At one level, the book’s interest is a given ... The surprise is that it’s never cryptic or scattershot ... Just Kids is 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. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: [Smith's] always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed. No nostalgist about her formative years, Smith makes us feel the pinched prospects that led her to ditch New Jersey for a vagabond life in Manhattan ... Most often, you’re simply struck by her intelligence, whether she’s figuring out why an acting career doesn’t interest her... or sizing up the ultra-New York interplay between the city’s fringe art scenes and the high-society sponsorship to which Mapplethorpe was drawn ... This enchanting book is a reminder that not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation.
Smith depicts herself not so much a scenester as a sober (in both senses of the world) observer. For all its period detail and depictions of semi-voluntary squalor, Just Kids is hardly a Please Kill Me-style tell-all, but it is a vivid portrayal of a bygone New York that could support a countercultural artistic firmament ... Like her music, Smith’s rarified idea of the Artist ('I did it for poetry, I did it for Rimbaud,') is occasionally grating, but much of the power of this book comes from her ability to recall lucid memories in straightforward prose. Even with all their relationship’s permutations (romantic, Platonic, maternal)⎯especially when Mapplethorpe begins to confront his sexuality⎯it comes off nearly devoid of melodrama. Just Kids makes a convincing case that faith in another’s expressive capability can form a bond as strong as any physical or emotional commitment.
The reckless, splendid circus of New York’s royal bohemia in the 1960s and ’70s—rock idols, cowboy poets, Warhol Superstars—surrounds Smith in her heady recounting of a halcyon era ... a captivating memoir ... In her inimitable, lyrical style, Patti Smith [pens] a poignant requiem...and a radiant celebration of life.
Patti Smith has a mythic imagination ... genuine devotion to her private artistic saints and to her old friends characterizes the entire book. It is her own Lives of the Saints, and it is thoroughly imbued with faith in her own artistic mission ... Just Kids should interest any reader who wants to know how an artistic career can be launched ... this book brings together all the elements that made New York so exciting in the 1970s—the danger and poverty, the artistic seriousness and optimism, the sense that one was still connected to a whole history of great artists in the past.
Smith wonderfully evokes the excitement, beauty, and innocence of the downtown scene in late ‘60s New York, still in the thrall of the free and casual ‘hippie lifestyle,’ where chance encounters with strangers led more often to adventures than danger. Just Kids often veers into full Scenes de la Vie de Boheme mode as familiar figures from the art, literary, and music worlds float across its pages ... Smith, however, can also be quite honest about harsh reality of that too-often romanticized life as well ... Patti Smith...shows herself to be a writer of compelling and highly readable prose ... Touching, lyrical, often humorous, and interspersed with Smith’s previously unseen, personal photographs, Just Kids is a remarkable and evocative portrait of a complex friendship, and the story of the early development of two provocative artists.
Patti Smith’s Just Kids is ostensibly about her long-running romantic and professional entanglements with photographer and provocateur Robert Mapplethorpe, but the book is at its most rewarding when it’s following blind alleys. Run-ins with a blissed-out Jimi Hendrix, collaborations with playwright Sam Shepard, accidental dates with Allen Ginsberg over cheese sandwiches: This meandering memoir is rife with juicy snapshots of ’70s New York cool at its grittiest and most seductive. But while Smith succeeds in communicating the thrill of social climbing at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, she doesn’t provide much evidence of Mapplethorpe’s supposed appeal ... a few more clues would go a long way toward making her devotion relatable ... Like an art-school freshman constantly updating her Facebook with whatever she hopes will impress, Smith employs every allusion and simile she can to prove her high-culture bona fides. She’s especially fond of invoking Jean Genet when she shoplifts (and Arthur Rimbaud absolutely whenever), but she’s smart enough to show a little self-awareness about her appropriation, admitting 'I was full of references' after she throws a coat over her shoulder—Sinatra-style—during her iconic photo shoot. That all-incorporating, wide-eyed appreciation can grate, but it’s also fitting for an examination of how art informs and reforms our lives, and how today’s icons will be emulated by tomorrow’s.
The book is a fascinating description (as only a poet can describe it) of the process of them each becoming who they were meant to be—the long, winding process—at a time in New York City when the city itself was just becoming what it was meant to be. The fact that Smith didn't start out wanting to be a rock star, or even a singer, and the opportunity to see the evolution of how her success came about is like watching a rare flower bloom in slow motion ... I burst into tears, and even cried out loud, when the book was over ... thank you, Patti, for being such an incredible poet, rock star, writer, artist, and story teller.
Smith manages an autobiographical portrait of two artists' coming of age story graciously, modestly—somehow making Robert Mapplethorpe the star, despite her clear resolve to background Robert and approach his story gently, offering a picture of the young artist while leaving him just out of reach. It's Robert you fall in love with ...
You love him so much you can't read the last few pages, or even glance at them, without crying ... Smith lacks the self-obsessed narcissism of the artists she loves, an absence that explains the quality of her writing ... Just Kids is an important missing link, documenting the first days of tomorrow's sound and image makers and the last days of magic before the turbulent flight into post-innocence when the center did not hold[.]
Smith’s recollections rewire traditional ideas of love and her poetically pure storytelling does more than allow her to fulfill her promise; it cements ‘Smith and Mapplethorpe’ as one of the art world’s most relevant pairs.
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 ... 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
This beautifully crafted love letter to her friend (who died in 1989) functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing. Smith transports readers to what seemed like halcyon days for art and artists in New York as she shares tales of the denizens of Max's Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, Scribner's, Brentano's, and Strand bookstores ... Most affecting in this tender and tough memoir, however, is her deep love for Mapplethorpe and her abiding belief in his genius. Smith's elegant eulogy helps to explain the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe's life and work.
Writing with wonderful immediacy, Smith tells the affecting story of...entwined young lives as lovers, friends and muses to one another ... The author colorfully evokes their days at the shabbily elegant Hotel Chelsea, late nights at Max’s Kansas City and their growth and early celebrity as artists ... The book abounds with stories about friends, including Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, William Burroughs, Sam Shepard, Gregory Corso and other luminaries, and it reveals Smith’s affection for the city ... Riveting and exquisitely crafted.