I first mentioned Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, when I started my blog six years ago, the year it was published. Why it has taken me so long to finally read it, I can’t really say. The author has written the second part of her memoir in the meanwhile, M Train. Just Kids is a heartbreakingly beautiful book. I haven’t read Patti’s poems (as much as I love reading and devouring books, I am not into poetry at all) or other books, but I have listened to her music (my husband is a punk lover and I have taken to some of his likings). I think her autobiography is something different from both. I liked the strong, true, unaffected writing style and I liked the way it was able to capture the innocence of youth and of life before stardom. Writing a memoir can’t be easy. Writing it with that sense of childlike search for beauty and magic must be even more difficult.
There were times when I felt Just Kids had elements of a fairy tale, as if it was written right then when it all happened, and before everything happened. It is a story of two friends, Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, their dreams and their helping each other to achieve them. They were young, free, completely unknown, free to dream. In the early autumn of 1967, a touristy couple spied them in Washington Square Park and argued about whether they were worth a snapshot. The woman thought they looked like artists. The man disagreed, saying dismissively: “They’re just kids.”
For the better part of the book, Patti Smith was not yet famous, not yet a great punk rock singer and composer (although already writing poems and drawing), but frequented various artistic circles and lived at Chelsea hotel for a while, which gave her the chance to connect with some of the most important artists and musicians of the time. I guess it is always interesting to learn about other artists from an insider’s point of view, but what I was completely taken by was rather Patti’s innate, infectious passion for books, films, music and art, and the faith in her own artistic mission. This all seemed to have always been part of herself and her life – a world she had already made her own before meeting everyone and without anyone’s help. It is her whole life, fame or no fame, that is inspiring.
photo by me