P & R

To be perfectly honest, I never heard of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe before reading this memoir, Just Kids.  However, I could not be happier to be introduced to the life that she lived and the people she was surrounded by.  I am very judgmental and have always viewed punk rock groups or, really, any type of rock ‘n’ roll group as being prone to heavy drugs, sadomasochism, and sketchy things of that sort.  Fortunately, as I read this memoir I’m beginning to see that all my previous notions are false.

Patti and Robert share a very gentle, romantic, affectionate bond without the need to be lewd or dangerous.  They are very understanding, loyal, and trusting of one another. Robert has a very quiet and gentle side which seems contradictory to his drawings of blood splattered wooden box covering male genitals as mentioned in the interview.  Although Patti was frightened by this, she soon accepted it from an aesthetic point of view. Everyone goes through tough periods where the most malicious of thoughts occur.  No one is black or white, everyone is gray, everyone has moments of tenderness as well as moments of intolerable pain and anger.  Patti states that she was worried that Robert might be heading down a destructive dangerous path.  Moreover, this memoir focuses on the transformation Patti and Robert face by going down these paths to “find ourselves” which really is the goal for every human being, not just aspiring artists.

– Shivani Sharma

“Just Kids” – A True Experience

I was not sure what to expect when I saw the cover of “Just Kids”. As I looked at the cover page and the back page, I thought that this book would be about a couple’s relationship. Only after I started reading did I realize that it would be about much more. I always find it interesting when authors use their own life stories and experiences when writing a novel. It makes the story more personal and gets me to think, “Wow, this really happened”.

Something else that made me think was when Patti stole from Stephanie has experienced her first feelings of sin and guilt. Though Patti was not responsible for Stephanie’s death, Patti felt a lot of guilt because of it. In the same way, when Robert felt that he was homosexual, Patti felt that she was somehow responsible for his way of thinking. Later she realizes that she has no control over the events that happened.

This book seemed really appropriate for our class “Arts in NYC”. The theme of this book centers around living on art and the struggles that are associated with it. The will power that these young artists had was incredible. For the most part, they disregarded all physical pleasures to pursue their love for art. When they finally had enough money for two sandwiches, I felt a sense of amazement because I myself had lost hope that they would be able to make a living. Leading this type of life is hard and during the scene before Hotel Chelsea, the two main characters seem a bit lost in where they are and I am looking forward to see how their lives are going to pane out.

– Linda Manchery

Struggle and Sacrifice

A recurring theme I noticed in both the book and the interview was that of sacrifice.

Patti Smith leaves behind her family and friends to head to New York City in the hopes of locating comfort in the company of other struggling artists.

She gives up her child for adoption in the wish that it will have a more stable life than she could offer.

Smith abandons her safety, living day to day on the streets and in friends’ apartments in order to feel the freedom her art requires.

She and Mapplethorpe are forced to choose between food and new art supplies due to the confines of their budget.

Mapplethorpe sacrifices his fervent love for Patti so that he may explore his newly discovered sexual orientation.

Both find they often must relinquish their devotion to art for stressful, monotonous jobs to make ends meet.

However, these sacrifices prove worth the pain for the final product.  Both artists, in all of their loss and suffering, manage to create such raw, wondrous pieces.  They became not only a part of their generation but creators of it.  As Smith mentions in the interview, she did not know at the time that what she was doing was so revolutionary.  Nonetheless, both endured monumental hardship but forged ahead, also forging the artistic and political framework of a new generation.

-Jacqui Larsen


Godmother of Punk

Patti Smith, the “Godmother of Punk,” was an extremely influential singer-songwriter and poet in the punk rock movement. She took America by storm with her fusion of poetry and rock n roll.

What struck me about the interview with Patti Smith was how she viewed her talent. She admitted to not having as good a voice as her friends, which I found odd, considering that singing was her livelihood. She then followed this comment by adding that singing is not about having the perfect singing voice. To Patti Smith, music is more than just singing. To her, it is an art that demands more of the artist than just singing words in a way people like. Patti Smith epitomized this philosophy and her energy, personality, and lyrics attracted her huge fan base- not her amazing voice.

Another notable idea shared by Patti Smith in her interview was that she desired to create music that was not as glamorous and materialistic as the other music of her time. Smith’s goal was to produce significant music that sent a message. She wanted to help people who felt marginalized by society for being different. Her lyrics offered a helping hand to the homosexuals and nonconformists.

Patti Smith was more than just a singer; she was a performer who brought her true self to the stage. Her music had substance and purpose. Smith’s objective to make her first album and then return to normal life was never realized; which is fortunate, because without her, the world would have missed out on one great artist.

-Robin Cohen

“Nobody sees as we do.”

I already knew the name Patti Smith, but I really didn’t really know anything about her or her music, or even the 60s artistic movements aside from what we learn in a history class, until I started to read Just Kids. The book has really broadened my views about what those years entailed, and also put a very humanistic sentiment into it. If I ever put a thought into the personalities of the artists of the 60s, I always assumed that they were all rebellious and anarchic and drug-addled. Although this is in some ways true, I’ve found it doesn’t begin to cover the emotions displayed by all the artists, the most prominent of emotions being displayed by Patti Smith and her lover and friend Robert Mapplethorpe. It was really interesting for me to see the gentle, romantic side of a rock and roll icon considered to be so edgy and radical.

I find there’s something really whimsical and quixotic about the relationship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. They seem to be so in sync with each other that it’s almost too perfect. They never really argue, and for the most part they seem to understand each other’s minds and the extent of each other’s creativity in a way that no one else can. There is a period of unease when Mapplethorpe is deeply troubled and Smith struggles to find a way to reach him, which results in them parting ways, yet they still manage to find each other again when they need each other most. Their relationship is so artless and genuine that it seems a privilege to have this view into their fascinating lives, when so much art was being created. It’s really true when Mapplethorpe tells Smith, “Nobody sees as we do”.

The Chelsea Hotel: A New York Icon

New York is home to many iconic hotels, but one that stands out for its role in the worlds of art and music is the Hotel Chelsea. This historic landmark opened in 1884 as an apartment building, but when that business venture failed, it was reopened as a hotel. At the time when it was built, it was the tallest building in new York City, standing at twelve stories tall.

The hotel is a red brick structure with elaborate wrought-iron balconies, an homage to Gothic architecture. Most famously, the Chelsea Hotel was home to many culture icons. Writers who lived there were Mark Twain, O. Henry, Dylan Thomas, William S. Burroughs, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Jack Kerouac, and Simone de Beauvoir. Actors and directors who lived there include Stanley Kubrick, Ethan Hawke, Eddie Izzard, Uma Thurman, Dennis Hopper, Elliot Gould, Michael Imperioli, Jane Fonda, and Edie Sedgwick. The hotel is most remembered for its place in music history. Musicians such as Patti Smith (who lived in the hotel with her soulmate, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe), Virgil Thomson, DeeDee Ramone, Edith Piaf, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Sid Vicious (who infamously stabbed girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death in the hotel in 1978) called the hotel home at some point in their careers. The Hotel Chelsea’s staircase is lined with the work of artists who have lived there, including Frida Kahlo, Edie Sedgwick, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

The exterior and interior of the Hotel Chelsea

The Chelsea Hotel very much reflects the new artistic movements occurring in New York City at the time. It had an independent, fresh, bohemian air to it. It was a place of change, reform, and revolution.

Fun facts: Apparently the ghosts of Nancy Spungen, Dylan Thomas, and Eugene O’Neill haunt the Hotel Chelsea…

-Sarah Allam

A “video game” gets meaning

When I was younger I heard about a home gaming console called the Sega CDi. None of my friends ever had one, but I saw a “game” called The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe for the system one day. At that time, I didn’t know who Robert Mapplethorpe was or how a game could exist about pictures of flowers. After I began reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, I finally learned who Mapplethorpe was.

Smith’s memoir is all about her life and relationship with Mapplethorpe. It also focuses on how they survived while waiting for their big artistic breaks, how others viewed them and their relationship and how they interacted with their family and friends. I’ve only read through about a third of the book so far, so right now Smith and Mapplethorpe are still struggling to try and make it in the art industry.

Out of everything I’ve read so far, the thing that appeals to me the most is the attention to details when it comes to the boroughs of New York City. It’s always cool to read about how celebrities’ old stomping grounds are where some of us live right now. I particularly enjoyed when the couple took the subway over to Coney Island and had an original Nathan’s dog with some of the money they saved up. There’s nothing like classic fast food Americana to get you feeling nostalgic!

As I read through the rest of the book, I realize that Smith and Mapplethorpe weren’t the only people who were living off spare change around that time. There were many other struggling artists who just wanted to break into the industry of that choice. As my main interest in college (and future work) is filmmaking, it’s always unsettling to hear stories about young men and women who spend time working on artistic projects and believing things will change the next day only to not get realized and lose their homes, friends and jobs. Despite the startling nature, this theme of struggle creates a very real NYC feeling as well as gives a sense of the times back then.

A copy of "The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe" for the Sega CDi.

"The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe" for the Sega CDi.

And to be honest, I still don’t know why they made a video game about pictures of flowers. Haha!

-Daniel Scarpati