You may have noticed the abundance of birds in the background of the above photo. I went to Hobby Lobby and got a little crazy. Everything was 50 to 75% off and all the birds were irresistible. I also bought some art supplies. I've decided to acquire another creative outlet, but I'll talk more about that later.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I can't say I find Patti Smith attractive or her music interesting, but for some reason I find her as a person intriguing, in the same way I find the Sex Pistols intriguing. And for the same reason I've been reading about music of the seventies that I was not aware of (they only played the BeeGees and Donna Summer on the radio where I lived in Florida). I wanted to know more about this strange woman and her contribution to Punk Rock and music in general.
We learn of Patti's brave and adventurous move to New York City as a young woman. She goes hungry, sleeps on park benches and steals, until she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, a young man in the same situation. They move in together, become lovers and fellow survivors. They work and live off mostly Patti's earnings at a book shop. Robert seems to have trouble keeping a steady job and the only thing he seems to be good at and enjoys is prostituting his body.
Patti states this as a fact devoid of emotion or even a sense that it's wrong. Neither does she seem bothered by the fact that she contracts gonorrhea from Mapplethorpe.
In fact a conventional sense of right and wrong seems to be lacking in the whole book. One of the most disturbing events is when she describes Mapplethorpe stealing a William Blake out of store and then feeling remorseful, tears it up into tiny pieces and flushes it down the toilet. I am still in disbelief. Surely this wasn't an authentic Blake? How could anyone destroy irreplaceable art like that?
There are gaps as well. Smith and Mapplethorpe are starving artists barely scraping by in Brooklyn, then they're living in the Chelsea Hotel rubbing shoulders with Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsburg, and members of the Andy Warhol Factory clan. How did that happen?
Smith and Mapplethorpe continue to live together encouraging each other's art, eventually getting other lovers. Mapplethorpe gets a rich sugar daddy that launches his career and Smith lives with a married man, Sam Sheppard, knowing that it won't last, but seems to accept its short life span as inevitable.
This really confounds me. Is Smith really OK with the transience of her relationships with no conscience that she became a man's mistress and no doubt the heartbreak of his wife? Are those the standards she set for herself? Does her vision take her no higher?
Then another gap. Patti is on her way to stardom, but she fails to provide us with the intermediary steps. Also the fact that she did finally marry and have children and stayed married till her husband's death parted them.
Also, don't expect this book to inform you of her music or artistic work. It's the story she promised Robert she would tell after he died.
Patti talks about rebellion and her own rebellious spirit. When she was a child she asked her mother why she couldn't just kick in the shop windows they were passing. Her mother gave some mumbling, "you just can't" sort of answer.
I would like to answer that question now. You do have the freedom to kick in those shop windows. But you do not have the freedom to escape the consequences of that freedom. You're free to kick in shop windows and the shop owner is free to come out and pull you up by your thick, scraggly hair, swing your skinny little body around and let you fly off into the street.
Rebellion is not freedom and it's not creative. It's reactionary. You have to wait for someone else to create before you can knock it down. Rebellion is one of the most unimaginative states to live in.
Patti had the freedom to sleep with Mapplethorpe, but did she have the freedom to keep her heart soft and pliable? Or did it turn into Teflon? Or, like Janis Joplin sang, every lover takes a little piece of your heart and after a while, there's no heart left.
Mapplethorpe got what he wanted. His rich lover made him famous, and admittedly, the quality of his photographs deserve it. But neither of them had the freedom to live very long. They both died of AIDS. I wonder who gave it to whom?
This book got me thinking about a lot of things.
I don't think Bohemianism is all it is cracked up to be.
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