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Book of the Month: Just Kids

Wednesday 12 October 2011
Words Spindle

Patti Smith. Robert Mapplethorpe. Art. Sexuality. The 1970s. New York. Could it get more bohemian? No, even if you are the kind of person to don faux fur jackets and fedoras in the middle of July.

This is the long awaited memoir of Patti Smith; not so much a retrospective of her career but more a portrait of two young artist’s ascent, a prelude to fame. Anyone with a pre-existing love for this poet–come-androgynous rock star will fall ever deeper as this masterpiece takes you by the hand and drags you into a world comprised of artistic and cultural pretension[1], the 27 club, rock’n’roll, sex, love and poverty (but the cool kind –has one not heard of heroin chic???).

Smith invites you on a journey in which she recounts her childhood, teens and early adult years, with one reoccurring theme – art – it always takes precedence. It is not until she hits New York in the late sixties, a place she describes as ‘a real city, shitty and sexual’ that she meets kindred spirit, Mapplethorpe. ‘She was a bad girl trying to be good, he was a good boy trying to bad’ and together, both beaded members of the brotherhood of La boheme, they explore a relationship of creation, co dependency and sexual confusion.

Both play the role of muse to the others artist and together they support the creative instincts that lie within one another, the encouraging of which laid strong foundations for future illustrious careers. Both were sexually, emotionally and creatively entwined and although Mapplethorpe later came out as gay, an unbreakable spiritual connection between the two lived on.

In its simplest form this story begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. The purity and innocence of Smiths and Mapplethorpe’s relationship is synonymous with the title; this was fledgling love, confused and inspired. Although ultimately both went their separate ways, this book demonstrates how the entanglement of two people can leave a bond for life, whilst paying homage to a decadent 1970s New York City in the process.