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Punk-rock poet Patti Smith's life story could probably fill a Proustian number of volumes. But in this slim, richly realized memoir, she focuses on 1967 to 1989--the years that spanned her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, before his life was cut short by AIDS.
Those familiar with the gay eroticism of Mapplethorpe's most notorious work may be surprised to learn that, in the early days of their relationship, the pair were lovers. Both new to New York City, rich in artistic dreams, and desperately low on cash, Mapplethorpe and Smith met by chance in their early 20s and instantly recognized each other as kindred spirits.
In exquisitely detailed vignettes, Smith describes the tiny apartments they shared in Brooklyn, the heavy influence each had on the other's creative ambitions, and the sacrifices they made just to survive. When the duo moves into Manhattan's iconic Chelsea Hotel in 1969, the story takes on an Alice in Wonderland quality: in one scene, the wide-eyed young Smith trails writer William Burroughs as if down a rabbit hole into the Chelsea's adjacent bar; in another, Allen Ginsberg leers at her at the nearby automat like a Cheshire cat. And Warhol's fading superstars were always in the midst of some kind of mad tea party whenever Smith and Mapplethorpe would venture into the back room of downtown hot spot Max's Kansas City.
Through it all--despite Mapplethorpe's revelations about his sexuality, Smith's wanderlust, and the attention from admirers as both made their mark--the pair remained soul mates to the end. And it is their ceaseless devotion to one another that shines brightest in this book, even amid a sea of famous faces.