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Just Kids, Patti Smith (Random House) 

A surprisingly romantic rock 'n' roll New York story.

If Ian Edelman, the creator of HBO's How to Make it in America, thinks his show's sucky protagonists and their loft-living artist friends are having a tough time of it in the Big Apple, he might want to travel back to Patti Smith's 1970s New York, where bloody walls and lice were as much part of an artist's life as the junkie shooting up in the hallway. The poet, painter and iconic singer, who still epitomizes fucking coolness like no one else, recalls a pre-AIDS, pre-gentrified exciting city, where violence and creativity coexisted as testy bedfellows. And she does it, surprisingly, with much sweet tenderness and innocence. Just Kids is really a love letter to the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith's former lover, muse, companion and artistic partner, and their early days as artists. Young and naive, bursting with ideas, the two set up a fairytale-like existence at the Chelsea Hotel, as scenesters like Warhol, Joplin and Hendrix flit in and out of their lives. Unlike the lascivious, panty-counting rock memoirs of late (Slash and Mötley Crüe come to mind), this one's pretty chaste: Smith recalls trips to Coney Island with Mapplethorpe, sharing hot dogs and chocolate milk. Even her affairs with Jim Carroll and Sam Shepherd seem driven by artistic admiration. A mythic tale of survival that's an obsessive read, whether you're a fan or not.

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