Just Kids, by Patti Smith


Four stars, read in February 2017.

I didn’t know much about Patti Smith before this and hadn’t heard of Robert Mapplethorpe at all, so this book was a springboard into a huge number of artistic works for me to explore.

I’ve been listening to her first album, Horses, since finishing the book a few days ago, and it’s fantastic. The first song really surprised me for some reason, not at all what I expected, but once I heard the rest of the album it seemed to fit better. Knowing that her poetry is often incorporated into her lyrics, I’m looking forward to hearing more of her music. Music is always a strangely specific experience for me—the setting and my mood have to be just right for something to work—and I can tell that hers is not music I would like to have on in the background. It needs to be actively listened to, probably while not doing anything else.

I was also interested in seeing Mapplethorpe’s photography, but from the book I knew it would be (very very) NSFW, so I had to remember to look it up at home. (That link includes some of the more tame examples of his work.) His black and white photos are gorgeous; I’m not sure what it is about them, but I feel like I know a lot more about their subjects than I really could just from seeing one photo. When he and Patti first lived together, she would often come home to find that he’d turned their apartment into an art installation, and I wish I could see those. I loved her description of those early years, her first meetings with all the people who would later become important to her—and who, in most cases, were already pretty important cultural figures.

At the end of the book Smith includes memorial poems that she wrote for some of the people mentioned in the book (including Robert), as well as the one from which she took the title for the book.


The two of them really did have a lovely relationship, and I’m glad I knew so little about them going in, because it allowed me to see them as the kids they were when it all started, instead of looking back and trying to see them underneath their adult selves (there’s only so much that you can ever really do that). They were fascinating people, and I find Patti Smith in particular really intriguing. I’ll be looking up more of their work in the future.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    I loved this book. I knew and loved Smith’s music, but knew little about her, and had no real knowledge of Mapplethorpe, so it was a voyage of discovery for me, as for you. I left the book really liking Smith. She seems a very genuine person, willing to show herself in good and bad light.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gwen says:

      That’s the feeling I came away with, too. She sounds like someone I would really like to know.


      1. Jan Hicks says:

        I decided to read it because I read a piece she wrote in the New Yorker about a man seeing her reading outside a café, walking up to her, and asking her for a book recommendation. She took it in her stride, and then wrote the article about books she’s loved. That made me interested in her.


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