02 June, 2016

Just kids by Patti Smith

Patti Smith’s memoir reads like a beautifully crafted mythical tale. A 20 year old girl arrives in New York City with a head full of poetry inspired by Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Genet. She lives to create, through words and drawing and painting. She meets a beautiful boy who is an emerging visual artist and a kindred spirit. They become lovers and each other’s muses and supporters. His name is Robert Mapplethorpe and Just Kids is partly their love story and also about their coming-of-age as artists.

Downtown New York in the late sixties and early 1970s, seen through Smith’s eyes, is a magical place filled with wonder and possibility. Patti and Mapplethorpe’s social and cultural lives centre on the Chelsea Hotel (where they lived for a time) and the legendary club, Max’s Kansas City, where they rub shoulders with Janis Joplin, William Burroughs, Andy Warhol and his Factory scene.

Eventually they separate, due to Mapplethorpe’s emerging homosexuality, but stay close friends and remain a significant creative force in each other’s lives. Smith moves on to form relationships with playwright Sam Shepherd and then Basketball Diaries' author, Jim Carroll.

Smith’s book is a mixture of levity (including a funny anecdote about Allan Ginsburg offering to buy her a sandwich, mistaking her for an attractive young boy) and gravity (Mapplethorpe’s death at the age of 42 from AIDS in 1989).

I loved the evocative black and white photographs accompanying the book – some are pictures of their early work, and of the couple posing together looking symbiotically beautiful and androgynous. Those of you hoping to see some of Mapplethorpe’s decidedly NSFW stuff will be disappointed though. However; it is Smith’s words that are the most evocative - with the same poetry, rhythm and cadence of her beautiful song lyrics.

Title: Just kids
Author: Patti Smith
Recommended by Karen I, Devonport Library

Karen I likes reading memoirs and biographies about people with interesting and unusual lives, because she spends a lot of time reading and doesn't get out much.

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