When I began Just Kids by Patti Smith, I deemed it to be a sad story since the end of the forward reduced me to tears. Yet when I finished it, I realized it wasn’t. This was a rich, moving piece about a couple in their twenties in late 1960s to late 1970s New York, determined to fulfill their passions in the art and music world, come what may. He encouraged and motivated her to become the sought-after poet and songwriter she did, while she supported him as he lived his passion for art and eventually photography, leading him to become one of the most imaginative artists of the modern era. This is the book Patti Smith promised to Robert Mapplethorpe, before he died in 1989, that she’d write – about their lives. It’s a tribute to life, love, friendship, and art.
This is their coming-of-age story and an exploration of their intertwined lives when they were no longer together – as a couple in the same house, or even the same state. They grew up on the outskirts of bohemia in New York, to scratch the fresh surface of punk and even bits of New Wave, bringing them all to the forefront through poetry, music, art, and photography. Physically and spiritually, they were continuously engaged, bringing forth the artistic visions that fueled them. Working alongside one another or alone when need be, they respected their creative spaces and encouraged each other to expand on their crafts in those moments. In spite of their occasional bits of self-doubt, their belief in themselves and their work carried them to the right people who would propel to the world to witness. When Patti shared her story of “Slim Shadow” (Sam) and her naïveté surrounding his true identity, my mouth dropped, thinking: Could timing be any better?! Man! He guided her energy and helped bolster her confidence even more to share it in music. When he left, it tugged at me because she had to let go and they both knew it. (I’ll just say, Page 186.)
Then Robert met his own Sam. Their story was so touching and from her point of view, it expressed the maturity, tenderness, and depth of her relationship with Robert and her intense respect and appreciation for Sam. I was mesmerized with how she captured it all so beautifully in words. A reason this book won the National Book Award in 2010.
She reminded me to appreciate being driven to create.
Reading Just Kids, I found myself mourning (again, for the first time in a while) my own lack of gumption to write as I really wanted to after I graduated from college. Back then, I was to tackle New York City and explore my writer dreams in the writing and publishing capital of the world. To pursue it at all costs, to make a living with it. I was to simply have dusted off my low confidence back then and moved to the Barbizon Hotel (this was the 80s), get a job as a secretary in a publishing house or work in retail at Gimbels or Bloomie’s as I was doing back home with Thalhimers and write my ass off. But, no, I didn’t. But, I’m writing now…
Just Kids was an elegy to Robert and a warm tribute to their love, devotion, friendship, and dedication, and an ode to art. About two kids.
There was a passage in the book where she reminisces about one of their last phone calls before he died and Robert tells her that she’d made his day. She wrote that she could still hear his voice saying it, as if he said it just as she’d penned those lines for this book. Not having a clue as to the sound of his voice, she’d given me the feeling of knowing him just enough to hear him, too.
Highly recommended read.
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