I’ve just finished reading Patti Smith’s memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, and I miss the two of them. It’s a great read: all the energy of late 1960’s and early 1970’s New York; two youngsters finding each other by accident and uniting in art and hope. Both of them had an androgynous beauty; they came together and used that beauty, and their love of poetry and art, to forge a new, exciting life together. Away from her teenage pregnancy and giving up her baby for adoption; away from his strict Catholic upbringing.
The book fairly gallops through their search for fame, stopping as they go at the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City, often desperately poor, always surrounded by the mavericks and stars of the time: Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Susan Sontag et al.
They sought patrons and through often accidental connections they became a rock-poet (Patti) and an avant-garde photographer (Robert). Throughout it all they maintained their friendship, which was based on a mutual quest for recognition as artists, their personal style, and a funny sort of love. Patti was the more sensible of the two, steering clear of drugs mostly and holding down book shop jobs, but Robert, once he acknowledged he was gay, was an avid drug-taker and, often, prostitute.
In a way, Patti glossed over the worst bits of Robert’s personality and choices – she adored him blindly – but throughout the book they certainly had an amazing bond and they supported each other hugely, through all sorts of odd relationships and hard times. They were each other’s muse, lover and friend over years and years, a thing that surely doesn’t happen much.
The memoir is thoughtfully written, beautiful in parts, but occasionally the poeticism gets out of hand and her endless references to Bob Dylan and Rimbaud got up my nose at times. Having said that, it’s a headlong, sparky and intimate read; a real snapshot of a turning point in American history. Highly recommended to anyone who loves poetry, rock and roll and/or bohemia.