Sunday, January 09, 2011

Just Kids - Patti Smith

Obviously, Patti Smith is a gifted poet and songwriter, but this book proves that she is also a terrific story teller and author. Concentrating on the time that Patti spent with Robert Mapplethorpe as a lover, friend, confidant and fellow artist, she also delves a little into their early years to give the reader some background on the characters. Their time in New York City is the time that both of these talented outcasts grew – together and apart – through life’s experiences and many chance encounters.

Robert & Patti met simply because Robert was one of the people currently occupying an address Patti had for some old friends who had moved to the city. Another, later coincidental street meeting brought them together and they rarely left each other’s sides for years afterwards.

A random series of happenstance brought them to the Chelsea Hotel, which brought them into contact with such diverse and influential people as the poets Corso and Ginsberg, musicians such as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (Patti was there when Kris Kristofferson first sang Janis “Me and Bobbie McGee”), and Jimi Hendrix, as well as Warhol’s contingent and the likes of Sam Sheppard. These and others – and each other – encouraged both Patti & Robert and Patti convinced Robert to start taking his own pictures for his artwork (he was mostly doing collages and assemblages at the time) and Robert convinced Patti to do poetry readings.

From there, both grew as artists but also grew apart (to an extent) as Robert explored his homosexuality and Patti traveled and took other lovers (such as Jim Carroll, Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult, Tom Verlaine and her eventual husband, MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith). They remained friends and continued to encourage each other and kept in touch throughout their lives.

I find it interesting that Patti waited until after her husband's death before writing this story, as she makes it sound as if Robert was her soul mate and the love of her life and she obviously cared a great deal for him right up until - and after - his death. In fact, he had her promise him that she would write their story and here it is - and it is well done, enjoyable and a terrific insight into the lives of these artists as they lived, loved and starved until they gained their well deserved fame.