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.” 



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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.”