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Arts & Culture

A Soundtrack For Patti Smith's 'Just Kids'

An evening of music inspired by Patti Smith's "Just Kids" will take place at the Whistle Stop this Saturday.
An evening of music inspired by Patti Smith's "Just Kids" will take place at the Whistle Stop this Saturday.

I loved Patti Smith's award-winning book "Just Kids," about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

DJ Claire, who spins at local spots like The Casbah and The Whistle Stop, clearly agrees with me since she's programmed an evening of music inspired by the book.

Smith and Mapplethorpe's story unfolds in late 60s/early 70s New York, where they struggled to make ends meet, lived in the Chelsea Hotel, and surrounded themselves with artists and musicians. That milieu inspired DJ Claire to create an eclectic playlist of Smith's friends and influences. DJ Claire answered a few questions over email about Saturday's event.


As a DJ, what kind of impression did Patti Smith’s "Just Kids" have on you?

Music is, obviously, an integral part of Smith's life and her story of becoming an artist/musician. The whole time I was reading this book I kept thinking to myself "someone should really make a soundtrack for this book". I've read books about music and never thought that before. This book reads like a film and sounds like a mix tape; it's very visual, aural and personal (a testament to Smith's strong talents as a vivid writer). As a DJ, I liken what I do to performing a live "mix tape"; my selections are influenced by what I'm listening to, what I've recently discovered and the mood of the crowd/venue.

We all have our own personal soundtracks to our lives, and my memories are strongly linked to music. I identified with how Smith (like many, if not all, of us do) would recount moments in her life and mention what was playing on the stereo in that moment. Music is powerful in its ability to transport us to certain places and times. You hear a certain song and your memory is uncorked. Only fitting that I read this at the end of the year (and finished it on New Year's Day), when reminiscing goes into overdrive.

What was Patti Smith’s musical milieu in the book? Who influenced her?

1960s/'70s New York City, the heyday of rock 'n' roll. She and Robert Mapplethorpe were listening to a lot of rock, folk, jazz and Motown, everyone from the Byrds and the Marvelettes to Edith Piaf, John Coltrane and the Stones. Smith had many musical influences, most significantly Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Tim Hardin and John Lennon. And she was not only listening to these artists, but she was fortunate to interact with many of them, too, as a resident of the Chelsea Hotel, where she encountered Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and many other legends of the time.


In creating a song list for this “soundtrack” of the book, what music did you know for sure you had to include?

In planning for Saturday's event at The Whistle Stop, I (and my friend/special guest DJ Mike Draper) want to play (or attempt to play as much as possible in three hours) as many of the artists, songs and albums that Smith mentions throughout "Just Kids," in addition to songs by Smith herself.

And there are many references, and some overlaps. I literally went back through every page and jotted down every one. There will be a lot of Dylan, of course. And we have to play "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" by the Byrds, which is one of the defining songs in Smith's trajectory as a musician. You will hear all of the artists l listed in the previous answer plus many more.

Any musical surprises or discoveries for you in this book?

I wasn't familiar with Tim Hardin until I read this book so I enjoyed learning about him. "Just Kids" made me want to rediscover/revisit many albums in my own collection that I hadn't listened to in awhile. And to listen to these albums in their entirety from start to finish (a rare luxury in the distracted, multitasking era we live in).

I read a good chunk of the book while listening to Edith Piaf, who Smith would often listen to while she wrote. This book inspired me to take a refresher course and dig a little deeper into the catalogs of some artists who are household names but I'm not necessarily familiar with every album or song they ever produced.

DJ Claire's "Patti Smith's 'Just Kids': The Soundtrack" takes place at The Whistle Stop (with special guest DJ Mike Draper!) Saturday, January 22nd, from 5-8pm.