Music: Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ is a cathartic book for any music fan

Patti Smith performing im Mannheim, Germany in 1978

Patti Smith performing im Mannheim, Germany in 1978 - Credit: Archant

This week, I had finally finished reading Patti Smith's best-selling book, Just Kids.

It's composed around the three loves of her life: 1970s New York City, art, and photographer, lover and friend, Robert Mapplethorpe.

While it only partly orbited around her venture into music, it delves into greater themes including how we can make sense of life through art, and the symbiotic relationship between youth and creation.

I had picked it up in a book shop a few years earlier - it was originally published in 2010 - and though I told myself I would read it every time I packed and unpacked it through house moves, I had never quite got to it.

Lockdown seemed the perfect time to do so, and I was right.

Whether you create, indulge in, or simply appreciate art and its many forms, this is truly a life-changing book that one must read during a pinnacle moment within life.

In the first half of the book, we see Smith brush shoulders with New York's elite including Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard, and Jimi Hendrix.

Most Read

But the most remarkable and significant passages come at the last half of the book.

We understand just how enduring a relationship can be with art and music, she records her debut album Horses, finds herself, takes what is hers and refuses what is not.

But the heaviest emotion she faces is that of loss. Mapplethorpe died in March, 1989, and Smith spends time trying to come to terms with this.

The first time I listened to Horses, I imagined Smith as some callous punk rock star with no deep emotions — after all, you have to be a certain type of person to start a debut album with the line 'Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine' — but after a few chapters, I realised just how mistaken I was.

This is a story of a girl turning into a woman, with an incomprehensible understanding of human emotion. It reminded me of the 17-year-old girl who picked up the book, inadvertent to just how much she, too, would grow.