Book Club: Just Kids

The New York We Like to Think We Remember 


Before reading this book, I didn't know much about Patti Smith: just that she was the artist who brazenly came out with the single "Rock N Roll Nigger."  While this song is incredibly catchy, it's understandably startling.  A white woman just can't use the N word, not even in 1978.  I've always wondered how Patti got away with it and still maintained such a legacy in the rock and poetry world. Now that I've read her 2011 memoir Just Kids, it makes so much sense to me.

This memoir is a beautiful, in-depth look at the lives of Patti and her dearest friends in 1960s/1970s New York City--the uninhibited, wild and free New York we all like to refer to in our collective conscious.  While most critics have seen this memoir as a devotion to Robert Mapplethorpe and their abiding relationship, I see it more as a devotion to the power of the City and following your passions, which is ultimately all we can do to ever truly be happy.

The story begins with a young Patti, unsatisfied with her simple life in South Jersey, who moves to the Big Apple to pursue her dreams.  She wants to create art, she wants to write poetry, she wants to live.  She meets Robert, a young boy with similar creative drive and a devotion to his many crafts.

Smith takes us through their lives together, and we watch them evolve as people.  We watch Patti become less shy; she sheds her skin and takes to the stage, first as an actress (not exactly successfully) and then as her true calling: a live poet/singer.  We watch Robert create art, fashion, jewelry, and finally, pick up a camera and figure out what he is destined to do--what he is destined to bring to the world.

More importantly than two people fulfilling their creative destinies, we watch two people change the world in their own individual ways.  We watch Robert embrace his homosexuality and celebrate it through his photography, something that barely anyone had the courage to openly do at the time.  We watch Patti accept and love people, honor people through her writings and lyrics, and lend tribute to those who left this earth too young to gain it for themselves (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix).

It's through this story that I learn Patti isn't just some brazen white woman throwing out the N word to be shocking and controversial.  She uses it to diminish its power; she uses it as a form of liberation.  She rejects classes and races and any other form of social division, and she just is.

With all of these powerful themes intermingled, Just Kids is ultimately a story of a beautiful relationship.  It's not all about love and romance, it's not about the happily ever after and the perfect couple that always seems to find each other.  It's about two people, first lovers, then friends, then lovers again, and back and forth for many years, who never gave up on each other.  They never stopped supporting one another, never stopped needing each other's love.  It's a beautiful story told by a very talented writer, and I highly recommend.

Have you read it?  What are your thoughts?  Have you not?  Go pick it up immediately!



  1. Sounds really interesting. I definitely want to read this! Thanks for the review!


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