WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
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 infamous, the 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.
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By Patti Smith
Copyright © 2011 Patti Smith All right reserved.
When I was very young, my mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River. I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge. The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.
Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.
The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.
The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied,
and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.
I was born on a Monday, in the North Side of Chicago during the Great Blizzard of 1946. I came along a day too soon, as babies born on New Year's Eve left the hospital with a new refrigerator. Despite my mother's effort to hold me in, she went into heavy labor as the taxi crawled along Lake Michigan through a vortex of snow and wind. By my father's account, I arrived a long skinny thing with bronchial pneumonia, and he kept me alive by holding me over a steaming washtub.
My sister Linda followed during yet another blizzard in 1948.
By necessity I was obliged to measure up quickly. My mother took in ironing as I sat on the stoop of our rooming house waiting for the iceman and the last of the horse-drawn wagons. He gave me slivers of ice wrapped in brown paper. I would slip one in my pocket for my baby sister, but when I later reached for it, I discov-
ered it was gone.
When my mother became pregnant with my brother, Todd,
we left our cramped quarters in Logan Square and migrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania. For the next few years we lived in temporary housing set up for ser-vicemen and their children
whitewashed barracks overlooking an abandoned field alive with wildflowers. We called the field The Patch, and in summertime the grown-ups would sit and talk, smoke cigarettes, and pass around jars of dandelion wine while we children played. My mother taught us the games of her childhood: Statues, Red Rover, and Simon Says.
We made daisy chains to adorn our necks and crown our heads. In the evenings we collected fireflies in mason jars, extracting their lights and making rings for our fingers.
My mother taught me to pray; she taught me the prayer her mother taught her. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. At nightfall, I knelt before my little bed as she stood, with her ever-present cigarette, listening as I recited after her. I wished noth-
ing more than to say my prayers, yet these words troubled me and I plagued her with questions. What is the soul? What color is it? I suspected my soul, being mischievous, might slip away while I was dreaming and fail to return. I did my best not to fall asleep, to keep it inside of me where it belonged.
Perhaps to satisfy my curiosity, my mother enrolled me in Sunday school. We were taught by rote, Bible verses and the words of Jesus.
Afterward we stood in line and were rewarded with a spoonful of comb honey. There was only one spoon in the jar to serve many coughing children. I instinctively shied from the spoon but I swiftly accepted the notion of God. It pleased me to imagine a presence above us, in continual motion, like liquid stars.
Not contented with my child's prayer, I soon petitioned my mother to let me make my own. I was relieved when I no longer had to repeat the words If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take and could say instead what was in my heart. Thus freed, I would lie in my bed by the coal stove vigorously mouthing long let-
ters to God. I was not much of a sleeper and I must have vexed him with my endless vows, visions, and schemes. But as time passed I came to experience a different kind of prayer, a silent one, requiring more listening than speaking.
My small torrent of words dissipated into an elaborate sense of expanding and receding. It was my entrance into the radiance of imagination. This process was especially magnified within the fevers of influenza, measles, chicken pox, and mumps. I had them all and with each I was privileged with a new level of awareness. Lying deep within myself, the symmetry of a snowflake spinning above me, inten-
sifying through my lids, I seized a most worthy souvenir, a shard of heaven's kaleidoscope.
My love of prayer was gradually rivaled by my love for the book. I would sit at my mother's feet watching her drink coffee and smoke cigarettes with a book on her lap. Her absorption intrigued me. Though not yet in nursery school, I liked to look at her books,
feel their paper, and lift the tissues from the frontispieces. I wanted to know what was in them, what captured her attention so deeply. When my mother discovered that I had hidden her crimson copy of Foxe 's Book of Martyrs beneath my pillow, with hopes of absorbing its mean-
ing, she sat me down and began the laborious process of teaching me to read. With great effort we moved through Mother Goose to Dr.
Seuss. When I advanced past the need for instruction, I was permit-
ted to join her on our overstuffed sofa, she reading The Shoes of the Fisherman and I The Red Shoes.
I was completely smitten by the book. I longed to read them all,
and the things I read of produced new yearnings. Perhaps I might go off to Africa and offer my ser-vices to Albert Schweitzer or, decked in my coonskin cap and powder horn, I might defend the -people like Davy Crockett. I could scale the Himalayas and live in a cave spinning a prayer wheel, keeping the earth turning. But the urge to express myself was my strongest desire, and my siblings were my first eager coconspirators in the harvesting of my imagination. They listened attentively to my stories willingly performed in my plays, and fought valiantly in my wars.
With them in my corner, anything seemed possible.
In the months of spring, I was often ill and so condemned to my bed, obliged to hear my comrades at play through the open window.
In the months of summer, the younger ones reported bedside how much of our wild field had been secured in the face of the enemy. We lost many a battle in my absence and my weary troops would gather around my bed and I would offer a benediction from the child sol-
dier's bible, A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.
In the winter, we built snow forts and I led our campaign, serving as general, making maps and drawing out strategies as we attacked and retreated. We fought the wars of our Irish grandfathers, the orange and the green. We wore the orange yet knew nothing of its meaning. They were simply our colors. When attention flagged, I would draw a truce and visit my friend Stephanie. She was convalescing from an illness I didn't really understand, a form of leukemia. She was older than I, per-
haps twelve to my eight. I didn't have much to say to her and was perhaps little comfort, yet she seemed to delight in my presence. I believe that what really drew me to her was not my good heart, but a fascination with her belongings. Her older sister would hang up my wet garments and bring us cocoa and graham crackers on a tray. Stephanie would lie back on a mound of pillows and I would tell tall tales and read her comics.
I marveled at her comic-book collection, stacks of them earned from a childhood spent in bed, every issue of Superman, Little Lulu, Classic Comics, and House of Mystery. In her old cigar box were all the talis-
manic charms of 1953: a roulette wheel, a typewriter, an ice skater, the red Mobil winged horse, the Eiffel Tower, a ballet slipper, and charms in the shape of all forty-eight states. I could play with them endlessly and sometimes, if she had doubles, she would give one to me.
I had a secret compartment near my bed, beneath the floorboards.
There I kept my stashwinnings from marbles, trading cards, reli-
gious artifacts I rescued from Catholic trash bins: old holy cards, worn scapulars, plaster saints with chipped hands and feet. I put my loot from Stephanie there. Something told me I shouldn't take presents from a sick girl, but I did and hid them away, somewhat ashamed.
I had promised to visit her on Valentine 's Day, but I didn't. My duties as general to my troop of siblings and neighboring boys were very taxing and there was heavy snow to negotiate. It was a harsh winter that year. The following afternoon, I abandoned my post to sit with her and have cocoa. She was very quiet and begged me to stay even as she drifted off to sleep.
I rummaged through her jewel box. It was pink and when you opened it a ballerina turned like a sugarplum fairy. I was so taken with a particular skating pin that I slipped it in my mitten. I sat frozen next to her for a long time, leaving silently as she slept. I buried the pin amongst my stash. I slept fitfully through the night, feeling great remorse for what I had done. In the morning I was too ill to go to school and stayed in bed, ridden with guilt. I vowed to return the pin and ask her to forgive me.
The following day was my sister Linda's birthday, but there was to be no party for her. Stephanie had taken a turn for the worse and my father and mother went to a hospital to give blood. When they returned my father was crying and my mother knelt down beside me to tell me Stephanie had died. Her grief was quickly replaced with concern as she felt my forehead. I was burning with fever.
Our apartment was quarantined. I had scarlet fever. In the fif-
ties it was much feared since it often developed into a fatal form of rheumatic fever. The door to our apartment was painted yel-
low. Confined to bed, I could not attend Stephanie 's funeral. Her mother brought me her stacks of comic books and her cigar box of charms. Now I had everything, all her treasures, but I was far too ill to even look at them. It was then that I experienced the weight of sin, even a sin as small as a stolen skater pin. I reflected on the fact that no matter how good I aspired to be, I was never going to achieve perfection. I also would never receive Stephanie 's for-
giveness. But as I lay there night after night, it occurred to me that it might be possible to speak with her by praying to her, or at least ask God to intercede on my behalf.
Robert was very taken with this story, and sometimes on a cold, lan-
guorous Sunday he would beg me to recount it. "Tell me the Stephanie story," he would say. I would spare no details on our long mornings beneath the covers, reciting tales of my childhood, its sorrow and magic,
as we tried to pretend we weren't hungry. And always, when I got to the part where I opened the jewelry box, he would cry, "Patti, no . . ."
We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad.
Through the years these roles would reverse, then reverse again, until we came to accept our dual natures. We contained opposing princi-
ples, light and dark.
I was a dreamy somnambulant child. I vexed my teachers with my precocious reading ability paired with an inability to apply it to anything they deemed practical. One by one they noted in my reports that I daydreamed far too much, was always somewhere else. Where that somewhere was I cannot say, but it often landed me in the corner sitting on a high stool in full view of all in a conical paper hat.
I would later make large detailed drawings of these humorously humiliating moments for Robert. He delighted in them, seeming to appreciate all the qualities that repelled or alienated me from others.
Through this visual dialogue my youthful memories became his.
I was unhappy when we were evicted from The Patch and had to pack up to begin a new life in southern New Jersey. My mother gave birth to a fourth child whom we all pitched in to raise, a sickly though sunny little girl named Kimberly. I felt isolated and disconnected in the surrounding swamps, peach orchards, and pig farms. I immersed myself in books and in the design of an encyclopedia that only got as far as the entry for Simón Bolívar. My father introduced me to science fiction and for a time I joined him in investigating UFO activity in the skies over the local square-dance hall, as he continually questioned the source of our existence.
Excerpted from Just Kids by Patti Smith Copyright © 2011 by Patti Smith. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“[Just Kids] reminds us that innocence, utopian ideals, beauty and revolt are enlightenment’s guiding stars in the human journey. Her book recalls, without blinking or faltering, a collective memory — one that guides us through the present and into the future.”
“One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Poetically written and vividly remembered. [Smith] reminded me of the idealism of art.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I find it to be wrong to not clearly state that an e-book is not the same/complete as the paper edition. This e-book does not contain a single picture, of which there are many, in both the hardback and the newly released paperback. I may have chosen to buy it anyway, but I feel there should be full disclosure prior to purchase. The book itself is excellent.
Ever since I was a teenager in the '70s, I have found Patti Smith to be an intriguing woman. There was no one like her then and there is still no one like her. The new book "Just Kids" details her earlier years in New York City, where she meets Robert Mapplethorpe and they begin their journey together trying to make it as artists. Unlike most autobiographical books written by rock stars or other celebrities, this is extremely well written and not a self-indulgent publicity ploy. It is an interesting look into friendship and loyalty as circumstances and relationships change. Even as their romance subsides, Patti and Robert still remain lifelong friends until his passing. While Robert was a much more controversial figure than Patti, I think this book sheds a lot of insight into both of their personalities. Definitely a great read for anyone who is Patti Smith fan. One of the best of its kind that I have read in a good while. Glad I snapped it up quickly and I do hope she picks up where she left off here.
One almost needs to have an art education to fully comprehend this story. Patti Smith's erudite tale is chock full of literary, poetic and artistic references. But, no matter. I like a challenge, and I will pursue each and every reference, from Baudelaire to Beau Geste to Bertolt Brecht to Corso and Mayakovsky. It's good exercise for the mind and soul. Brave young Patti Smith escapes the prospects of a life of factory work in New Jersey; packing a few small belongings and even fewer coins and going to New York City to make her way into the art world. She meets the handsome artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and together they devote themselves to each other and to art. Their life in the Chelsea Hotel is fascinating, as are the many denizens of the hotel. This is a love story, and a story of perseverance. If Just Kids was one of Robert Mapplethorpe's necklaces, Mapplethorpe himself would be the shining jewel, surrounded by a throng of lesser gems, like Sam Shepard, Janis Joplin, Harry Smith, Todd Rundgren, and even Smith herself. Mapplethorpe's genius, and also his dark side are described in detail. Her devotion to him never waivered, despite Mapplethorpe's ongoing homosexual experimentation and drug use. The story ends with the death of Robert Mapplethorpe. I would have liked to have known more about Fred "Sonic" Smith, Bob Dylan, etc. and the music biz. Perhaps Ms. Smith will write of these later years in another book. I recommend this book to Patti Smith fans, and to anyone interested in the New York scene in the late sixties into the eighties. What a slice of life!
i always saw patti smith as this goddess of rock and roll. etched in my mind is annie leibovitz's '78 rolling stone cover of patti smith towering over an inferno, a presence stronger than fire. last year's rock and roll hall fame concert featured aretha franklin, annie lennox, the killer, jeff beck, and stevie wonder, yet even on a stage with bono & bruce springsteen i thought it was still patti smith singing "because the night" who stole the entire show. but in her new autobiography, "just kids", patti smith is just a child growing up amongst her books, a teenager falling in love with mysticism (robert mapplethorpe as one of its forms), and an artist enthralled by rimbaud, dylan thomas, and bob dylan. sometimes starving and always vulnerable, it's a patti smith i never would've imagined. a lonely girl, a sad poet, a humbled artist, a grieving widow. gabriel garcia marquez believes that music can save the world. to me patti smith is further proof that it always has.
This is an interesting memoir, especially for fans of Mapelthrope or Patti Smith. For the younger generation who may not be familiar with these two names. Maplethorpe was a photographer with a style that was recognizable no matter his subject (he died of AIDs in his early 40s in 1989) and lets just say he wore his homosexuality proudly (for more on mapelthorpe I recommend Mapplethorpe: A Biography). Smith is the poet singer song writer often referred to as the grandma of punk rock and an activist for many causes to this very day. In this Memoir Smith writes about her relationship with Maplethorpe in the late and early 1970s before they became famous. I thought it was fascinating to read about these two icons before they realized who the were or wanted to be. Its hard not to think of Smith as a poet rebel, guitar in hand or Mapelthorpe as the in your face artist, but Smith's book takes the reader back to when both were "Just Kids." You see Smith and Maplethorpe as young people, not always secure in who they are, groping to find their passions that were burning inside but not fully understood. In this memoir Smith also presents a picture of a New York that no longer exists, and that alone makes this wonderful reading. Not all song writers can successfully write lyrics as well as prose, Smith though has a gift with the written word that is transcendent. Heart felt and honest, like her music.
I was blown away by this beautiful portrait of two young artists and best friends. To me, it was fascinating to see how two artistic souls developed into "artists" (and eventually icons, though that is not really included in the book). And while their romantic relationship broke, the description of Smith & Mapplethorpe's lifelong friendship was so touching. Granted, there were so many references to various writers and artists whose work I'm not too familiar with - and some better knowledge might have made the memoir even more impactful, but I still finished reading it and was just blown away at the amazing good fortune that these two people found each other, were able to build and sustain a unique friendship, and were both able to ultimately find success as artists. Reading about their evolution and development is amazing. Highly recommend.
To live a full life is a blessing shared by few. Patti Smith introduces us into a life of two young blessed tightrope walkers. Artists whose lives potentiated one another, and without whom neither may have succeeded. Patti shares this with us in intimate detail and as such we are blessed. A truly beautiful poetic love story both touching and provocative. To read it is to be inspired to follow your heart no matter how difficult the hand. A worthwile read for the struggling artist inside us all. Touching to the last.
Smith's narrative is straight forward, providing a poignant, and at times humorous, look into the early lives and struggles of Robert Mapplethorpe and herself, as they supported and encouraged each other in their artistic development, while enduring hardships that most of us could not imagine. They formed a bond that lasted throughout their lives. I found this narrative of their formative years as artists, to be very fascinating, providing insight into the deep intellectual, emotional and physical commitment required to grow in their artistic fields.
I chose this book solely on positive reviews and, frankly, was never a fan of either artist, although both were contemporaries of mine. Their work was not really the central focus of the story, however, and Patti Smith's writing is a straightforward but loving portrayal of her enduring bond with Mapplethorpe through the evolution of both of their lives. It also revealed the struggles confronting most artists and their quest for the ultimate prize of mainstream acceptance, of people "getting it'. It's a touching and honest portrayal of young love, sacrifice, and self-awakening, along with the inevitablity of loss and bad things happening along the way. A lovely tribute and very real.
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe met each other on her first day in New York and became the very best of friends before becoming lovers. Patti's wonderful memoir, separated many years from Robert's death, is a love poem not just to Robert, but to New York, a new emerging generational 'scene,' and the difficult farewell to innocence. Smith is not only a gifted singer/poet, but a wonderful writer; each sentence, each chapter, each story is well thought-out and very tightly spun. As the two 'kids' found and nurtured each other's artistic expressions, they became a tight unit that took on New York, poetry, collage, altar-making, symbolic expression and the emerging artistic personalities of the 70s. Hippies were getting older and punk was not far away. Featured themes, in no particular order: Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, homosexuality, love, devotion, Chelsea Hotel, Vintage apparel, photography, poetry, collages, drama, music, talismans, the significance of birth/death dates. There's a reason Patti Smith won national recognition for this work... it's deeply felt, analytical, imbued with artistic sensibilities, naked revelation, harsh realities of living on very little, and guided by the overbearing sense of being true to oneself. Everyone, of any age, can relate somehow to this book.
Every paragraph in this book sings with the inspired craftsmanship of the poet, creating vivid image after vivid image in my mind as I devoured this memoir like a starving man. There can be no doubt that Patti Smith is a huge talent any longer. This book vibrates in your hand. The recollections here are hard-won souvenirs of a life lived for art. What emerges is the heart of a woman who, I imagine after reading Just Kids, must be a fine mother. The feeling I am left with after reading this book is a haze of having witnessed perfection in the written word. To me it's one of the most impressive works of the new millenium describing one of the most impressive eras of the 20th century. Five stars. Congratulations to the author on producing such a fine read. Hope to see more books in the future!
an easy read book about 2 icons of the 1960's. it was interesting to learn how patti and robert connected and how they stayed together through drugs, other partners, homosexuality, etc. it was interesting to learn how art was so central in their life especially when art today seems so uninspired. i would have liked more indepth regarding how patti felt about and why she stayed with robert despite the pain, drugs, stds, etc. also why did she leave nyc to marry fred which seemed to come out of nowhere...then she married him and moved to detroit.. what motivated her to leave the art scene, her friends, her beloved chelsea hotel,etc. i could have used an extra chapter to tie some loose ends up.
This book was written by a wise women who lived in the moment. Patti today is still a kid at heart. I am sixteen and i loved the book, very relatable and inspiring. It impacted me a lot in my own life. The story Patti tells is beautiful as she meets the most amazing people in history in the most random moments. She doesn't just write about herself in her autobiography but the people she met in her life. Patti writes with love and passion, you can tell she doesn't regret a single move. I love how she wrote so much that i wish i could meet her.
Patti writes in a way that makes anyone who has struggled as an artist or writer can understand. Hard to put down!
The writing is eloquent and intelligent. The story engaging and fascinating. Patti and Robert met and landed in the middle of it all during the last 60's, 70's and early 80's. What a journey!
I wasn't a big fan of Patti or Robert, but I love NYC and she hit the streets there the same year I finished high school, so all her period references resounded in me. the book isn't intended to be a total bio, but is a perfect picture as titled, when the eventual artists were "just kids" together.
Patti Smith gives us a well-written and lovely tribute to one of the loves of her life, and gives us thoughtful insights into the mind of a great, but highly controversial artist.
Patti Smith is an artist of the highest order. Her ability to articulate what was obviously an intense relationship is fascinating. Highly recommend this one.
I can't think of a more wonderful gift than Smith's story of their love of one another.
as a painter and fan since high school in Oyster Bay, Long Island in late 70s I want to say Patti Smith was always been an influence and inspiration - to create art- this book captures the jouney of becoming a creator of art
On one hand, this book was tortourous for me to read. Filled with names of people and artists that I ddidn't recognize. Sometimes compelled to skim through it. However, I forced myself to finish it. And surprisingly, by the end of the book, I had developed a deep appreciation and affection for the 2 main characters of the book. I was deeply disturbed and saddened by their departure from one another and Robert's death. Therefore, I conclude, it must be a very well written book!
This book was so beautifully written, truly a labor of love. I was busy raising my kids when Patti Smith was breaking through on the music scene, so I am not very familiar with her music. Obviously, my loss. I would recommend this book to anyone who wonders how the artistic process works. We always think of artists breaking through "overnight". She chronicles all the struggle involved. And the portrait of New York during that time is so vivid, I can feel the grit on my skin. Amazing!
I have adored Patti Smith since 1977. This book was just the best! You must read it! She won the National book award and it was well deserved.
Patti Smith's voice beautifully paints an image of a period in time that makes the reader feel as if she is sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel reading the book. In her remembrances, Patti recalls with vivid detail the unique adventures and characters who passed through the lives of Robert and herself. Reading her work makes me love her all the more. Patti's passion for the arts and the entire lifestyle has revived the creativity within me. She inspires me to pursue my love of art, music and poetry. She reminds me to view life through the eyes of an artist, a poet ~ not to get caught up in the fast pace of the technological world, but to remain focused on the heart and connections with real people. I look forward to reading every word she has ever written!
I enjoyed reading about Patti Smith's early life and career. There was struggle, love, very reduced circumstances, and finding happiness in the simple things. She and R. Mapplethorpe certainly had that artistic spirit.