Book Review: "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Friday, August 16, 2013

"...Secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.” 

I'm going to be honest, I've never listened to any of Patti Smith's music. I plan on amending that after reading her memoir Just Kids, but I really read this because of Robert Mapplethorpe. I took an art history class in high school that changed my life. Maybe that sounds over-dramatic, but that class taught me to love more than just portraits and Waterhouse paintings.

I learned to love modern art and provocative photography like Robert Mapplethorpe's, who is pretty well known for his extremely large, black and white photographs of flowers, portraits, and nude men - sometimes in S&M gear. Since then, I've worshipped at the altar of his collection at the Guggenheim Museum.

The best words I can use to describe Smith's writing style in Just KidsRaw and lyrical. This memoir reveals a glimpse of her relationship - both romantic and platonic - with Mapplethorpe. Life in Chelsea before Chelsea Market, when Union Square was a place for gathering and not high-end retail, and the Chelsea Hotel in the 1960s and 1970s. Their determination to keep each other afloat is not only inspiring - it's beautiful. This book is essentially a eulogy for Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989 of AIDS.

Frankly, after reading this I decided to pick up my sketchbook - that's how inspired I was. I managed to do without the acid, weed, or coke...but I guess I'm just too much of a goody-goody for that stuff. In the end, I put the book down and still haven't been able to stop thinking about it weeks later. This is a must-read if you're a fan of Rent -the musical or the movie - Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, the NYC bohemian lifestyle, or any other luminaries that pop up (like Jimi, Ginsberg, and Joplin to name a few). Highly, highly recommended.

“What will happen to us?" I asked. 

"There will always be us," he answered.”