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Episode 65: Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith photographed by Norman Seeff, 1969

This week Lynx shares the story behind the unique friendship of two iconic artists, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. After discovering the arts at a very young age Patti dreamed of not only becoming an artist herself but to find a partner to share inspiration with. At age 20, on her first day as a New Yorker she found just that. Patti and Robert immediately hit it off and were soon living together, working side by side. Patti and Robert were your typical young, starving artists, creating nonstop and earning just enough to scrape by.  Money may have been sparse but they had all they needed in each other. “One cannot imagine the mutual happiness we felt when we sat and drew together. We would get lost for hours.” Together they made a vow to never leave the other until both felt ready to stand on their own.

Over time their relationship would begin to shift, but their bond remained strong.  Robert began to explore his interest in men and while that initially came as a shock to Patti she always supported him through that journey. “His drives toward men were consuming but I never felt loved any less. We kept our vow, neither would leave the other. I never saw him through the lens of his sexuality. My picture of him remained intact. He was the artist of my life.” Patti also began to date others and had memorable relationships with fellow writers Jim Carroll and Sam Shepard.

 In those early years when Patti and Robert weren’t busy working in their tiny apartment at the legendary Chelsea Hotel one could find them downstairs at the El Quixote or in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, mingling with fellow artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bobby Neuwirth, Todd Rundgren and the Warhol Crowd. Neither had yet found the medium they would become most known for, but each seemed to be able to sense where the other belonged with Patti constantly encouraging Robert to pick up a camera and take photos and Robert trying his hardest to get Patti to perform her poetry onstage. They never gave up on their art or each other and soon each began to find success. Robert finally did pick up that camera and started getting shows at galleries while Patti began to perform at poetry readings with Lenny Kaye on guitar beside her. Not only did that lead to Patti getting her poetry published, she also realized the stage is where she belonged and officially formed a band. Each came into their own and succeeded in their vow.

The night before Robert passed away Patti made one last vow. “I told him I would continue our work, our collaboration, for as long as I lived. Will you write our story? Do you want me to? You have to, he said, no one but you can write it. I will do it I promised.” In 2010 Patti fulfilled that promise and Just Kids was published. It is an incredibly touching, beautifully written love letter to Robert and their time together. Be sure you check it out to learn even more about Patti and Robert.