The following is a guest post from my friend Mercedes Arnao. I hope my OS friends will welcome her. Ben Sen
A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I decided to have a quiet Sunday. He retreated to the candle lit bathroom where he soaked in a tub of hot water enhanced with sandalwood, myrrh, amber and other essential oils. I handed him a glass of red wine and gave him a kiss as he blew smoke from his pipe and reached for the first book on his pile.
In the living room, I played an Annie Lennox CD and stood in front of his bookcase looking for a book to browse through. I wanted an art book to look at for a while, perhaps a book of deKooning's work, who used to live across the street, or Vermeer who didn't. What would entertain and teach me something?
I ended up sitting on the couch cozily wrapped in a blanket with a glass of wine on the table near me. In my hands I held "Just Kids" by Patti Smith. Of all the books on the shelf I chose that one because of my love for Patti Smith. I had no idea what a fascinating journey was about to begin.
I've always loved Patti Smith's song "Because the Night," which was co-written by her and Bruce Springsteen. Although both of them sing it, I find there's a haunting, rich quality in Patti's voice that gives the song more life, and brought it to more listeners. Many call it a torch song, for me it's an anthem of the 80's. It was all I really knew about her until I read that she had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With love we sleep
With doubt the vicious circle
Turn and burns
Without you I cannot live
Forgive, the yearning burning
I believe it's time, too real to feel
So touch me now, touch me now, touch me now
Because the night belongs to lovers ...
Shortly after, in 2008 I went to the Film Forum to watch Sebring's documentary "Patti Smith: Dream of Life." I was so mesmerized by the film I went back to see it three times. I remember a friend laughing about my endless talk about Smith finding it very funny that I was just discovering her. It wasn't funny or unusual to me, in fact, for me that's the whole point of art; one can fall in love with it at any time. Art is timeless.
Timeless too is "Just Kids." It's the story of the coming of age of two artists and it is more than that--the story of love, life, family, innocence, dreams, friendship, art, hope, talent, death, success, transformation; in addition to a take on New York City during a time of an intense cultural revolution.
I imagine many people experimenting with various media using absolutely everything within their reach, the way Mapplethorpe did with Polaroids, using even the part of the film that was supposed to be discarded, before finding a unique form of self-expression.
Patti says, He made use of the whole Polaroid pack, the casing for frames, the pull tab, and occasionally even a semi-failure by manipulating the image with emulsion. Patti and Robert would often split a hot dog in order to have enough money left to buy art supplies.
"Just Kids" allowed me to experience a time I wasn't a part of. As I read the words I actually felt as if Patti was sitting beside me telling me her story. I envisioned Max's Kansas City filled with people like Andy Warhol and his retinue, the great musicians of the 60's and 70's, Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, among others; and Robert and Patti trying to get invited to sit with them and make the connections so vital to their future.
I imagine the experimentation with sex, drugs, alcohol, music and the birth of new genres of art. I will never again be able to walk past the Chelsea Hotel without thinking about the fact that Patti and Robert spent so much time there transforming from kids to world renowned artists. It was a time that won't come again and this book at least gives me a chance to see what that life was like--the good side and the bad. If you haven't already read it, take a look at the current discount price; I recommend it to you heartily. Among other honors, "Just Kids" won the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction and it was a New York Times Bestseller.
Patti says, the urge to express myself was my strongest desire. At the tender age of 12, Patti and her family visited the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, this visit changes her, I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not. In her poetry, drawings, and songs, Patti Smith indeed sees what others do not.
Robert Mapplethorpe also knew he was an artist at an early age. Patti tells us that, coloring excited him, not the act of filling in space, but choosing colors that no one else would select. In the green of the hills he saw red. Purple snow, green skin, silver sun. Robert left his family because of his commitment to live for art alone.
The circumstances under which Patti and Robert meet and the vows they make to each other seem to be guided by divine intervention. "Just Kids" is the story about the spiritual, everlasting bond between these two artists. It is truly a "must read" gift.
Several hours later, my boyfriend came out of the bathroom. I began talking about the amazing book I had been reading and how I was so enchanted by it. I was reminiscing about St. Marks Place, CBGB and La MaMa, where off-off Broadway was born. I was talking about Patti's music and Robert's photography. He took me to his window, put his left arm around my shoulder and said, it all happened right there on those streets, and pointed toward the East Village. It was a time that won't come again.
Life is an adventure of our own design intersected by fate in a series of lucky and unlucky accidents - Patti Smith
Photo credit: answers.com