Though Patti Smith has long featured in my record collection, I’ve never really known much about her. Just Kids gave me the perfect opportunity to rectify that and it did so brilliantly, capturing the coming of ages of Patti and her friend/partner/sometime lover Robert Mapplethorpe in the New York of the late sixties/early seventies – a time and a place which has captured my imagination ever since I was considered the only grebo on the English housing estate I grew up on.
I started reading this at the beginning of Saturday’s Everton/Liverpool derby day, Patti’s words doing an admirable job of taking me away from the football and placing me instead in the corridors of the Chelsea Hotel – turn around and behind you is Allen Ginsberg, while Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix have set up court in the bar – and drowning out the cheers and shouts at the ref with the story of how she and Robert found one another on the streets of New York and grew together, living and breathing art, before sending me to cry quietly in the kitchen as Robert passed away.
Our lives can be changed immeasurably by the people we meet along the way to becoming who we are, as illustrated beautifully by this book-long love letter to Mapplethorpe, and it’s hard to imagine what our lives might have been without them. It’s clear the impact these two had on one another, and just as clear that neither could imagine a life without the other – although AIDS would ensure that Smith would have no choice but to do so. It’s also clear that, no matter what form love takes - whether it be romantic, platonic or as tangled and tender as the one splayed across these pages – it can be powerful enough to reach across the decades and make a complete stranger weep.