Like, if you can't, like why must you force it? Did no one edit this? Did no one tell her she didn't make sense?
Page 107: "we were like fishermen throwing out our nets. The net was strong but often we returned from our ventures empty handed." So deep. So so deep.
Page 203: "if Robert was the sailor, Sam Wagstaff was the ship coming in." Just please no, no. You can't even understand it until way later, when you know who Sam is.

Also, this book really feels like it's about nothing. Like I really don't get what she's getting at, she wastes so much space on absolutely meaningless things.
Page 249: there is a full paragraph about clothes. What she was wearing, along with everyone else. Why do I care? Exactly, I don't.
Page 250: there is a full paragraph about food. Again, I don't care.

Now we all know this is a book, and a book requires giving information, but am I the only one that ever thought 'okay, TMI.' I'm always weary not to hang out with people like this, where you trust them one day and then, the next, you're in a book. Or better yet, you ARE a book. Poor Robert.

Patti has a problem remembering that we are foreigners to her life. She talks about people without ever introducing them, as if we all know them. She talks about dates and events as if we totally had them on our calendar. I didn't even know Sandy was a dude until page 196, and that is SO her fault. Sandy is such a girly name! She should have made it clear!
Page 207: "it was my favorite outfit, the one in the picture." What picture?? There's a flipping million pictures in this book, the nearest one being of some writing.
Page 269: "on my birthday he expressed concern for Sam." I don't know when her birthday is! Too bad. I wanted to know.

Surprisingly, there is actually SO MUCH MORE that I just won't say. This is all excluding he random capital letters in the middle of sentences, and the shitty grammar! I can't skip that:
Page 171: "it was possible his tales were even taller than mine." Taller? Does she even English?
Page 169: a paragraph has the first sentence about Jimi Hendrix's unachieved dreams, and the second sentence about a trip to Paris with her sister. English 101: No.

And, for the grand finale, Patti Smith manages to come up with the worst sentence ever known to man.
Page 234: "Robert liked Sam's money, and Sam liked that Robert liked his money." Bravo. Bra-flipping-vo.

Patti manages to put the most words into the smallest ideas. I'm tired of thinking about this book. I'm so frustrated with trying to avoid swearing in this review. Patti Smith is by far the worst writer I have ever had the displeasure of coming across. I need a cigarette.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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