Before I first listened to Patti Smith, I saw this album cover for the first time when I was 16, and was immediately enamored with her. I was amazed at how such a simple pose could evoke both power and elegance. It still remains one of the most anti-establishment images I’ve seen – unconventional beauty expressed in a graceful and defiant pose. Punk rock, through a patchwork of cuticles. Years later, after so many bands and fads get popular, then fade into obscurity, Patti Smith’s music still resonates, and sounds equally as urgent now as it did in the 70’s. And while I may be the last person on the L train to pick up a copy of Just Kids, reading her memoir is a great reminder that the passionate pursuit of art is a timeless endeavor.
Just Kids primarily chronicles the period of struggle before Patti Smith managed to achieve stardom. After just moving to Brooklyn, Smith has a couple of chance encounters with another struggling artist, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the two end up devoting their lives to creative pursuits and pushing each other to produce work. On a number of occasions, the starving artists are forced to choose between marshmallow cookies or buying art supplies. Despite bouts of hunger and at times, homelessness, Smith and Mapplethorpe are driven by a passionate devotion to the arts, the discipline to constantly produce, and studious examinations of contemporary and historical art/music/literature figures from Rimbaud to Warhol to Bob Dylan. Their struggles dispel the myth of the artist as inherent, creative geniuses, but instead presents the successful artist as a culmination of rigorous study and practice. Eventually, the two bohemians move from their humble apartment in Brooklyn at 45 Hall St. (one block over from Brooklyn Industries’ former offices), to the Chelsea Hotel, to a residency at CBGB’s on the Bowery, an area that was at the time littered with flaming trashcans, and a colorful cast of users, transvestites, and musicians, among others. But despite the uncertainty of success amongst the impoverished and societal castoffs decorating downtown, it’s difficult to ignore Smith and Mapplethorp’s palpable excitement from being on the cusp of a movement. It’s that feeling that still compels young people all around the world to move to New York City to this day. – Teddy, Multimedia and Graphic Designer