Just Kids by Patti Smith
Patti Smith’s memoir about her relationship with photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, is nothing short of a masterpiece. The book, which I am late to reviewing since it came out some time ago, chronicles her life and highly unusual relationship with the homosexual Mapplethorpe, while living in New York City before she became a punk rock legend.
Smith was a huge success in the 1970s and 80s, some have referred to her as the god mother of punk, however this book is far from a rock’n'roll drug memoir. Smith was not a drug addict at all, and the memoir does not cover any time after she becomes a rock legend. Her time spent in New York City is plenty entertaining!
Smith moved to New York City by herself in the early 1960s with no money, no job, and no where to live. Listening to her discuss wandering around New York City homeless but ‘free’, is total poetry. Smith would sleep on park benches and front stoops, but had no fear of others because she said she didn’t have anything for anyone to take, and didn’t think she was pretty enough to be attacked, in essence, she was free. The city was such a different time then, seedier, but somehow more benign. She met Mapplethorpe a few times in random encounters throughout the city before they fell in love and moved in together one summer. Smith and Mapplethorpe were dedicated to becoming artists, and living the bohemian lifestyle, often having to skip meals in order to pay for art supplies.
Smith and Mapplethorpe’s relationship takes many an interesting turn when he discovers he is gay, but they remain inseparable long after his revelation. When they move into the Chelsea Hotel together, the book takes an even more amazing turn, because the Chelsea in the 60s and 70s is an absolute magnet for celebrities and debauchery. This was the famous hotel that Sid Vicious murdered Nancy in, where Dylan Thomas spent the last hours of his life, where Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix came to hang out. Smith describes it delightfully as a giant dollhouse with inspiration and insanity peeking out behind every door.
This book is a must read for anybody who is madly in love with New York. Just Kids is not only Patti Smith’s love letter to Mapplethorpe, but also to a time when the most spectacular city on Earth was changing and buzzing, a time when the world was different.