Not Just Kids

The young lives of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were anything but normal. As young adults the two braved disease and drugs, madness and starvation… all in the heart of New York City. Lovers and artists and visionaries, the two were anything but ‘Just Kids’.

I am loving reading Just Kids. The world of Patti Smith seems at times almost surreal; the stuff of legends. Her encounters and exploits could fill many different lifetimes and she goes through things that I’ve never imagined having to face. At the same time, though, I feel as if I can relate to her. She moved away from her family, venturing into New York City with very little idea of what her future would hold. I sympathize with her longing for art and her wish to be a creative, creating soul. I feel for her struggle maintaining steady employment. I understand her love for Robert, and their loyalty to eachother through it all.

I think all of us can find part of ourselves in Just Kids. Its events took place years ago in the 60s and 70s, and the music, clothes, and politics were all different. One thing, however, never changes. We are all humans with human faults. We all struggle sometimes. We all face trying times.

The Roots of “Hip”

As I read for the first time ever about the Chelsea Hotel, I began to think about how many other places have had so much artistic history. From the years 1884 to 2011, Hotel Chelsea has housed many of the greatest artistic minds of different eras. To think of the fact that Twain, Ginsberg, Hopper, Dylan, and Kiedis had all stayed under the same roof is truly amazing.

I like to think that at the Chelsea, even the walls ooze creativity. To be in such a historic location amongst such legacy would truly be an honor. Even when Patti Smith stayed there and wrote the song she performs in the interview, there was already a great deal of creativity, which had already occurred at the Chelsea.

The diversity of talent is worth commenting upon as well. To think that Twain, such an amazing writer could have shared a room with Alice Cooper or Jimi Hendrix, both musical greats. Perhaps the Chelsea is such a landmark, because when you stay there, you can hear the work of the artists before you in your head.

During the 1960s, it is obvious, from Patti Smith’s interview that drug abuse and other taboos were abundant. Smith even forgets the reason she wrote one of her songs. I assume this to be a result of the rampant drug use, which occurred not only at the Chelsea,  but in many 1960′s art hubs.

We see the legacy of this time period when we walk through Chelsea into the Village, and now even further into Williamsburg. The “hipster” scene can trace its roots back to Patti Smith and other influential punk rockers and beats. Those artists living in the Chelsea have shaped the culture of the United States for the past 100 years.

Chris DiBari

The Power of Setting

After reading both the first 88 pages of “Just Kids” and the Article on the Chelsea Hotel, the idea of setting popped into my mind. We can see that the fact that a story, whether it be fiction or not, occurs in a specific location, makes it hold a specific weight. As a matter of fact, aren’t we taking a course titled “The Art’s in New York City?” The class would merely be a lecture if it werent for the in.

Just Kids is a perfect example of just this. Patti and Robert, meet because of, and are shaped by, the culture of the city in which they lived. Music, art, photography; what makes these forms of expression special are the fact that they are products of the environment in which they are manifested. The “starving artist” story is all to familiar in New York, and no exception in the events told in this work.

More specifically , the setting that seemed the most prominent so far is was the Chelsea Hotel. This cultural mecca was a home to dozens of the most famous American artists, musicians, and writers. The hotel has been mentioned by everyone from Madonna to Bob Dylan, an seems to be almost the Mickey Mouse Club of the Mid twentieth century, by that I mean; a grouping that seemed to filter the stars of tomorrow. Further Reading: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mickey_Mouse_Club)

For me, it is too soon to tell how the setting of Just Kinds will influence the story but i am excited to see how the world held within New York will continue to impact Patti Smith.

-John W. Cleary

“Transforming Insignificant Bits… Into a Visual Poem”

In the first few chapters of Patti Smith’s memoir, we watch her and Robert Mapplethorpe develop as artists and people. They have not yet even discovered their potential in the fields that would eventually make them famous—Patti in Rock and Roll, and Robert in photography. They go through many different stages in such short time, as represented by the many times Patti would return home to find that Robert had redecorated the apartment. There’s a sense of confusion and even madness in the story at some points as Patti and Robert attempt to find themselves and make sense of the world—as though they are “just kids”. Through all their changes, one thing remains true for Patti and Robert—they are artists. Not only are they artists in their work, but in their mindset and lifestyle as well.

Being starving artists, they are forced to make do with what little resources are available to them. What I found particularly interesting were the descriptions of things they created or put together, not for the purpose of making art, but for everyday life. For example, as a gift for Patti, Robert makes a tambourine and decorates it. Even more practical examples can be seen in their home décor. Along with Robert’s sporadic redecorations of their bedroom, the couple uses random furniture found off the side of the streets to personalize their apartment. They hang drawings and religious artifacts, and Patti has her own study corner with a “frayed magic carpet”. For Christmas time, Robert even makes a wooden manger to be used in place of a tree. Robert also put a lot of effort into making Joseph Cornell boxes that Patti describes as “transforming insignificant bits … into a visual poem.” I see each of these things as art, and, with those words, Patti could not have described them better.

Hotels: Best Places for Drama

When I would hang out with my friends in the city, I would often notice the Chelsea Hotel and say to myself, “Man, that place is so beautiful and mysterious. It looks like a great place for something awful and dramatic to happen.” Well, I guess I was right, but not just for the Chelsea Hotel. Hotels in general just seem to be a magnet for the strange, disturbing, mysterious, and interesting.

In Just Kids, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe end up at the Hotel Allerton after fleeing their house following a shooting in front of it. The hotel was known for it’s “very cheap rooms” and ends up being a haven for the creepy. The imagery was somewhat gruesome, the place was described as “a terrible place, dark and neglected,” the wallpaper was described as “peeling like dead skin in summer,” and Patti compared the atmosphere to the shower scene from the movie Psycho. The rooms were filled with junkies, who were “half-naked guys trying to find a vein in limbs infested with sores” and there was a morphine-addicted ballet dancer mystically dancing in his room. The place had an unnerving characterization, and the unstable state Patti and Robert were in did not help to alleviate this disturbing air. The imagery made me a bit uneasy, and I was relieved when they finally got out of there and took a cab to the Chelsea Hotel, but it seems that the Chelsea Hotel is also a place where strange things happen.

The Chelsea Hotel is a New York Landmark and has housed the likes of Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Janis Joplin, and countless other famous artists at one time or another. However, it turns out that this storied hotel also has an intriguing, mysterious, and unnerving story: the story of Sid and Nancy. Sid Vicious was the bassist of the famous punk band Sex Pistols and in 1977 he began a relationship with a woman named Nancy Spungen. Over 23 months, the two indulged in heavy drug use, specifically heroin, and when the Sex Pistols broke up (largely because of Sid’s addiction and subsequent behavior), the couple moved to the Chelsea Hotel. After living with domestic abuse and increasingly worse drug abuse, Nancy was found dead in her hotel room on October 12, 1978. The killer was never found, and the suspects range from Sid Vicious to two drug dealers who visited the hotel that night. Sid pleaded not guilty to the murder and was put on bail, but died of a drug overdose before the trial could take place.

Therefore, it seems that no matter where you go, hotels are a haven for mysterious happenings, especially in New York. I’m sure most people have stayed in a hotel at least once in their lives, never giving it much thought. After reading about these two occurrences, however, I think I’m going to think twice about staying in one from now on.

-Jon Farrell

A 1960′s Cinderella Story

“We hadn’t much money but we were happy.”

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship was that of love, friendship, happiness, pain, and great passion – for each other and the arts. At the onset of Just Kids, Patti Smith spoke about Mapplethorpe in such a manner that anyone could tell that he was someone special. Even as I read the Foreword, I could clearly see that there were feelings present in her writing that go way deeper than what was put on paper. He was her knight in shining armor since day one.

In my opinion, one of the things that makes Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s connection stand out among others that I’ve read about is how it began. Not often do you learn of Prince Charming showing up at the right place just in time to save the Princess from something terrible that is about to happen. Upon reading, I felt as if it almost seemed too good to be true, as if all of this love was being built up just so it could slowly fall…

As Robert grew quiet and distant, it became evident that this was exactly what I had been waiting for. The relationship that once seemed so perfect and untouchable was now coming to an end. How could two individuals who were so happy together and had so much in common go their separate ways? What happened after Patti’s return from Paris is another, in my opinion, extraordinary aspect of their relationship – that no matter what happened between them, they managed to find their way back to each other. They made a vow that until they were each able to be independent, they would never leave each other again. Even after his death, I believe that he will always be with Patti Smith, because he impacted her life in such a huge way.

Coping Through Music

It’s interesting how Patti Smith is the “Godmother of Punk” when she believes that her friends are more talented singers than she is. Although her style of music was different from the other songs during this period, she still had a large fan base. It shows that many people in the 60’s must have agreed that the lyrics to a song is more important that the way a song sounds. Smith’s music sent a message to people, and it helped them cope with feeling detached from society.

Modern music is similar in a way. There are many similar songs that people generally enjoy, but there are also the songs that help people cope with problems in their lives. I know that when I’m upset, listening to music is a great way for me to cope. Listening to the lyrics lets me know that I’m not the only one who has been in a difficult or upsetting situation.  Sometimes, when alone on the train ride to or from school, I’ll listen to music that matches my mood just so I can share my feelings with someone.  I think it’s important for artists to create music that expresses themselves.  That way, their listeners will feel a greater connection to the artist, as well as have a mutually beneficial from the creation of breathtaking music.

~Jessina Wong

Patti Smith: A Visionary Who Was a Trend Setter

As a young girl Patti Smith was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. She was sent to Sunday school and had to learn and read the Bible. Even at night, Smith would recite prayers after her mom. But according to her, she “plagued her (mother) with questions.” At such a young age Smith was already questioning ideal thoughts. She was a child wise beyond her years. Smith showed hints of being a leader. She wouldn’t settle for what people told her and wanted to find out things for herself. Although, I am citing her actions as a child, I am speaking in regards to her potential. Patti grew up and became an artist. Her experiences with her soul mate, Robert Mapplethorpe, made her more complete. Smith defied the stereotypical view of a punk rock and roll artist. Oddly enough, she was also known to be a poet who tried to mesh her poems and her songs. Although, her voice sounded raspy, and wasn’t the greatest she influenced others in a different way.

First, Smith is such a phenomenal person. When she had her first child, she gave it up for adaptation instead of just dumping it. She believed that someone else could have taken care of it better and she didn’t want her struggles as an upcoming artist to worsen her child. Smith was not a hater to minorities, and actually loved entertaining minorities. Her songs, her style which are manly like, and personality appealed to the rebels of her time. She even said herself that girls weren’t really a part of rock bands that time. It’s amazing how became one of the most influential singers and person of her time. She dreamed of being a teacher, not a singer, and how lucky is the world to have Smith who not only tested the waters, but revolutionized the artistic era of her time.

Patti Smith, The Lady GaGa of the 60s ?

I could be totally off with this comparison but I see Patti Smith as Lady GaGa of the 60s.

Both of them are idols of their time periods. Smith was highly influential in the punk rock movement, while Lady GaGa is an innovator of today’s music. From the novel and the NPR interview, I characterized her as a rebel. In the NPR interview she said how she would where dungarees to the beach rather than the normal bathing suit. Also from the interview she mentions the argument she had with her recording company over the album cover. She wanted to use the picture Mapplethorpe took of her for the cover of “Horse”; however the recording company thought her hair was messy and was incomprehensible for that time. In the end the public loved it and it became a famous iconic photograph. Patti Smith was rebellious but also a visionary. In the interview she mentions how her English teacher was teaching Moby Dick in an incomprehensible way.  She saw a way to teach her semi-literate class Moby Dick, better than her teacher and she did just that. And the most obvious was that she was a female in a rock and roll band something almost nonexistent before her. She was willing to express herself. I am sure we all know a bit about Lady GaGa. She is rebellious with the way she acts and dresses. Her music style is different than many other famous stars. She is a visionary who does not mind stepping out of the status quo to chase her dreams. I know that there are differences between the two and that my view could be totally off, but nonetheless, I believe that Patti Smith is the Lady GaGa of the 60s.

Follow Your Heart

From reading and listening to the NPR interview, Patti Smith struck me as an extremely inspiring person. Although I am not familiar with her work, her attitude and lifestyle influenced a movement in culture during the late ’60s and ’70s. What inspired me most about Patti Smith was that she followed her heart, through difficult times of poverty, adversity, until she became known and appreciated for her work.

Patti Smith’s passion was art, and she was amazingly able to share that passion and make it grow through her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Their relationship did not have a fairy-tale ending, but was filled with their pure emotions, which allowed them to truly grow with each other as artists, lovers, and friends.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to live life in the moment, and enjoy life one day at a time. This free-spirited idea is personified through the Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids” and her vast accomplishments are proof of this.