Book Review - "Just Kids" by Patti Smith
I loved Patti Smith's Just Kids. I love the story she tells, the way she tells it, the people she talks about and the places where she takes us.
The book is Smith's keeping a promise she made to her friend, lover, and muse - artist Robert Mapplethorpe - as he was dying of AIDS in 1989. It's the story of their 22 year friendship, love story and collaboration - a coming of age story set in New York's art and music world. New York City is as much a main character as are Patti and Robert. It's not a pretty New York City - lots of drugs and hustling - but a vibrant art and music scene. And my elusive Shengri-La, the Chelsea Hotel is also a star in the book. They lived there for several years and it was crucial to their development as artists.
I was actually more familiar with Mapplethorpe's work than with Smith's until recently. I've always admired Mapplethorpe's work even as it disturbed me. Reading about how his art evolved as a mirror of his life was fantastic. The name-dropping in the book is fabulous - Smith and Mapplethorpe were in the thick of the Warhol and Chelsea Hotel scene. That's how Smith came to be in the same room as Kris Kristofferson singing "Me and Bobby McGee" to Janis Joplin for the first time - can you imagine!
Smith's writing is beautiful, her love for Mapplethorpe is felt on every page. What started as an accidental meeting, led to a friendship, a love affair and a symbiotic artistic relationship - they fed off each other's creativity. It's really amazing how they each helped the other develop their talent.
While I loved it, I recognize it's not for everyone, the sotry is hardly universal and if you aren't familiar with or curious about this time period, you won't get the same out of it that I did, you might be bored.
Click this link to see Smith's amazing impromptu, a capella performance of "Because the Night" at the 2010 Miami Book Fair.