Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just Kids

Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe from the time she arrived in New York City in 1967 until his death in1989. Like other celebrity stories, I considered the playlist I would compile for the book; unlike other books that will be shelved alongside this book, it often borders on poetry.

In parts of the story Smith is an envy-inspiring name-dropper. Living at the famous (or infamous) Chelsea Hotel, she and Mapplethorpe not only crossed paths with the poets, artists, and musicians of their day; they befriended them. Encounters with the likes of William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Salvador Dali, and Johnny Winters happen often enough to see commonplace--until the reader is reminded that these were two twenty-three-year-olds, trying not only to survive in New York City, but to become artists.

It is their mutual support and exploration of their artistic talents that make up the story. Robert eventually focuses on the photography that gained him such controversial attention. Patti continues to produce drawings, but becomes a rock star.

The insight Smith has into her own coming-of-age makes this her story, although I imagine she sees it as her tribute to Mapplethorpe and the enduring love the two shared until his death, despite all the twists and turns their individual lives took. Moving from a socially awkward girl who defied the stereotypes her appearance evoked to a confident, strong, successful icon as the seventies unfolded, Patti Smith develops on the pages as an honest, endearing woman, channeling her art to share her own exceptional love story unfolding as the world changes

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