“There were days, rainy gray days, when the streets of Brooklyn were worthy of a photograph, every window the lens of a Leica, the view grainy and immoble. We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed. We lay in each other’s arms, still awkward but happy, exchanging breathless kisses into sleep.” ― Patti Smith
I saw the book “Just Kids” by Patti Smith by chance on my way out of Barnes and Noble and the cover caught my eye. I never heard of Patti Smith before but I thought I give it a try. Needless to say I was hooked after two pages. This book is awesome. Let’s dive right in.
The story is about two young artists who grew and learned together. Patti moved to New York in the 60s at a very young age to try to make it on her own. On her journey she met struggling artist Robert Mapplethorpe under funny weird circumstances. Both were inseparable every since – at point it seemed that they become ONE. “What will happen to us?” I asked. “There will always be us,” he answered. There was this initial naivety I felt from both characters initially but they never lose their idealism so it seems okay how they live their lives together almost in poverty. What I loved about their story was that they never gave up on their dreams. And if you want the real story of the starving artists in NYC back in the 60s? Read this book.
The book will guide you through the spiritual art world of the 60s and 70s in New York City and you will “meet” these great artists who Patti and Robert met throughout their journey. Patti Smith wrote her memoir in very specific details when it comes to her intellectual encounters. They knew Sam Shepard, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin by simply running into them on the street going out for a cup of coffee. You will find out about other artists, poetry, musicians and of course how she met my beloved Allen Ginsberg in a café when she was was starving and had no money to purchase food.
“I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.”
I love how clear and catching Smith writes this memoir. Her use of words and the way she describes her love for Robert made me tear up occasionally. Patti and Robert act like each others muse while they wander the streets of New York City and create art. It is also interesting to read that most artists struggled at that time. Smith wrote that “Gregory Corso made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to won, encouraged and chilled me. Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing thorough the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university.” which I thought was amazing. I wish I would have lived in the 70s in the city.
Robert was the artist of her life as she stated even though they went hungry several times and were constantly looking for a new place to live it seemed. Whatever they needed to do, they had their common ground. I have to admit that I never heard of Robert Mapplethorpes before either. I do know many artists but for some reason …. well shame on me I guess. I will most certainly read a biography on him because now I am hooked. His polaroids are controversial at points but simply amazing. “I don’t think,” he insisted. “I feel”. Here is one of his artworks that I loved:
It rarely happens that a book moves me to tears but Smith did a great job of simply describing her story with such honesty, clarity, directness, sincerity and tenderness that I could not help but share her book here with you besides wiping away a tear or two.
If you want to read great prose, pick up Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids”.
Enjoy if you read it and please share your thoughts.