[Book review] Patti Smith – Just Kids

I’ve just finished the most marvellous autobiography – Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids” about her early years in New York of the late ’60s to early ’70s and her love/friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Patti’s a remarkable woman – a true poet, her words are beautiful to read as she conjures up a hard life on the streets of Manhattan. We follow as she arrives and meets Mapplethorpe on her first day, almost as if they were fated to be close….soon they meet again but it’s not until the third time that she learns his name: Bob. She asks if she can call him Robert and it becomes the name we all know him by.

A modern version of the starving artist in the garret, their adventures take them to a brief but profitable stay in the Chelsea Hotel. Oh, if only we had a time machine to holiday at the right place at the right time, I would go to Paris in the ’20s, Rome in the ’50s and the Chelsea in 1969 where you could meet all the interesting people of art, literature and music.

Slowly life improves for them both, as they experiment and find their voices through their art – Robert starts with collages and ends with photography, whilst poet Patti sings and play guitar. Reading her words, I felt very privileged to be invited into her world – and I didn’t want it to end, although of course, we know where it leads.

I owe a debt to Patti – when I was 15 and living in suburbia (a rare visit), she contributed a song to the soundtrack of “Times Square”, a film about teenage rebellion and post-punk music. It inspired me, helped shape my musical tastes and I also adopted the name and spelling of the lead character. A few years ago I decided to go back to my full name but there are still many who call me Nicky.

Patti’s style is unique and uncompromising – strong and stylish, quite androgynous, it has been immortalised by the creative eye of Mapplethorpe in the cover for her album “Horses” (which Tim gave me for my birthday) and other photos.

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4 comments

  1. Hi Nicole this reminds me of a documentary l saw about Patti Smith l can’t remember the title you may have seen it. In the documentary she carried Peter Ackroyd’s book BLAKE with her everywhere. l gave a copy to my hubby which he loves. I love Patti’s free spirit a true inspiration.
    Leah X

  2. Leah, I haven’t seen the film but I’d like to.

    When Tim got me “Horses” I realised that Patti’s version of “Gloria” was the first I heard – there’s not many who can outdo Van Morrison.

  3. Lord but do we love Patti. Saw her play a few years ago – wonderful, extraordinary artist! Haven’t picked up Just Kids yet – or seen Times Square, but I’m loving the soundtrack listing. (Including Life During Wartime – one of my favourite Byrne compositions.)

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