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Just Kids – Patti Smith

Just Kids Patti Smith

Just Kids – Patti Smith’s Fulfilled Promise is a Gift to Us All

In Just Kids, lyrical master Patti Smith brings us along for the struggle she went through to make it as an artist in New York City in the late 60s and fulfills her death-bed promise to Robert Mapplethorpe to tell their story. 

You will feel their hunger as they struggled to survive the commitment they had made to live as artists.  And you will feel Smith’s pain as she watched Mapplethorpe lose his battle with AIDS

I couldn’t put this one down.

I’ve mentioned before that for whatever reason, Patti Smith has become my pandemic spirit animal.  It all began when I was strolling through our local public library and some volunteer had placed her more recent release, Year of the Monkey, on the staff recommended shelf. 

The book caught my eye so I grabbed it. 

Little did I know at the time that it would send me on a journey that would include a deep dive into her music (of course picking up a copy of Horses at my local record store, What’s up Will!), finding one of the best covers of all time of my all-time favorite band (Patti Smith doing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, check it out), and listening to a great interview she did with Marc Maron when the book first came out.

The thing about having an old artist be new to you is that there is a whole library just waiting for you to discover it and dive in – especially when that artist happens to write, sing, jam, draw, and do pretty much anything else that comes to her dynamic and all-encompassing vision of ‘art’.

Just Kids pre-dates Year of the Monkey by a decade (2010 vs 2020), but that decade means relatively little when talking about someone who has been on the planet for 70 years and has been consistently putting out art for 50 of them.  However, there are some things that I brought to the table by reading Year of the Monkey first – mostly how this all turns out for Smith.  She outlives most of the close people in her life, and it is a constant thread through the two books.

While Year of the Monkey is a book about where Smith is now (or relatively now), Just Kids is the tale of what got her here, and a fascinating one it is.  It is also the fulfillment of a promise made to her partner in life, Robert Mapplethorpe, to tell their amazing story.  

The Thread of Hunger

From sleeping in Central Park and on various stoops around the city, to living in the Chelsea Hotel, Just Friends tells a progression defined by a commitment to being an artist, and hunger.  Hunger is the common thread throughout most of the book, and when it ends, it isn’t stated.  You just come to realize that Patti Smith has a kitchen that seems to have food and that acquiring that food was no longer a tale worth telling.

The tension that this hunger created subsides just in time for Mapplethorpe to begin his decline, ravaged by AIDS.  

Following Patti Smith – 30 Years Later

For me the book was also a trip down my own memory lane.  Aside from a moment of, ya I’ve been to CBGB’s, I didn’t really expect my journey to parallel Smith’s in many ways (or any ways).  As it turns out, I was just following in her footsteps 30 years later. 

I had lived on Ave A in the East Village, sublet an apartment in Brooklyn near the Hoyt St. subway station, and lived for over 10 years on the corner of 23rd and 8th Ave in Chelsea, just a block from the Chelsea hotel.  I was in Chelsea just early enough to know the Capital Fishing store and, most importantly, the crazy donut shop she mentions.

The memories flooded back to late nights getting coffee and an egg sandwich at four in the morning on the way home.  Do you need this level of intimacy to relate to the book?  Of course not.  Smith will bring you there and along for the ride, the same as she does with her poetry and music. 

You are in the dingy rooms, feeling the hunger, right along with her.  This painting of New York in the 60s wasn’t overly focused on the music scene, but had references to her run-ins with Hendrix and Joplin, and of course the artists they knew.

I couldn’t put this one down and would recommend it for anyone planing a trip to New York, or anywhere really, or if you’re just devouring it on the couch like me.

Just Kids by Patti Smith | Amazon

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