Early in their friendship Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe donned their bohemian finery--she her "beatnik sandals and ragged scarves" and Robert "love beads and sheepskin vest"--and went to spend an afternoon in Washington Square Park. As they walked toward the fountain an older couple took note of them. "'Oh, take their picture,' said the woman to her bemused husband, "I think they're artists.' 'Oh, go on,' he shrugged. 'They're just kids.'"
Just Kids is a sweet, charming account of the time Patti and Robert spent together--as lovers, as friends, as growing artists--in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. Smith's prose is lovely, at times oddly formal, but always evocative and fun. She recounts their extreme poverty, as she worked as a bookseller at Scribner's to support them, while Robert did odd jobs and both worked on their art. They lived among artists and poets and Robert aspired to society, first working them into the Warhol set (although rarely in the immediate orbit of the man himself) and then beyond.
Smith's story is packed with anecdotes of meetings--sometimes chance and fleeting, sometimes of longer duration and intensity--with such people as Jimi Hendrix (who took pity on her when he came upon her, sitting on the steps to his Electric Ladyland studio but too shy to go in, and chatted her up for a few minutes) and Allen Ginsberg (who bought her a sandwich and coffee at the Automat when she didn't have enough money, and several minutes into their meal together looked at her intently and asked "Are you a girl?" She got the picture immediately, but he said "my mistake," and they continued their meal amiably).
Just Kids is not so much a study of the development and growth of the art itself as it is about the two kids becoming artists. Smith's narrative skims across the taking off of their two careers like a stone across a pond, touching down lightly here and there with a story or an anecdote or a description of a photograph or a poem. The book is illustrated with Smith's drawings and Mapplethorpe's glorious photographs, and scattered throughout are poems and songs (including, in the coda at the end which tells of Mapplethorpe's death from AIDS in 1989, the last photos he took of Smith and her family and the poem she wrote for his memorial service at the Whitney Museum).