Monday, January 24, 2011

Raise a glass to Patti and Robert .....

I just finished reading "Just Kids" and I'm missing Robert and Patti already.

The book has some drawbacks - page after page of seeming name dropping and apparently some events and/or circumstances that diligent researchers have said just couldn't have happened that way or at that time .... but overall it's a mesmerizing book for many reasons.

There is the nostalgia element - Max's Kansas City when it really was something special, the Chelsea, not quite in its heyday but with enough icons still checking in and out (literally and figuratively), as well as an overall gentler, kinder and more forgiving NYC.

Then there are two people of whom I knew so little about and each of whom I had carelessly pigeon-holed and filed away somewhere outside of things "that matter."

Patti Smith, a grung rocker who never appealed to me and whose music I did not know (and which I assumed I would not like).

Her love, compassion and admiration for Robert is unmistakable in a book where he almost outshines the author, where she bring him more to life than herself.  Hard to know if that was the plan or if it was just something she couldn't avoid doing.  Raising Robert up as an offering the world didn't even know it wanted, or needed.

Robert Mapplethorpe - a pornographic, blasphemous, self-centered "artist."  In my mind, he did not eveen really qualify as an artist (but as God-Daughter #3 will confirm, I am not one anyone should discuss art with - I'm still confused as to why Jackson Pollack is considered an artist --- and don't get me started about canvases painted black and titled "untitled") ....

And am I now ready to defend and claim a great understanding and admiration of his work?  Some, yes.  I've been googling like mad since I finished the book, looking at his work, at the portraits he did for Patti's album covers.  Some, I like and find compelling.  Others ... we'll, we're back to my artistically uneducated question of "Why and how is that art?"

But I digress ...

More than my simply not considering either Patti or Robert artists, neither was ever in my consiousness long enough for me to even consider them people ... they were controversial individuals to occasionally be read about in both pro and con articles and then forgotten.

I had a slight awareness at some point in my life that Patti co-wrote a song with Bruuuuuuce and that fact did get my musical attention for a while, but then it was only The Boss who I stuck with.

After reading this book, they are so very real to me.  I see them now through the lens of my young adulthood, my "just kids" phase and I regret so much that I did not have the kind of inner driving forces each had, regardless of the dark sides of many of those forces).

And the dedication.  The  passion!  That's what really gets to me.  The dedication they had for each other and for their drive to find their way.  The passion they had for living, loving, exploring, growing, learning, creating and just being.  It's the passion I envy the most and what will keep these two young, brightly burning (and in one case burning out too soon) individuals in my heart and mind so vividly.

How dare we criticize individuals so dedicated to each other, to themselves, to their dreams, to their visions and to the  moment?  They lived a more fully realized life in one day than most do in a lifetime.

It's hard to believe, but I was living in NYC at the same time they were.  How could I have not have known that, not have felt that, not have been called or driven to that?  What I wouldn't give to have been drawn into their world.  Like a moth to a flame. I would have circled and circled, yearning to really be "in" their world, but regrettably satisfied to at least be a hanger on, a vicarious voyeur..

The closest our paths may have crossed is that Patti recalls an apartment she had just a block away from the Kettle of Fish, the bar where I smoked my first joint.  Could it be possible that she was in the next stall in the ladies' room where I sat for quite a while wondering if I was high yet?  Or could I have brushed by Robert as he stood at the bar, digging through his pockets to determine if both he and Patti could have a beer or if one would have to do for both of them. 

I see no reason why I can't consider each of those scenarios a distinct possibility, and through enough wishful thinking turn them into reality over the coming years as I tell tales of my past.  Let the diligent researchers try to disprove it ... in a few years I'll even be able to tell you exactly what Robert was wearing and what song Patti was humming in the stall next to mine.

I will lift my next glass of wine to the children who found each other in a long-ago, fairy-tale, no-longer-existing NYC, who loved each other in ways most of us will never love, and who kept the dream burning for themselves and for each other.  Sometimes without understanding, but always supporting.

Here's to you, you two "just kids."  You did good.


  1. Marian, This fine piece of writing about these two undoubtedly art pioneers (bet you never thought too, that someday you'd be reviewing them both as artists and lovers!)was a real pleasure to read having refused to get out of bed this morning until I finished reading this book! I wept for them and for the fact that the book ended. I then stood up from bed feeling responsible to carry on...much inspired.
    To me, one of the best gifts we can give ourselves (to then pass on)is the becoming aware and educated about anyone, in this case 2 great artists,who during their time created such masterful bodies of work, BUT who's culture they thrived in also poorly represented them.
    No disputing your fantasies of the past, and hopefully when I see you next, you'll share with me some of your newly reconstructed quasipast, but be warned, by then I'll have fictionalized my days at the Chelsea. Hah!
    Take care, Michael

  2. I just finished the book in one night's sitting. It was fantastic and terribly inspiring. To take all those risks and keep the faith even through extreme poverty is amazing. Here is an interview with Patti Smith, who is still doing amazing things.