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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.

Topics: Counterculture, United States of America, New York City, Brooklyn, New York, Music, Art & Artists, Photography, Friendship, Love, Musicians, Celebrities, Love Story, Writers, Poignant, Heartfelt, Based on a True Story, Nostalgic, Provocative, Inspirational, Gritty, Passionate, Poetic, Touching, Adventurous, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll, Creativity, Coming of Age, Poverty, Sexuality, Fame, Homelessness, Pop Music, Writing, Death, Success, First Person Narration, 21st Century, 1960s, 1970s, Female Author, and American Author

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780062008442
List price: $10.99
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The subject of Smith's evocative and quite wonderful memoir (which won the National Book Prize) is her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and their development as artists. There is much about the wild and gritty life in Manhattan during the last sixties and early seventies that makes present-day Manhattan look like a bland, glitzy shopping mall. Rock and roll, poetry (it's Patty Smith, so there is much Rimaud scattered throughout), drugs, sex, and everyone from Warhol to Jim Morrison to Jimi Hendix to Janis Joplin to Salvatore Dali to Sam Shephard to William Burroughs wanders through the pages, in various stages of poverty and inebriation.I'm not sure I believe everything Smith tells us. For instance, the idea she learned of Mapplethorpe's death at the very moment the Tosca aria "Vissi d'arte," I have lived for love, I have lived for Art, plays on early morning public radio, is a tad hard to swallow. But who cares; if it didn't happen that way, it ought to have. And was she really the first person to call Janis Joplin "Pearl?" There is much humour here, and astute observations about place and period. Her descriptions of living on the streets when she first arrived in NYC from New Jersey are frightening and one scene, in which she and a very ill Mapplethorpe find temporary refuge in a end-of-the-line flop house filled with junkie drag queens in various stages of dying, is harrowing, but never voyeuristic or self-pityingHer portrait of the famous "doll’s house in the Twilight Zone”: the Chelsea Hotel, which boasted a now-legendary collection of eccentrics and cultural icons is terrific, as is that of Max's Kansas City. One of my favorite vignettes was when Allen Ginsberg tried to pick her up in an automat. He paid for her sandwich, which cost ten cents more than she had, and then, after sitting at a table with her for several minutes, leaned in and asked if she was a girl. When she says yes and asks if that's a problem, does he want the sandwich back, he just laughs and says, no, she can keep the sandwich, but he had thought her a very pretty boy. Mapplethorpe himself perhaps remains the most elusive figure. When he is closest to her, as her lover and artistic collaborator, he hasn't yet come out, even perhaps to himself, as a gay man, and this makes for an incomplete portrait, of course, even though Smith does spend a good deal of time on his conservative-Catholic upbringing as a reason for his inner conflicts. When he does begin to explore his sexuality, he does it away from her, as a street hustler and, of course, in the dark shadows of the extreme S&M world he photographed. He feels emotionally distant, a bit of a cipher. But, as elusive as he may be, their bonds to each other are never in question. The youthful posturing and artistic grandiosity of these two is fascinating. They sometimes question their talent (who doesn't?) but never abandon the belief they will one day be famous, be Real Artists. When I hear most young people say such things, I have a tendency to shake my head knowingly, but this story reminds me that every once in a while, as with these two, maybe not all such dreams are delusion.more
Maybe I expected too much given the National Book Award.
Enjoyed parts of it immenselly. Smith is a talented storyteller. However, I never was able to get beyond the patronizing and sometimes pretentious overtones.more
Surprisingly good even though I'm not a Patti Smith fan (had barely heard of her) and still have trouble thinking of Mapplethorpe's male nude photos as anything but sick pornography. Still it's a very well-written book and good indepth study of some unique characters. Better than 80% of biographies, and that made it worth reading.more
I was quite pleasantly surprised by how sweet and touching Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is.more
Read all 88 reviews

Reviews

The subject of Smith's evocative and quite wonderful memoir (which won the National Book Prize) is her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and their development as artists. There is much about the wild and gritty life in Manhattan during the last sixties and early seventies that makes present-day Manhattan look like a bland, glitzy shopping mall. Rock and roll, poetry (it's Patty Smith, so there is much Rimaud scattered throughout), drugs, sex, and everyone from Warhol to Jim Morrison to Jimi Hendix to Janis Joplin to Salvatore Dali to Sam Shephard to William Burroughs wanders through the pages, in various stages of poverty and inebriation.I'm not sure I believe everything Smith tells us. For instance, the idea she learned of Mapplethorpe's death at the very moment the Tosca aria "Vissi d'arte," I have lived for love, I have lived for Art, plays on early morning public radio, is a tad hard to swallow. But who cares; if it didn't happen that way, it ought to have. And was she really the first person to call Janis Joplin "Pearl?" There is much humour here, and astute observations about place and period. Her descriptions of living on the streets when she first arrived in NYC from New Jersey are frightening and one scene, in which she and a very ill Mapplethorpe find temporary refuge in a end-of-the-line flop house filled with junkie drag queens in various stages of dying, is harrowing, but never voyeuristic or self-pityingHer portrait of the famous "doll’s house in the Twilight Zone”: the Chelsea Hotel, which boasted a now-legendary collection of eccentrics and cultural icons is terrific, as is that of Max's Kansas City. One of my favorite vignettes was when Allen Ginsberg tried to pick her up in an automat. He paid for her sandwich, which cost ten cents more than she had, and then, after sitting at a table with her for several minutes, leaned in and asked if she was a girl. When she says yes and asks if that's a problem, does he want the sandwich back, he just laughs and says, no, she can keep the sandwich, but he had thought her a very pretty boy. Mapplethorpe himself perhaps remains the most elusive figure. When he is closest to her, as her lover and artistic collaborator, he hasn't yet come out, even perhaps to himself, as a gay man, and this makes for an incomplete portrait, of course, even though Smith does spend a good deal of time on his conservative-Catholic upbringing as a reason for his inner conflicts. When he does begin to explore his sexuality, he does it away from her, as a street hustler and, of course, in the dark shadows of the extreme S&M world he photographed. He feels emotionally distant, a bit of a cipher. But, as elusive as he may be, their bonds to each other are never in question. The youthful posturing and artistic grandiosity of these two is fascinating. They sometimes question their talent (who doesn't?) but never abandon the belief they will one day be famous, be Real Artists. When I hear most young people say such things, I have a tendency to shake my head knowingly, but this story reminds me that every once in a while, as with these two, maybe not all such dreams are delusion.more
Maybe I expected too much given the National Book Award.
Enjoyed parts of it immenselly. Smith is a talented storyteller. However, I never was able to get beyond the patronizing and sometimes pretentious overtones.more
Surprisingly good even though I'm not a Patti Smith fan (had barely heard of her) and still have trouble thinking of Mapplethorpe's male nude photos as anything but sick pornography. Still it's a very well-written book and good indepth study of some unique characters. Better than 80% of biographies, and that made it worth reading.more
I was quite pleasantly surprised by how sweet and touching Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is.more
This is the story of Patti Smith's long relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their coming of age as artists as part of the bohemian culture of New York City from the late sixties to the early seventies. I'll admit that coming into this book I never really saw the appeal of Patti Smith's rock poet pose. With the exception of "Because the Night", her one hit single, I always found her music a bit harsh and grating for my tastes. And believe me, I've probably given "Horses" at least half a dozen plays. I fully expected Patti Smith the person to be harsh, grating, pretentious and precious.

This book surprised me. Patti Smith is a person I'd like to know. She comes off in this book as vulnerable, nurturing, friendly, and not stuck on herself at all. And yeah, maybe a little precious and pretentious, but what self-described poet isn't? I find I like her enough to cut her some slack there. I'm interested now in going back and listening to her music again, this time using a different album, maybe "Easter", as my starting point.

Patti and Robert lived as a couple for a few years, before Robert accepted his own gay sexual identity. At one point, they passed themselves off as husband and wife to Robert's devout Catholic mother, and impression which was never corrected. The two remained close until Robert's death from complications of AIDS in 1989. After a period of early hardship, they scored the smallest room at the famed Chelsea Hotel, home to artists and free spirits of all kinds, by leaving some of their artwork with the owner as collateral until they could afford their rent. The Chelsea Hotel address was fortuitous. Gradually their circle of friends comes to include folk music compiler Harry Smith, beat writer William S. Burroughs, Dylan associate Bobby Neuwirth, Johnny Winter, Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, and others. They are both able to grow these associations into successful artistic careers. Both start out in different media than what they'd become known for, but gradually Patti drifts into rock and Robert into photography.

This book works on two fronts: both as a portrait of an undying friendship and a "you are there" memoir of a cultural milieu.more
Patti Smith has turned in a lovely, almost transcendent memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. Two starving artists in New York- both of them destined for fame- what's not to love about that? Oh, and they were smack in the middle of all the happening music, all the beautiful people. While the events told in this book were unfolding, I was riveted by newspaper accounts of same, dreaming of a life less ordinary. Here is that life, writ large.

Smith's writing is mannered, precise and absolutely beautiful. Her tales have just a bit of distance, enough to let in some air and light. I knew how it would end, of course, but I found myself weeping just the same.

Highly recommended.more
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