Just Kids, Patti Smith's beautiful book about her youth with Robert Mapplethorpe, who she calls "the artist of my life," is a celebration, an elegy, a memoir, and a fascinating slice of life of New York City from the late '60s and '70s. It's also a study of two very different artists, with very different sensibilities.
Patti was very bohemian. She came from a poor background, with a loving family. She never finished college, but was well-read, especially in Symbolist poetry and her hero, Arthur Rimbaud. Patti spent most of her 20s trying to find herself. She wasn't focused on being a star, but an artist. Generous of spirit, she wanted to at first be a muse, then an artist in her own right. Seemingly having little or no ego, she wanted everyone she met to succeed. She must have had a healthy ego to become a rock star, but it never seems to be of a competitive nature. She was the quintessential hippie.
Robert, on the other hand, was obsessed with becoming a successful artist, a star, from the get-go. He was also willing to do whatever it would take to make the big time —hanging out at the right places, hustling, befriending the rich and famous. He wanted to be as big, or bigger, than Andy Warhol. When Patti met him he was already a serious artist, with a strong work ethic, secure in his own sensibility and the themes he wanted to explore. He was less secure in his persona, his sexuality, and how he presented himself to the world. Or maybe it wasn't that we was less secure, but he was just less forthright.
Both kids grew up with fairly strict religious backgrounds, but their experiences with the church had different effects on their lives and work. In Patti it seemed to deepen her work and give her a place to start from — especially when she could pray her own way, "I was relieved when I no longer had to mouth the words If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take and could instead say what was in my heart. Thus freed, I would lie in my bed ... mouthing long letters to God." Mapplethorpe may never had made peace with his Catholicism, which was partially responsible for his at-first hidden sexuality: "His dual nature troubled me, mostly because I feared it troubled him. ... His Catholic preoccupation with good and evil reasserted itself, as if he had to choose one over the other. He had broken from the Church, now it was breaking within him."