Patti Smith’s memoir a touching tribute
It is hard to imagine attributing the words sweet and tender to a story that recalls the relationship between artist Robert Mapplethorpe and rock musician and poet Patti Smith, both better known for their salaciousness and vulgarity. Just Kids, however, is a compelling and elegantly crafted tale of art, identity, love and devotion.
Smith’s moving and intimately revealing account begins in the summer of 1967, the summer of love, in the halcyon days of a bohemian New York City. By what ultimately seems like fate, Smith and Mapplethorpe meet and embark on a passionate, lifelong collaboration as friends, lovers, and muses.
Just Kids transports us to gritty New York hotels, bars haunted by Warhol’s entourage, art shows and poetry circles, peppered with colourful characters. Artists, musicians, poets, hustlers and drag queens all make appearances, painting a vivid portrait of the late 1960s and 1970s arts scene that Smith and Mapplethorpe belonged to.
Interspersed with intimate photographs and documentation of their art, the book follows the two aspiring artists as they discover themselves, each other, the city and their work. Through grief and celebration, failure and success, Smith and Mapplethorpe remain infallibly devoted to one another.
Together they grapple with poverty and loss, sexual discovery and artistic inspiration, celebrity and the rise to fame, and finally with AIDS and Robert’s untimely death in 1989.
Though the book becomes emotionally heavy at times, much of what makes Just Kids such an enjoyable read is Smith’s spare, simple style and her incredible ability to relate memories so vividly. Even for those who are unfamiliar with Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe, their story is not only touching and captivating in itself, but is told with such rich detail that any reader will find themselves completely rapt in the book.
Chronicling the progression and evolution of their relationship, as well as their artistic and creative endeavors, what begins as a love story becomes in the end a powerful and heartfelt eulogy for Mapplethorpe.
Patti Smith finishes the memoir recounting Robert’s wish to have their story shared with the world, knowing that no one else “could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together.” Just Kids is a privileged invitation to taste a piece of their life together and to sample a kind of friendship that is truly so rare.
-Vinciane de Pape