Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I read somewhere that Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy, and I repeat that because it really sums the book up quite nicely. The story begins in 1967, when 20-year-old Chicagoan Patti Smith moves to New York City, meets artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and begins a lifetime of love and friendship. As most people know (as such, not a spoiler), Mapplethorpe’s lifetime was cut short as he died of complications from AIDS in 1989 when he was 42. Before he died, Mapplethorpe asked Smith to “write his life,” and Just Kids, which won a National Book Award, is that story – at least the story from Patti Smith’s perspective, anyway, which I found entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

Here’s a little perspective on Smith and Mapplethorpe (pictured). Smith, who is commonly referred to as the ‘Godmother of Punk,’ is famous for her music and poetry, and is probably most well know for her performance of Because The Night, which she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen.

Robert Mapplethorpe, who was known in the art world for his black and white photos of flowers and nude men, lept into the national consciousness when public funding got tangled up in a show of his homoerotic and provocative religious art, and triggered a giant controversy. Remember the crucifix-in-a-jar-of-urine brouhaha? CLICK ON READ MORE BELOW...

Just kids, however, is more about Smith and Mapplethorpe’s time living, loving and sometimes starving together in the Big Apple during the late 60’s and early 70’s. If you have an exaggerated sense of romance about New York City and that era, as do I, you’ll enjoy Smith’s reminiscences.

She tells great stories about their time at the Hotel Chelsea, famed for housing the likes of William Burroughs, Arthur Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Stanley Kubrick, etc. (the list is endless); their nights in the backroom of Max’s Kansas City, famed for being Andy Warhol’s hangout; Smith’s love affair with a young Sam Shepard (pictured top right); and Mapplethorpe’s love affair with handsome and very wealthy art patron, Sam Wagstaff (pictured bottom right).

Just Kids is also about a wonderful friendship that couldn’t be broken or diminished by lives changing course, or by time or distance, and that story alone is worth the read. 

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