Saturday, December 17, 2016

Some For Later

I've been reading Patti Smith's autobiography entitled Just Kids.  This is not going to be a review of said book or even a critical account in any way.  Rather, it will be what resonates for me because give or take a few months, Smith and I are nearly the same age and definitely from the same generation.
Yes, Patti is an unabashed name dropper, but when you spent a good chunk of your life running around with the likes of  artist Robert Mapplethorpe and poet Gregory Corso, that's t be expected.   Sharing Andy Warhol's table or a chance meeting with Allen Ginsberg can create such opportunities. I'm fine with that.

What resonates most for me is the honesty and self assessment that Smith consistently employs in her narration.  That is, she shares her misgivings about drug use, queer identity and some of the biggest rock stars of the era, like Jim Morrison.  In some ways I hear a voice chiming:"You had to be there." There was a time, you see, when our culture had rigid rubrics for anyone out of the ordinary.  What might seem too inflexible now, was out of the question back then.  People my age can easily calculate the speed of social change by looking at various things like the amount of skin visible in photographs, the language usage in films and now even on TV programs, and the semi-legalization of marijuana in our own neighborhoods.
I like the work ethic that Patti and Robert exhibit in the narrative.  They are committed to their work while questioning the place and purpose of a life in Art constantly.  To be an artist is, for many, to be a constant self-promoter.  There is no fairness or equality involved.  Much is chance and blind luck.  We all know the stories of famous writers whose rooms were plastered with rejection notices and most tragically, those whose fame came long after their demise, either physically or mentally, or both.
Like many young people I worked with for so many years, Patti Smith is and always was, a close observer of her environment.  You can't teach that.  She is and was forever making small altars and performing minor rituals.  I like that.
There are a couple of particularly haunting scenes in the book where Patti and Robert have only enough money for one hot dog or one bowl of soup.  Lest one think that I'm going to extol the virtues of poverty, (nothing virtuous there) I will say that these experiences stay with a person long afterward and can be a powerful shaper of personality.  I'm reminded of the great writer Richard Wright, who even when he would go to literary functions to honor him would secretly slip a few dinner rolls into his jacket pockets.  It never leaves.

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