Just Kids by Patti Smith – Review

Patti, I love you. I really do, and I wish I had the bohemian artsy life you had. It’s that dream life every artist wants of borderline starvation, cool hotels, awesome people and head lice. Nope, not the head lice. That’s where the sucky reality comes in, and Patti does not shy away in her memoir, Just Kids.


Cover of the book Just Kids
Cover of the book Just Kids

Patti recounts her earlier years with her gay heart, Robert Mapplethorpe, while they both learned to become legends. Companions for more than 20 years, Patti and Robert were lovers before Robert came out. Robert’s coming out was difficult for both of them. Born just a few weeks apart in 1946, they were of a generation where homosexuals were monsters, and both struggled through religion, disapproving parents (Patti played the “Beard” at one point, feigning marriage for the sake of Robert’s parents) and social revolution toward creative and personal freedom.

Each found their separate paths – she when she became her authentic self and put poetry to music, and he when he found his authentic self in sexuality and celluloid. She takes us, with prose in her poetry, through New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the world was on fire and artists were revolutionaries or, as the title suggests, dismissed as “just kids.”

We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand.
“Oh, take their picture,” said the woman to her bemused husband, “I think they’re artists.”
“Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They’re just kids.”

And props to Patti who is proud enough of working at Scribner’s Bookstore to point out it afforded Robert the chance to explore his life, his way, while she meagerly supported them both. She takes us from the Chelsea Hotel to Coney Island, from the back room at Max’s Kansas City to an automat (where Allen Ginsberg confused her for a pretty boy – a genderfuck before the concept existed). Her easy ability to convey life, one memory at a time, is perfect for curling up on an old bed by a bright window, and drinking deeply from her life.

I listened to the audio book version of this, read by Patti herself. Which is also awesome. Buy it, love it, and love a life you always wish you had. Below is a video of Patti reading from her book – just listen to the poetry in her voice, the rhythm and the love.

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