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Patti Smith Works Through Questions of Love in 'Just Kids'

by Gail Sachson 18 Oct 2011 1:49 PM

Guest blogger Gail Sachson writes that Patti Smith’s book Just Kids is an exploration of love lost and found.


Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is the Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.

Patti Smith, the Godmother of Punk, is showing her photographs at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Conn., this week. The exhibit actually will answer her own question, when she asks, referring to her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, “Is it necessary to define love?”

Smith’s photos seem to define her loves. They are of the material things the people she loved loved. They are of the things they lived with – like Mapplethorpe’s velvet slippers. The things that still reek of their spirits and memory.

The exhibit, “Patti Smith: Camera Solo,” and the national attention it brings, offers us an incentive to reread and re-examine Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award-winning story of Smith’s life with Mapplethorpe in the late 60 to early 70s.

Smith wrote the book to fulfill a promise to Mapplethorpe to tell their story, and she may not realize that without actually writing a dry dictionary definition, she defines their love. Just Kids teaches us about different kinds of love – and certainly different kinds of living. And although we are dragged into a world of drugs, deaths, sad0masochism, prostitution and poverty, we go willingly.

We go willingly because we believe in their young love, their bond, their need for each other, and we rightly fear for their survival. Smith says, “We were like Hansel & Gretel, as we ventured out into the Black Forest of the world, with temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and splendor we only partially imagined.”

A lack of funds kept them together. An overdose of living drove them apart. Then they lived separately, but never separate.

Mapplethorpe became successful, but succumbed. He died of AIDS in 1989. Smith thrived and survived. She married. Had two children, who are now in their 20s, the same age at which she  met  Mapplethorpe. After 16 years of raising a family, Smith has rekindled her career and is still relevant and still rebellious at 64.

Just Kids awakens a sensitivity in all of us. And as for defining love, Smith seems to assert that it is an emotion filled with acceptance, openness and trust and imbued with promises to remember those loved. She refuses to mourn any of her lost loves: Mapplethorpe, her husband, her brother, her parents, her colleagues, Virginia Woolf, historical figures, poets or mentors she loved. But she does insist upon remembering them in song, in poetry and now in photographs.

  • Patricia Pelehach

    I, too, really enjoyed this book and found it very affecting. It is also very funny in parts. I hope your note
    encourages others to get this book and read it.