Patti Smith and the Chelsea

I’m finishing Patti Smith’s Just Kids just now. It’s brilliant. Her writing style and anecdotes of Manhattan’s art and music scene in the late 60′s and 70′s make it very whip-throughable. She begins with a brief insight into her childhood in South Jersey (pretty poor, pretty literary), before moving onto her meeting Robert Mapplethorpe in Brooklyn, then following their journey together as they move from being penniless artists there – they furnish more than one home with mattresses found on the streets – to penniless artists in the city, including a brief stay at the bleak Allerton hotel where a ‘morphine angel’ tells them “this place is not for you” and sends them off to find salvation at the Chelsea Hotel. That’s when their world starts to be filled with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and people from Andy Warhol’s Factory. God bless that morphine angel.

Patti Smith& Robert Maplethorpe | Just Kids | My Friend's House

Patti is good at painting details of their aesthetic lives – of the clothes she wears, how she draws, writes, eats and fills each home however small with things that she and Robert find. Always cheaply.

The book is making me want to read more about the Chelsea. It stopped being a hotel in 2011 and is currently being restored by new owners, but to what end it’s unclear – I have read somewhere that it’s all shut down, but elsewhere that some of the permanent residents are still there.

It opened in 1884 and was designed by architect Philip Hubert  who wanted to build co-op housing in NYC. He included apartments in the hotel for the construction workers who built it, along with artists studios for writers, musicians and actors. His idea went bankrupt in 1905 and then the Chelsea was converted into a luxury hotel. This then fell into decline causing room prices to plummet and attracting the likes of Jackson Pollock and Dylan Thomas to stay there – coming full circle sort of. Thomas also famously died there.

The chelsea hotel | My Friend's House

There are thousands of stories about the place, from Jack Kerouac having a one night stand with Gore Vidal to Bob Dylan writing Blonde on Blonde and Arthur Miller moving in after divorcing Marilyn Monroe. Nancy Spungen may or may not have been stabbed to death by Sid Vicious in room 100. All of which is detailed in this book I just found out about – Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins.

In the meantime, I recommend Just Kids, especially if you’re needing something to draw you back into the healthy habit of reading books again. It’s worked for me.

6 Responses to “Patti Smith and the Chelsea”

  1. That's Not My Age
    October 29, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Just Kids is beautifully written & I love Patti. Isn’t the Chelsea Hotel being turned into fancy pants apartments (like everywhere else!) ? I always have to stop & stare whenever I walk past, it’s such a brilliant building.

  2. Rachel
    October 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    See I had the opposite reaction to this book. I love her music, so bought her book but I found her so humourless and earnest and pretentious, and so utterly unable to laugh at herself or show herself with any sort of wit or insight that the book put her right off her music. The story of her journey into music is no doubt remarkable and the Mapplethorpe tale so very sad, but I ultimately thought she was a right old pseud. I have however heard brilliant things about Viv Albertine’s book so I’m going to try that next in the hope she rights all Patti’s wrongs.

    • myfriendshouse
      October 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      Ah I hope it is Rachel, thanks for commenting it’s always good to get the other side. TNMA I think you might be right, so typical. Think New Yorkers feel much like Londoners in that nobody seems to be able to afford to live in either place anymore.

  3. Caroline Collett
    November 7, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    I’ve read both and liked both, but I actually loved the Viv book more, even though I’m a huge fan of Patti’s music and have been since I was 15, back in 1977! The Viv book is fantastically girly and ballsy and honest, touching and real. Everyone I know who’s read it loves it – and the second half, which you think will be the boring bit, is actually the best.

    • myfriendshouse
      November 10, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

      It’s definitely going on the Christmas list now…x

  4. Lynda Eicher
    April 15, 2017 at 1:44 am #

    I am currently listening to the Just Kids audiobook read by Patti and it is so interesting. I love hearing her voice tell her own tale, even with her mispronunciation of several words, she is a solid author and biography. Feels like I am listening to a biography and an autobiography simultaneously.

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