Tag Archives: Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith

“Just Kids” by Patti Smith


A moving memoir

I’ve recently finished reading the memoir, “Just Kids” by Patti Smith. “Just Kids” is a relationship memoir recounting Smith’s more than two-decades-long love affair and friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is a moving exploration of the interplay between artist and muse–roles that were filled both 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 also 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.

Smith is a birthmother

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. While I liked the book a lot, that lost baby was, for me, a profound song left unsung. And, for me, it made everything else in the book ring ever so slightly less true.