In 1967 Patti Smith left her childhood home in South Jersey and, with very little money, moved to New York City to make it as an artist. On one of her first days there she met Robert Mapplethorpe who would become her friend, lover and artistic booster. In Just Kids the legendary musician recounts the evolution of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, the excitement of living in NYC during this world-changing era and her development as a poet and leader of a rock band.
I started Just Kids three times before I finally finished it. I loved, absolutely loved, the beginning of the book when Smith writes about her childhood and teen years and her decision to try her luck in New York. It’s beautifully nostalgic and lyrical – quite poetic. Toward the middle of the book I kept getting stuck. There is something about the book that made me sad and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I finally finished it. It’s all about death. So many deaths happen to artists that Smith loves and identified with – Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. And then, of course, the tragedy of the entire story is the death of Mapplethorpe in 1989. By this point their relationship was not very solid and they had drifted away from each other, however the connection they had formed as young artists could never be broken.
Smith’s writing is wonderful and thoughtful, documenting her artistic inspirations and yearning for expression with gentleness for herself and for the broken people around her. I closed the book with a sense of sadness yet peace and an appreciation for the life-saving and refining effect art and creation can have on a determined person.
Smith won the 2010 National Book Award for this memoir and it is well-deserved.