“but secretly i knew i had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.”
I’ll be honest, even though this book is a national best-seller, I’d never even heard of it until I saw it featured on the Free People Blog’s book club. I have a vague idea of who Patti Smith is thanks to her popular hit “Because the Night,” and I’ve seen an erotic, yet tasteful Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in Chicago, but didn’t have a clue as to the storyline of the book, let alone the relationship between the two artists. I check the Free People blog religiously, so every once in awhile I happened upon a book club update sharing favorite quotes and photos from the reading. My interest was immediately peaked. The citations spoke to me – in a time when I fled my home country, my family, my friends, everything that I hold close and dear, I found that I could relate with the idea of the journey, the pull to follow what you believe in your heart that you’re truly supposed to be doing, that even when the going gets tough you push through the pain and the struggle and do the only thing you can, which is to keep on moving on. You don’t give in and you don’t give up. I was compelled by a sense of comradery for a passion and a woman of which I knew nothing about, but this felt kinship propelled me to instantly add “Just Kids” to my never-ending and constantly growing list of books to read.
“we hadn’t the money to go anywhere, had no television, telephone, or radio. we had our record player, though, and drew back the arm so a chosen record would play over and over as we slept.”
Recently while visiting my friend Jessica and purusing her small lot of books she has managed to collect here in Rome, low and behold, there it was; “Just Kids” sitting perfectly on her shelf. I slowly started towards it remembering the beauty of the photos and quotes I’d seen in months before when Jessica interrupted my reach grabbing the book and thrusting it into my hands. “Borrow this.” she said, and so I did.
As soon as I had devoured my current read I picked up “Just Kids” and dove in. I must admit that the beginning of the book lacked a little in not only style, but prose and I soon found myself questioning the worth of the book as it seemed a little unorganized jumping from here to there, but I have a silent pact with myself. Once I begin reading a book I must finish it no matter how difficult and torturous the journey (Jack Kerouac, I’m looking at you!). Over the weeks I slowly became more enthralled in the novel as Patti found her groove and the story began to unfold.
“we learned we wanted too much. we could only give from the perspective of who we were and what we had. apart, we were able to see with even greater clarity that we didn’t want to be without each other.”
“Just Kids” paints a picture of the beautiful relationship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe as they fell in love, created art and life together, found their paths, and lived life’s breathtaking momentous highs and the deepest most desolate of lows through the 60’s and 70’s. The novel is littered with cultural references, inspiration quotes, name dropping (Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix – just to name a few), and above all, heart. Smith not only shares her personal life journey, but also gives us a glimpse through the window as we’re thrown into the fabulous but not always glamorous life at the landmark Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City (a popular Warhol hotspot), fashion, art, music, sketches, jewelry making, painting, photography, hustling, and AIDS – all of it whirling around the star-crossed soul mates in circles of chaos, confusion, and ultimate truth and understanding.
“on that night, too excited to sleep, infinite possibilities seemed to swirl above me. i stared up at the plaster ceiling as i had done as a child. it seemed to me that the vibrating patterns overhead were sliding into place. the mandala of my life.”
Was “Just Kids” one of my all-time favorite books? No, no it was not, but even if you’re not up to speed on your artistic and musical references, you’ll still find something enjoyable in Smith’s story and everlasting friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethrope. Give it a try; like me you may also find a little piece of yourself nestled between the pages.
“you know, the dreams you had for me weren’t my dreams,” he said. “maybe those dreams are meant for you.”