“Just Kids” is predated by a 1995 biography of Maplethorpe and his relationship with Patti Smith. It takes you back to an era when bohemian life was possible, when there wasn’t a great obsession with being a success, and people were satisfied with less. It was the 1960’s, a time when there were cheap apartments, abundant jobs, but also greater dangers. It wasn’t a safe time to be in Manhattan, but if you didn’t look like you had money, you might survive. If you did survive, life could be quite fun.
Patti Smith came from a liberal family in a conservative town near Philadelphia. At the start of the memoir, she doesn’t fit in with local mores and norms, so she takes a bus to Brooklyn and expects to stay with friends near the Pratt Institute. When she gets there, they’ve moved out, so she couch surfs and ends up with a dropout artist named Robert, who might be gay. For the next four years, they hop from one dirt-cheap pad to the next, eating one meal a day, and making art from cast-off junk.
The title of “Just Kids” is perfect for the book. It’s about young people doing what all young people dream of; living far from their parents, doing whatever they want, not having a care in the world, working just enough to support themselves. All those things were possible in 1968 New York. Rent was cheap, and as long as you didn’t carry any valuables, you were relatively safe. Nowadays, however, I can’t see any of this happening. If Patti and Robert had come to New York City (or even Brooklyn) in 2013, they’d never be able to live this way. The only cheap apartments are in the worst neighborhoods, and it would be a long commute from anything they’d want to do. The commute to work would be long, and you’d never be able to have an apartment on a bookstore clerk’s salary. Would they mind living six to a tiny apartment in Williamsburg? Would they mind commuting from Brighton Beach all the way to midtown? Would they be happy without an iPhone, a laptop, internet, gym membership, the latest footwear?
Bohemian life doesn’t flourish in this city the way it did in the 60’s. Most of the so-called “hipsters” live on money from their parents. You’ve got to remember, patti and Robert wear a mix-and-match of whatever they can get. Today’s “hipsters” wear expensive clothing, eat in costly restaurants, and have high-priced technology.
I give this book 4 stars instead of 5, only because it’s repetitive. There’s too much name-dropping about all her favorite poets, and that distracts from things. I would have like to have seen a greater description of the physical aspect of New York at the time.