Because the night belongs to lovers - Guest Blogger Rod Weatherbie


Guest Blogger: Rod Weatherbie Reviews Just Kids

Because the night belongs to lovers
Just Kids by Patti Smith 

In her book Just Kids, poet/musician Patti Smith details the nature and nurturing of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in early 70s New York. It was there the two artists took turns playing each other’s parent, lover, mentor, and muse.

What may be surprising to anyone familiar with Robert Mapplethorpe’s later work – and his long relationship with art curator Sam Wagstaff – is the lover aspect. Having grown up in a conservative home in a conservative era, Mapplethorpe had no outlet for his sexuality. Once out on the streets of New York he would come to realize his true nature; the freedom of which would allow the true flowering of his art.

He and Smith continued to be lovers throughout his period of discovery and their relationship – although diminishing in a physical way as Mapplethorpe explored this new liberty – grew in strength both spiritually and artistically.

They were each other’s models without whom the act of creation may have taken longer or perhaps, you get the sense of this, may never have happened at all.

And despite this change in their physical relationship the two gave birth to work of staggering beauty. As Smith says in the book, “Our work was our children.”

Just Kids is less an historical account then it is an emotional one. The famous and infamous appear – Hendrix, Ginsberg, Grace Slick, Burroughs, Joplin – but always in a dream-like manner. Smith describes the city and its denizens in emotional terms, in how they relate to her and the art she and Mapplethorpe were creating out of their lives.

Without Smith, Mapplethorpe may never have picked up a camera. And without Mapplethorpe, Smith may never have had the courage to continue writing and become a singer/songwriter. They were the pollinators to each other’s creative seeds. Their art is the fruition of that.

More important than that art though is their enduring love for one another and how that itself was a work of creation.

Just Kids is a perfect elegy for a friendship that was boundless. The kind of friendship we all desire to have. One that is total, unconditional, and all consuming.

In a letter to Mapplethorpe after a visit to his studio as he was dying from AIDS complications Smith wrote:

“The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through the years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.”

That also describes this friendship and Smith’s book. A most beautiful work.

BIO

Rod Weatherbie is a journalist and poet. Originally from Prince Edward Island he now calls Toronto home.