Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

                                                        2014-09-01 23.13.34-2

 “And as I toured the world I had time to reflect that Robert and I had never traveled together. We never saw beyond New York save in books and never sat in an airplane holding each other’s hand to ascend into a new sky and descend onto a new earth.

Yet Robert and I had explored the frontier of our work and created space for each other. When I walked on the stages of the world without him I would close my eyes and picture him taking off his leather jacket, entering with me the land of a thousand dances.”

In Just Kids Patti Smith chronicles her beginnings as an artist and her long, intense partnership with Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith recalls meeting Robert as a teenager new to New York, their romance and eventual demise of it, and the artistic partnership that will last until Robert’s death from AIDS in 1989.

Just Kids is well-written in Smith’s prose that is, unsurprisingly, poetic. She gives an unsentimental look into her memories as she documents her beginnings and growth as an artist. A lot of famous figures give cameos, such as Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William S. Borroughs, and Jimi Hendrix. Patti’s time at the Chelsea Hotel in the 70’s having exposed her to some of the greatest poets and artists of that generation. I can’t claim to be the biggest Patti Smith fan. Of course I know of her songs Because the Night and Dancing Barefoot but I guess my musical upbringing wasn’t really punk enough to expose me to her. That said, I really enjoyed reading this memoir as a way to get to know her and I listened to her album Horses while reading this and truly think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. Patti Smith is a true poet and artist. Her lyrics leave me no doubt that she is a poet first and foremost but listening to her albums, it’s almost startling to know that she almost just stumbled onto making music as a consequence of her environment. It’s quite unbelievable that she wasn’t simply born doing it. The same could be said of Robert Mapplethorpe and how his photography came about after years of working and experimenting with installation art. 

I’m always kind of skeptical of memoirs as I figure they’re only half-true stories and filled with, if not a deliberate bias, then the natural bias of flawed human memory. But Just Kids isn’t meant to be Patti Smith’s true life story. It is her story with Robert that she promised him that she would tell the world in a way that only she could. It is an artist’s ruminations on a lifetime spent in art and all those that have helped and inspired her. It is a peek into the artistic underbelly of a decade known for its art, music, drugs, and politics. And it is all well done.

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