“Just Kids” by Patti Smith

I’ve recently finished reading the memoir, “Just Kids” by Patti Smith. “Just Kids” is a relationship memoir recounting Smith’s more than two-decade long love affair/friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is a moving exploration of the interplay between artist and muse–roles that were both filled by Smith and Mapplethorpe alike as they found their way to their respective versions of art.
I’ve never been a huge devoteé of Smith. I knew who she was, liked her music well enough the times I crossed paths with it. I read the book because I’m addicted to memoir and because I saw Smith read and sing at a local bookstore when her book first came out. I figured a poet and a songwriter would be a vivid writer–and she is.
I was stunned to learn, just a few pages into the book, that Smith gave up a child when she was 19. Sent away to a foster family because of  judgmental neighbors, she gave birth to her child as nurses ridiculed her for her immoral behavior. A bit later in the book Smith writes, “Though I never questioned my decision to give my child up for adoption, I learned that to give life and walk away was not so easy. I became for a time moody and despondent. I cried so much that Robert affectionately called me Soakie.” That’s pretty much the last we hear of Smith’s experience as a birthmother. Granted, relinquishing a baby is not the story this book sets out to tell, but I’d say Patti Smith just might have another memoir to write.
And while I liked the book a lot, that lost baby was, for me, a profound song left unsung. And it made everything else in the book ring ever so slightly less true.

3 thoughts on ““Just Kids” by Patti Smith

  1. maybe

    I recently saw Patti Smith being interviewed by Charlie Rose. I tuned in late, so when she kept talking about “Robert” I had no idea who she was referring to (other than he was an artist and her lover). Never the less, the interview was riveting and she was quite fascinating to listen to, even though I missed a large chunk of the introductory information. I admittedly know little of her or her music so I researched a bit on the web to learn more about her. I was amazed that the “Robert” in question was Mapplethorpe, since I recall the controversy around some of his exhibits. Now to hear she is a birthmother as well?! Wow, I may have to buy this book…too bad there is not more about that part of her life, but I agree, perhaps another book will be forthcoming.

    You wrote, “and while I liked the book a lot, that lost baby was, for me, a profound song left unsung. And it made everything else in the book ring ever so slightly less true.” I find this to be true for many birthmothers. Some of us have a need to compartmentalize that part of our life. I only recently realized how much I tried to do this, which only made the experience even more profound and impactful on my life in ways I never even considered.

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  2. maryanne

    Somewhere years ago I read a very wrenching poem by Patti Smith about giving up her child but do not remember the title or which book of hers it was in. I also read something fairly recently indicating the child had found her and it did not go well, but that is hazy too.

    Interesting subject. In any event, the surrendered child was not the focus of her life, although it was a traumatic experience and she seemed pretty clear that she could not have lived the life she did and wanted to had she kept the child.

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  3. Jo

    Maryanne, sorry this is coming late, but I believe the poem to which you are referring is “Jenny”, and it can be found in Patti’s book “Babel” from 1978. It is indeed beautiful and emotionally powerful.

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