Just Kids

A book by Patti Smith reviewed by Jen Burt

Just Kids is Patti Smith’s account of her unconventional relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. They started as a heterosexual couple. When Robert came out as gay, they remained close friends and muses, caring for each other while struggling with poverty, hunger, trenchmouth, and depression. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would have been just another tale of romantic starving artists crossing paths with the famous and successful, on their way to fame of their own. But Smith avoids this trap, and relates her story with the perfect mixture of humor, history, poignancy, coffee, and lots and lots of donuts.

an excerpt from Just Kids
. . . I went through our belongings and found exactly fifty-five cents, slipped on my grey trench-coat and Mayakovsky cap, and headed to the Automat. I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn’t open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed that the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I heard a voice say, “Can I help?” I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich. Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned that I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently.

“Are you a girl?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “Is that a problem?”

He just laughed. “I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.”

I got the picture immediately.

“Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?”

“No, enjoy it. It was my mistake.”

He told me he was writing a long elegy for Jack Kerouac who had recently passed away. “Three days after Rimbaud’s birthday,” I said. I shook his hand and we parted company.

Sometime later Allen became my good friend and teacher. We often reminisced about our first encounter and he once asked how I would describe how we met. “I would say you fed me when I was hungry,” I told him. And he did.

From the January 2013 issue of Happiness Pony. [PDF]

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