By Patti Smith (Ecco, $27)
Wed Jan 13 2010
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Innocent isn’t the word that usually comes to mind when talking about proto-punk goddess Patti Smith and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. But in singer-songwriter Smith’s Just Kids, the two budding artists come off as incredibly creative and naive geeks who hit the Big Apple in the late ’60s in search of themselves and their art. The book traces their relationship—from young lovers to best friends to mutual muses and collaborators—and their eventual rise to fame.
Although the memoir purports to recount both of their lives, it’s Smith’s story to tell, due to the fact that Mapplethorpe died from AIDS 20 years ago. She gives a cursory history of both of their childhoods, but the bulk of the narrative takes place in the big city as the two meet, bond, bed, become literal starving artists in Brooklyn, then move on up to Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel, the nexus of counterculture cool.
Given Smith’s background as a gal who worships at the throne of Rimbaud and Dylan, it’s not surprising that at times the straightforward narrative gives way to poetical musings, especially when she recalls the periods when she and Mapplethorpe were apart. Still, she has great insight into the development of their creative processes, especially her evolution from writer to rock star, and his from painter to shutterbug (not to mention from straight to gay). Just Kids is also chock-full of amazing anecdotes starring the era’s glitterati—Andy Warhol and the Factory divas, William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Shepard, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsberg. In the end, it’s not just an ode to Mapplethorpe, but a love letter to New York City’s ’70s art scene itself.—Raven Snook
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