National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2010
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 42nd 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 60s and 70s 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.
In 1989, just before famously controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe died too young of AIDS complications at age 42, he made his very best friend promise to tell their story. Patti Smith took many years to do it, but the incredible result, Just Kids has proven well worth the wait. Winner of the National Book Award, Smith's delicate tribute to her relationship with Mapplethorpe and their love affair with New York City is read by Patti Smith herself.
No one else could narrate this, and no one else could have written this. After Smith ditched college to move to New York in 1967, a chance encounter in which Mapplethorpe saved her from an expectant date by pretending to be her angry boyfriend touched off one of the most historic artistic partnerships the city had ever seen. Embarking at first as lovers, they clung to their art and each other through poverty and misfortune in the late-60s, moving steadily closer to the center of cultural influence in the 70s. Mapplethorpe struggled with coming out of the closet and Smith struggled to find an artistic medium that suited her best. Together, they swam through everything that made New York great and terrible, each eventually emerging as a pioneering independent spirit that to this day knows no equal.
Smith's voice as both the writer and the narrator is simply unimpeachable. Reflective and soft-spoken, she humbly attempts to capture two decades of this inspirational partnership. Listeners can tell she is thinking through every image she has written here, pausing occasionally to let it sink in for herself or to let the dialogue get caught in her throat. By turns haunted and poetic, by turns silly and sarcastic, Smith trips along these enchanting bits of history in a way that is utterly endearing. It's not at all like inviting somebody famous to entertain you with gossip at dinner. Real respect must be paid. Listeners will be in awe of the fact that Patti Smith comes across as a totally normal person who stumbled into an extraordinary life. Even if you've already passed totally engrossed through the hard copy of this book, to hear it from Patti Smith's own mouth is simply an otherworldly experience. This audiobook is an essential companion to the text that will not only bear repeated listening, but will beg for it. Megan Volpert
“Smith’s beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work.” (Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of the Year)
“The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s that any alumnus has yet committed to print.” (Janet Maslin's top 10 books of 2010, New York Times)
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” (People, Top 10 Books of 2010)
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Exceptional. Deeply honest and thoughtful.
Does no one any favors
Really? All these years later, she seems to have no sense of how shallow they all were. It's one thing to write about an earlier self with kindness; it's another to repeat the self-involved "brilliances" as if they really were brilliant. Someone seems to have been living in a sycophantic cocoon a little too long. And jesus, someone needed an editor to tell her that it's just as nice to write "I walked quietly" as "I strolled in an ambiance of stillness" or some such purply dreck. It's just more of the same Boomer self-indulgence and utter inability to see the larger world that has sunk most of these rock-n-roll memoirs.
At first I wanted to kind of hug her and tell her, Really, even still, you're way more into him than he ever was into you. Like it was a little sad for her to be controlling this story, given his death, and trying to frame it in favorable terms for her. But eventually it was more pathetic than sad. And it just wouldn't end!
Famous people's books really suffer from their ability to refuse to bow to editors.