Cultural Bias #81: Just Kids by Patti Smith

A girl grows up in and around Philly in temporary housing. A boy, altar boy actually, grows up on Long Island. Like so many before them, they go to New York in search of vague dreams. A chance encounter in Brooklyn — where, sensing her to be in danger, he immediately jumps into service as her “boyfriend” to rescue her from the unwanted advances of a shady character — leads to an “It’s Complicated” union that alternately finds them friends and lovers.

The girl winds up creating one of the Top 100 albums of all time (Horses) and lands in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The guy goes on to become an icon of photography — he did the award-winning Horses cover shot — before dying of AIDS in 1989. Just Kids is largely the story of what went on in between for Patti Smith and Robert Mappelthorpe.

I especially enjoyed the insider’s look into the whole 70’s -80’s NYC art and music scene. From fascinating anecdotes about hanging out with the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix to descriptions of the whole CBGB’s scene, there’s a lot here.

I was particularly impressed by their commitment to art in the broadest sense. I was 80% of the way thru the book before Patti had turned her attention to music. And Mappelthorpe doesn’t even get his first Polaroid until the plot was fairly thick. Theirs was an odyssey where they made an uncompromising commitment to art and followed the path no matter where it led. One thing for sure, it led to a great book.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld