Most rock and roll relationships are a crash, bang, wallop affair. Normally over before any feelings beyond infatuation can set in, it has been a sore spot for many musicians in their time. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship lasted a lifetime.
When Smith made the leap from New Jersey to New York to pursue her ideals of artistic bliss, she did so without a safety net. Soon enough when a young photographer named Robert began helping her out, she and he would go on to become lifelong friends and entwined lovers.
Arriving in 1967 to the bright lights of New York City must’ve been a daunting thing for anybody to do, let alone a young girl in the late sixties. Meeting Mapplethorpe in many ways both saved Smith and sentenced her to a life entrenched in the artistic struggle on that he would both add to and bear the load with alongside Smith. For the next seven years, the two lived side by side in Manhattan and began to traverse the growing rock scene.
Mapplethorpe went on to become an acclaimed photographer while Smith became the Godmother of Punk, the two sharing each other’s lives platonically following the end of their romantic relationship.
“When Robert Mapplethorpe and I stepped from Brooklyn to Manhattan, a half-century ago, we were empty-handed yet possessed a vision of how we wished to evolve as artists and human beings,” Smith said in a recent statement regarding her memoir winning the One Book One New York prize.
In 1989, with Mapplethorpe battling AIDS, Smith reached out to the photographer to share a touching moment as well as her adoration for him. It’s a letter that sadly Mapplethorpe would never see, passing away before he could read it.
The full letter can be read below as one soul mate says goodbye, in her way, to another soul mate.
You can read the transcript below:
Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.
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 years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.