Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

One day, very early in their relationship, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe are walking through Washington Square Park. A tourist says to her husband, "Take their picture, they must be artists." "Nah," the husband says, "they're just kids."

As I said, simple and understated in its prose, yet the effect builds and builds. Knowing how it turns out, so to speak, adds to the simplicity of the writing.

You see them come together, a very chance meeting. And a second chance meeting that turns into a lifelong friendship. Through still points, times of gathering, times of learning. They make friends, acquaintances, connections, grow and develop. Patti repeatedly tells Robert he should take his own pictures. Robert repeatedly tells Patti she should sing. The accretion of skills and confidences is slow, happening over a few years, but never stops. People they know live and die. It's the late 60s and early 70s, so there are assassinations and deaths galore: Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and others. The Chelsea Hotel was a free nexus of people living for their art, in a cheap time of few distractions and no debt. But poor.

A casual sentence -- "They seemed so essential to her persona that I often daydreamed of buying her a whole closetful." -- about a friend's style started Free Money going through my head. No, maybe that song is about Robert, and when they were so poor they had to decide between art supplies or dinner.

Someone lends Robert Mapplethorpe one of her old Polaroid cameras. Someone else gets Patti to read her poetry opening for a band. Looking through some photos at the Museum of Modern Art, Mapplethorpe says "It's really about light."

Their relationship is loving, tender, always accepting through many personality changes on both sides. Now supporting, now supported. Now the muse, now the creator. Even when their lives accelerate them apart, the bond is still there. Even through Robert Mapplethorpe's death, it's still there. She vowed to tell their story, and, nearly 20 years later, she does.

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