I always liked Patti Smith. I remember when I first heard “Pissing in the River” off of the “Times Square” movie soundtrack, and I thought, whoa this woman is edgy and deep. After having read “Just Kids”, this feeling of like has turned to love and admiration and I now want to be her friend.
Patti Smith is like us. What I mean by that is that her voice will easily slip inside your head like it’s been there all along. She’s so open and casual about it that you don’t even have time to think, wow, this person that I know as a music artist is also a damned good writer! because she’s just there, doing her thing, talking to you through the page. She’s not trying to impress anyone or name drop. She’s just telling you how it was and painting a picture of New York in the 70’s that makes you feel like you are RIGHT THERE.
Speaking of painting, did you know that Patti Smith started out as a fine artist? Because I didn’t. That is her driving passion, and the music came later. I would say that “Just Kids” is a book about two artists, Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s about best friends who also happened to be lovers. It’s about being young and living for your art and trying to survive along the way. Lower Manhattan and the Chelsea Hotel are the backdrops for their work and their lives, as gritty as you can imagine and so full of everything, including a cast of characters that could have only existed in that time period.
These are the cool kids, but they weren’t always cool, not on purpose. Well maybe Robert was, but Patti just comes off as a slightly awkward small-town girl who has landed in the big city. Not in a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm way, in a way that is quite naked, like Mapplethorpe’s photographs. Naked and raw, but not frightening. She always seems surprised when good things happened to her, which is an endearing trait.
I was sad when the book ended. Not just because of what happened but because I was no longer going to have Patti Smith’s words in my head. I went and looked up interviews with her on YouTube, flipped through pictures, found a documentary on HBO that would give me more of this story (Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, if you are interested in watching, but I recommend reading the book first).
TL:DR-I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t think you are a Patti Smith fan. It’s great writing and a rich and colorful story told with honesty and humor and full of detail, in a voice that could be gravelly from too many cigarettes and long conversations deep into the night. It is New York in all of its gritty glory and the cast of characters from the village to the Chelsea Hotel in one grand, eclectic parade of those living for and by their art. And it speaks to a deep and undefinable love between two people as they are “growing up” in their young adult years.
Reviewed by Liz Smith, a social media manager who currently lives in Portland Oregon. When she's not working, baking, and taking care of her husband and 7 rescue pets, she'd love to be traveling the world.