‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith

'Just Kids' by Patti Smith

‘I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates …’

‘Just Kids’ is Patti Smith’s homage to her friend and onetime lover, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, describing in shockingly honest detail the tumultuous relationship that they had with each other, art, life, and New York City.

'Just Kids' by Patti Smith‘I’m sure there were downs as well, but my memories are served with nostalgia and humor.’

Patti and Robert met by chance, and in the end shaped and forever changed each other’s lives. While I have heard this story described as romantic by other readers and friends, in my mind this story is more gritty than romantic – so if you decide to flip through these pages, be prepared for in-your-face reality.

‘I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments.’

Because of the aura of New York at the time of Patti’s youth and the art scene that Patti and Robert were a part of, a myriad of infamous characters – Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, and others – flow in and out of Patti’s life and add a surreal aspect to her story. And while this book is largely a love story to Robert’s, as well as her own personal youth, the novel was also infused with a deep love of New York City – a New York as it was before Giuliani cleared and cleaned up 42nd Street.

‘The city was a real city, shifty and sexual. I was lightly jostled by small herds of flushed young sailors looking for action on Forty-Second Street, with it rows of x-rated movie houses, brassy women, glittering souvenir shops, and hot-dog vendors. I wandered through Kino parlors and peered through the windows of the magnificent sprawling Grant’s Raw Bar filled with men in black coats scooping up piles of fresh oysters. The skyscrapers were beautiful. They did not seem like mere corporate shells. They were monuments to the arrogant yet philanthropic spirit of America. The character of each quadrant was invigorating and one felt the flux of its history. The old world and the emerging one served up in the brick and mortar of the artisan and the architects. I walked for hours from park to park. In Washington Square, one could still feel the characters of Henry James and the presence of the author himself … This open atmosphere was something I had not experienced, simple freedom that did not seem oppressive to anyone.’

In the end, can I say I liked this book? Well, sure I did. Patti is a beautifully poetic writer and she lived an exciting life. However, throughout the whole of the tale, all I could think of – within my inner monologue of thought – was that I was just not cool enough to be reading this story. For example, Patti speaks of Robert ‘hustling’ along Forty-Second Street. It took me several more chapters to ascertain that by hustling she meant prostitution – here I thought the man was dancing in the streets doing the ‘hustle’ or something of that sort and not selling himself for rent money. And the way they lived – in filth … without bathrooms and thus urinating in cups, skipping meals, sleeping upon dirty mattresses covered in lice – is something that disgusted me and although helped paint the landscape, also turned me off in regards to being able to, or even wanting to, relate to Patti and Robert. This book was the quintessential ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ manifesto; I, however, am most definitely not able to relate or be defined as such.

 

Salon Summary

RECOMMENDABILITY: 4 {out of 5} stars | ★★★★☆
REPETITIVE READABILITY: 1 {out of 5} stars | ★☆☆☆☆
RATING: 3 {out of 5} stars | ★★★☆☆