Book club this month featured Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.” The book is a memoir of young love, in this case between Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe, the famous and controversial artist. The two lived as bohemians in New York in the late 60s and early 70s, and so in some way the book is also a history of that time period in New York City. (Interestingly, this would have been the post Robert Moses period, so there’s some interesting connection to what I’m reading in “The Power Broker.”)
It’s tough to blog about a book you’ve already discussed in a book club, but I’ll say this. As little as I know about the art world and about Patti Smith, I had expected to dislike this book. But my reaction was the opposite, and I’ve found myself recommending it to others. I thought it was a very sweet love story. That’s a tough thing to accomplish, given the story is chock full of tales of Robert Mapplethorpe’s days as a gay prostitute and the strange, on-again, off-again, relationship that they developed. When you boil it down though, her love for him is just as sweet as any other more “traditional” love story. They may have been doomed from the beginning (I mean, who drops acid on the way to meet your girlfriend’s parents?) but isn’t that the premise of most great love stories?
I don’t pretend that I would enjoy living the life they led: starving artists living in rat-infested buildings with no money. But there is a certain romanticism about this period in NYC. I mean, she was living in the Chelsea Hotel with artists, poets, musicians and writers who literally defined an era. What must that have been like? For someone interested in politics, it would be like going back and hanging out with the founding fathers during the writing of the Declaration of Independence. This was the center of the art/music world for a brief period.
And because she was there, her bloodline is directly connected to that period, which is why other artists still have so much respect for her. She was there, man. As evidence of this respect, watch this video and see the respect Bono and Bruce have for her. (It’s a great video.)
If you are local, make your way down to the Contemporary Arts Center and check out the Patti Smith exhibit, “The Coral Sea.” It’s a touching representation of her love for Robert and the period of time they spent together. I think you’ll like it, especially if you have read the book.
Thanks for reading.