Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe weren't always famous, but they always thought they would be. They found each other, adrift but determined, on the streets of New York City in the late '60s and made a pact to keep each other afloat until they found their voices--or the world was ready to hear them. Lovers first and then friends as Mapplethorpe discovered he was gay, they divided their dimes between art supplies and Coney Island hot dogs. Mapplethorpe was quicker to find his metier, with a Polaroid and then a Hasselblad, but Smith was the first to fame, transformed, to her friend's delight, from a poet into a rock star. (Mapplethorpe soon became famous too--and notorious--before his death from AIDS in 1989.) Smith's memoir of their friendship, Just Kids, is tender and artful, open-eyed but surprisingly decorous, with the oracular style familiar from her anthems like "Because the Night," "Gloria," and "Dancing Barefoot" balanced by her powers of observation and memory for everyday details like the price of automat sandwiches and the shabby, welcoming fellow bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel, among whose ranks these baby Rimbauds found their way. --Tom Nissley
*Starred Review* Patti Smith devotees know that she writes electrifying songs and spirited and spiritual poems, yet her first narrative book, a portrait of the artist as a young searcher times two, is a revelation. In a spellbinding memoir as notable for its restraint as for its lucidity, its wit as well as its grace, Smith tells the story of how she and Robert Mapplethorpe found each other, a true and abiding love that survived his coming out as gay, and the path to art in New York City during the heady late 1960s and early 1970s. Smith promised the controversial photographer that she would tell their story as he faced death in 1989 and then weathered more tragedies as she lost her husband and brother. Consequently, Smith brings the piercing clarity born of pain and renewal to this at once matter-of-fact and fairy tale–like chronicle of two romantics living hand-to-mouth as disciples to art. As much as she succeeds in revealing little-known aspects of Mapplethorpe’s temperament, it is Smith herself who fascinates, from her earliest childhood memories of entering “into the radiance of imagination”; to her stints as a factory worker; to the loneliness of being 19, unmarried, poor, and pregnant; to her fortitude during her penniless and homeless days and nights on the streets of New York in 1967. A lifelong book lover, Smith works in Scribner’s bookstore as she and Mapplethorpe seek their true callings while living in the now legendary Chelsea Hotel, a crazy laboratory for experimentation artistic and otherwise. With appearances by Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard, Johnny Winter, and many other intriguing and influential figures, Smith covers a remarkable swath of cultural and personal history in this beautifully crafted, vivid, and indelible look back. Readers can only hope that Smith will continue to tell her stories and share her visions. --Donna Seaman
” A story of art, identity, devotion, discovery, and love, the book is [Smith’s] first prose work...[it] conjures up the passionate collaboration--as lovers, friends, soul mates, and creators--that she and Mapplethorpe embarked on from the summer they met in Brooklyn in 1967.” (Elle )
“A spellbinding portrait of bohemian New York in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.” (New York Times Book Review, Paperback Row )
“The most enchantingly evocative memoir of funky-but-chic New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s that any alumnus has yet committed to print.” (Janet Maslin's top 10 books of 2010, New York Times )
“Captivating....a poignant requiem...and a radiant celebration of life. Grade: A.” (Entertainment Weekly )
“Terrifically evocative and splendidly titled...the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print....This enchanting book is a reminder that not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation.” (New York Times Book Review )
“[JUST KIDS] is funny and sad but always exhilarating.” (Tampa Tribune )
“Patti Smith’s telling of the years she spent with Robert Mapplethorpe is full of optimism sprinkled with humor...JUST KIDS...is sorely lacking in irony or cynicism; Smith’s worldview is infectious. She’s a jumble of influences, but that’s part of her charm.” (Austin American-Statesman )
“A revelation. In a spellbinding memoir as notable for its restraint as for its lucidity, its wit as well as its grace, Smith tells the story of how she and Robert Mapplethorpe found each other... beautifully crafted, vivid, and indelible.” (Booklist )
“Deeply affecting...a vivid portrayal of a bygone New York that could support a countercultural artistic firmament...the power of this book comes from [Smith’s] ability to recall lucid memories in straightforward prose.” (BookForum )
“JUST KIDS describes [Smith and Mapplethorpe’s] ascent with a forthright sweetness that will ring true to anyone who knows her work.” (Bloomberg.com )
“A remarkable book --sweet and charming and many other words you wouldn’t expect to apply to a punk-rock icon.” (Newsday )
“Smith’s beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe’s life and work.” (Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of the Year )
“Astonishing on many levels, most notably for Smith’s lapidary prose....[JUST KIDS] is simply one of the best memoirs to be published in recent years: inspiring, sad, wise and beautifully written.” (San Francisco Chronicle )
“Just Kids shows how Smith integrated the romance of her twenty-year friendship with Mapplethorpe with her historical preoccupations, elevating them to an almost sacred status. The past, for Smith, has always driven her life forward. If only we could all be so free-spirited.” (The Rumpus )
“Patti Smith’s memoir of her youth with Robert Mapplethorpe testifies to a rare and ferocious innocence...’Just Kids’ is a book utterly lacking in irony or sophisticated cynicism.” (Salon.com )
“An utterly charming, captivating, intimate portrait of a late 1960s and early 1970s period of intense artistic ferment in downtown Manhattan significantly shaped and keenly observed by rock firebrand Smith.” (Philadelphia Inquirer )
“Funny, fascinating, oddly tender.” (O, The Oprah Magazine )
“Smith’s writing about her early days with Mapplethorpe is fervid and incantatory but never falls into incoherence.” (The Oregonian (Portland) )
“[JUST KIDS] offers a revealing account of the fears and insecurities harbored by even the most incendiary artists, as well as their capacity for reverence and tenderness.” (USA Today )
“[A] beautifully crafted love letter to [Robert Mapplethorpe]...Smith transports readers to what seemed like halcyon days for art and artists in New York...[a] tender and tough memoir...[an] elegant eulogy.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review) )
“More than 30 years after its release, Horses still has the power to shock and inspire young musicians to express themselves with unbridled passion. Now she brings the same raw, lyrical quality to her first book of prose.” (Clive Davis, Vanity Fair )
“Riveting and exquisitely crafted.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )
“A shockingly beautiful book...a classic, a romance about becoming an artist in the city, written in a spare, simple style of boyhood memoirs like Frank Conroy’s ‘Stop Time.’” (New York Magazine )
“A heartbreakingly sweet recollection of just that sort of vanished Bohemian life...Just as [Smith] stands out as an artiste in a movement based on collectivism, her singular voice gleams among rock memoirs as a work of literature.” (Boston Globe )
“A touching tale of love and devotion.” (Associated Press )
“Remarkable, evocative... JUST KIDS is more than just a gift to [Smith’s] ex-lover; it’s a gift to everyone who has ever been touched by their art, and to everyone who’s ever been in love. Like the best of Smith’s music and Mapplethorpe’s art, this book is haunting and unforgettable.” (NPR Boston )
“To read JUST KIDS is to be struck by how powerfully the two, especially Smith, believed in the power of art....Despite her music’s angry clamor, despite his sometimes revolting images, Smith and Mapplethorpe retain, in her telling, a primal, childlike innocence.” (Dallas Morning News )
“One of the best books ever written on becoming an artist...Jesus may have died for somebody’s sins, but Patti Smith lives and writes and sings for all of us.” (Washington Post )
“One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.” (Don Imus )
“In the end, [JUST KIDS is] not just an ode to Mapplethorpe, but a love letter to New York City’s ‘70s art scene itself.” (Time Out New York )
“A moving portrait of the artist as a young woman, and a vibrant profile of Smith’s onetime boyfriend and lifelong muse, Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989...JUST KIDS is ultimately a wonderful portal into the dawn of Smith’s art.” (Los Angeles Times )
“The most compelling memoir by a rock artist since Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles: Volume One,’ written with intimacy and grace....” (Chicago Tribune )
“Sometimes there is justice in the world. That was my first thought when I heard that Patti Smith had won the National Book Award this fall for her glorious memoir, Just Kids.” (Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of 2010, NPR's Fresh Air )
“Reading rocker Smith’s account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it’s hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.” (People, Top 10 Books of 2010 )
“Composed of incandescent sentences more revelatory than anything from Patti Smith’s poems or songs, her romantic memoir also reveals what blunt narrative instruments the earlier career bios of her and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe have been.” (Village Voice, Best Books of 2010 Round-Up )
“Poetically written and vividly remembered. [Smith] reminded me of the idealism of art.” (Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN, in New York magazine )
Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary mergence of poetry and rock. Her seminal album Horses, bearing Robert Mapplethorpe's renowned photograph, has been hailed as one of the top 100 albums of all time. She has recorded twelve albums.
Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. In 2002, the Andy Warhol Museum launched Strange Messenger, a retrospective exhibit of her drawings, silk screens, and photographs. Her drawings, photographs, and installations were shown in a comprehensive exhibit in 2008 at the Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain in Paris.
Her books include Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.
In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor awarded to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Smith married the late Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit in 1980. They had a son, Jackson, and a daughter, Jesse. Smith resides in New York City.
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 infamousthe 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.