Discovering Patti

I’ve never been a big fan of Patti Smith. I can admire what she’s done as a female rock pioneer, but that doesn’t mean I like her music. My earliest memory of her is actually Gilda Radner parodying her as ‘Candy Slice’ in an old Saturday Night Live sketch, where Gilda comes out in a thin white camisole and makes a big show of her armpit hair. It was funny.

But I’m starting to take a new interest in Patti after reading her stunning memoir, Just Kids, which is about her years with Robert Mapplethorpe.

This is my favorite pic of the two of them. Taken by Gerard Malanga, his copyright.
They struggled, starved, loved, lived and created together in New York City from 1967 to 1979, until Patti moved to Detroit with her husband, Fred Sonic Smith. After Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, Patti would return to NYC often to be with him, until his death in 1989. I’ve just finished reading the book but want to go back and re-read it immediately. It’s not just the great anecdotes about Warhol, Max’s Kansas City, CBGBs and all the other colorful NYC figures of the 1970s. It’s also about – primarily you could say – what it means to be an artist. Patti writes in great detail about the different work she and Robert created and the different avenues they traveled down before they found the truest, most meaningful ways to express themselves – she in rock-n-roll and he with photography. She drew, wrote poetry (still does), acted, worked in bookstores, co-wrote a play (with her then lover, Sam Shepard) while Robert dabbled in fashion, made jewelry and created intricate collages. Reading about their fits and starts and inspirations makes me feel more courageous about my own writing, that yeah! I can have a go at this. And running all through Patti’s recollection of their collective emergence as artists is a tender, heartbreaking story of two misfits who remained loyal and loving to one another until Robert’s death.

I really have to stop reading books that make me cry. Reading Patti’s words about Robert’s last days and nights… I can’t imagine the loss.

She is articulate, moving, funny, fearless and inspiring. I wish I could write as well as she does. I’m going to buy ‘Horses’ right now. Then I’m going to try harder, dig deeper for the right word. Not typing, but writing, Truman. Thank you original rockmom. Thank you Patti.

The iconic album cover, taken by Robert, copyright Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.

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