12th Jan 2011
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Set against a backdrop of Max’s Kansas City, the Chelsea Hotel and the last days of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Just Kids is a love letter to Patti Smith’s enduring relationship with the controversial photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe.
Smith promised Mapplethorpe she would tell their story before his death – and it’s not hard to see why they wanted to share it.
Although I knew the pair were once lovers, Just Kids shows theirs was a meeting of minds as well as bodies; a friendship that shaped them as artists and left a lasting impact on New York’s thriving arts, literature and music scenes.
The book begins by tracing Smith’s happy childhood in New Jersey and Mapplethorpe’s strict catholic upbringing in Queens, before the pair’s worlds collide after a chance meeting in a Brooklyn bedroom. For several years afterwards, they rarely left each other’s sides.
As the pair battle through menial jobs in the city, Mapplethorpe constantly reassures Smith by telling her, “Nobody sees like we do, Patti” – a line that stuck in my head long after I’d finished the book.
Behind the rockstar swagger, it seems that Mapplethorpe and Smith were essentially just a pair of outcasts, struggling to find their place in the world.
This is such a beautifully-crafted, personal book. The confessional tone of Smith’s writing makes you feel like you’re talking to an old friend, rather than looking in on somebody else’s friendship.
By the end I found myself moved to tears and falling in love with Smith as hard as I did when I found a dusty old vinyl copy of her album, Easter, in a charity shop at 15 years old.
Just Kids is Patti Smith’s first non-poetry book. Published by Bloomsbury last January, in November it was awarded the American National Book Award. I hope – for all our sakes – that this accolade inspires her to write about the next chapter of her life. More, please!