I’m not too familiar with Patti Smith’s work, so I probably never would have thought about reading Just Kids if it weren’t for this short but intriguing review at bluntsbookblog. This is the ninth book I’ve read for the Pay It Sideways Challenge.
Just Kids is the fulfillment of a promise Patti Smith made to Robert Mapplethorpe in their last ever conversation before he died, “Will you write our story? … no one but you can write it”. When I sat down one lazy (and slightly hungover) Sunday morning to read it, I had no idea how much of an effect the book would have on me. I spent the rest of that day with my eyes glued to the pages and my mind in 1970’s New York.
Coming from very different backgrounds, Smith and Mapplethorpe find themselves in a new and exciting city. They have no money, but as Smith constantly reminds herself, they are young and free. They quickly become inseparable and so begins a friendship that will last until Mapplethorpe’s death.
Their unwavering dreams to become artists help them through tough times, even when they struggle with badly paid jobs and Smith in particular becomes disheartened. They make the most of what they have by scavenging the streets for furniture and decorating the walls with drawings and drapes. It wasn’t much, but it was home and they were together.
Their relationship did not always run so smoothly, and for a time Mapplethorpe left New York to ‘find himself’ and come to terms with his sexuality. But through all of their ups and downs, Smith and Mapplethorpe were bound to each other. They helped each other through difficult times, shared a home, money and most importantly supported and encouraged each other with their art. It’s interesting to see how their projects often ran side by side, with the interests of one influencing the other.
After a particularly depressing period spent together at a shabby, drug infested hotel, Smith and Mapplethorpe had a lucky break and managed to get a small room at the Chelsea. I could have read on and on about their experiences at the Chelsea. Smith encounters and becomes friends with famous artists, poets and musicians. This was a very exciting and important time in Smith’s life and she is very aware of that now, even if she wasn’t as it was happening. Here’s a quote from the book that sums this up and particularly stood out to me, “I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied by my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.”
This compelling memoir can be appreciated even if you have no idea who Patti Smith is. As well as being a book about the fascinating dynamics of such a trusting relationship between two artists, Just Kids is about youth, and this is what appeals to me most of all. Patti Smith is an excellent writer. She can take you back to her early life with such vividness; The gritty details about living rough, the wonderful descriptions and anecdotes of the Chelsea hotel and the general atmosphere of life at that time in New York. It certainly reminds me that being young is an exciting part of life.
Get your own copy of the fantastic book by clicking the link below!