musings

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe: Just Kids in New York 70’s underground scene

It all begins with a promise by Patti Smith to her spiritual twin, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, shortly before his death in 1989: she vowed to tell their story to the world. In 2010 she released the accomplished novel Just kids, which magically transports us to the New York of the 70s, sharing the intimacy of Patti and Robert. Just kids is not an autobiography in the sense that the author puts himself at the center of the story; it’s more encompassing than that because Patti knows the human soul as few poets do, tracing rich portraits of the various characters in her book, highlighting Robert’s tumultuous life, so entangled with Patti’s that sometimes they seem to be the same entity.

In a few pages, Patti recounts her childhood, her traumatic teenage pregnancy, her departure for New York aged only 20, and the hand of destiny that makes her meet her future lover and best friend Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s all about small, meaningful things that develop into a crescendo that culminates in sound and fury as they get more and more acquainted with New York underground art scene.

Then the chronology of the novel become blurred; the story is anecdotal, contrary to a self-centered writing. We do not even really have the impression that Patti Smith practices music so much.

The essential thing is her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, to whom she writes a kind of apology, so much her words are full of love, truly pure, from the moment the two friends stop being lovers.

is the story of two lost kids, armed with lucky charms, in full artistic research, who support each other because no one else will do it for them.

There’s something of transcendental in sharing loneliness.

As I read the book I got that same feeling I had when watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris : but instead Ernst Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and other mythic characters from the Roaring Twenties I met Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin (in a brief, poignant portrait), Andy Warhol and members of his Factory, The Velvet Underground, Allen Ginsberg, William Burrough, Tom Verlaine and other inhabitants of the mythical Chelsea Hotel.

The novel is illustrated with period photos of this New York bohemian life. They are rather intimate and have mostly Patti Smith and/or Robert Mapplethorpe as the subjects because it is not a book that wants to play rock’n’roll.

Patti is one of the few who participated in the artistic world of the 70s without getting lost. She seems to be always hovering, and despite her intensity, she keeps an admirable control and sobriety all along her journey. She walks through flames and doesn’t get burned. Far from praising deliquescent youth, her attitude remains very independent and critical, and this is so admirable!

Just kids is a romance full of grace, love, and wisdom, free from hatred or old bitterness. It does not seem like old memories; the story is alive and Patti didn’t change at all. She’s a consolidated spirit, she knows herself well enough.

Patti Smith produced a sincere, straightforward text, simple and poetic, just like her music. Her life is the embodiment of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry, the man with whom she lived her most faithful love story. Hunger for beauty like him, she succeeds in numbing misery without romanticism.

After reading Just kids I bet you’ll spend three weeks listening to Horses in a loop, maybe you’ll wake up on a bed at the Chelsea Hotel, in your dreams.

Bellow, an awesome photo montage of Frida Kahlo merged with Patti Smith (Fritti? Pada?) I’ve included it because the artist, Robert Toren, really knows his thing, and because, as I wrote in a former post, Frida Kahlo is another of my muses.

“Frida Kahlo Patti Smith” Photo montage homage by Robert Toren aka angrylambie 2012

🍒 Cherry on the cake!! 🍒

Patti Smith will be on a tour in Europe in August, find more information about the dates and tickets here .

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