photo by nacrowe
JUST KIDS (ECCO, 2010) is the transcendently written, award-winning (2010 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION) debut memoir by the legendary PUNK ROCK writer/singer/poet PATTI SMITH. more importantly it is a touching coda to special relationship between SMITH and transgressive photographer and collaborator ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE. this book is very much a celebration of his life and legacy and the bond that saw both push forward with their respective transformative and epoch-defining creative output.
i have already written at length in a previous piece about my affection for her past and present work, so i invite readers to check such out as i will not go into such here but wanted to acknowledge such. in essence, like BOB DYLAN or LOU REED, she is one of those select few artists whose creative choices influenced what was possible for future artists to date. but upon her arrival in NYC in the 1960s after leaving a troubled past in central NEW JERSEY, she was just another insecure, sensitive, literate soul seeking connection in the big city. it really is amazing how resilient she was given her strict, isolating upbringing as a JEHOVAH'S WITNESS and having to deal with real-life issues like having an abortion in the context of such a conservative time with draconian ideals of femininity. to me she is the artist that showed the way that women could compete with men on their own terms. period.
in MAPPLETHORPE she found a fellow bohemian street urchin with an artist's visual eye. his work is both transgressive and beautiful as it depicts the underrepresented JOHN RECHY-like world of unbridled and proud homosexuality in a world that didn't recognize or appreciate such. his work is a beacon to both freedom and expression. when you consider that many of his photographs were created during the birth and later height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, you really get a sense of its courageousness and strident individuality.
their bond, both romantic and later artistic was a true collaboration. both created work that was direct and piercing and completely transgressed notions of gender and sexuality. to learn of their early struggles is both bittersweet and unflinchingly romantic in a nontraditional sense. their work was their children and his ultimate demise after succumbing to the effects of AIDS in the late 80s is truly tragic.
but what a beautifully written expression of their bond for posterity. lovingly crafted as only a poet can, this is likely the most superbly written memoir i have read to date.
i encourage anyone and everyone to seek it.
art by nacrowe
i look at female musicians these days and i feel terrible.
its cliche to say that musicians that function in today's media structure have mastered the art of marketing and social media, which largely feels like a race to the bottom. condense anything thoughtful and intelligent into a 5 second video clip or picture that likely will only be glanced at in passing to other more immediately stimulating (and more-than-likely intellectually stultifying ) content.
to me PATTI SMITH represents unimpeachable, uninhibited, undiluted artistic authenticity on par with any of her heroes such as WILLIAM BLAKE, PAUL VERLAINE, ARTHUR RIMBAUD or CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. her first memoir JUST KIDS is required reading as it parses through in detail her troubles and insecurities that she ultimately transcended through her work and indomitable spirit to survive, quite literally. dealing with issues surrounding abortion, poverty, growing up a jehovah's witness, abuse, self-worth and losing friends to HIV/AIDS, it is really quite captivating both her ambition and the depth of her lyrical content.
her inspiring biography aside, she challenged men head on. now that may reveal something about me, given that i am a privileged white male, but from my vantage point her artistry was her selling point. she wasn't presenting herself as palatable to the male gaze. if anything it was her gaze that mattered.
it is problematic to compare her to different eras of female artists, but kind of inevitable. there is a part of me that really appreciates it when artists challenge their audience. when i hear past and present artists like BILLIE EILISH, PJ HARVEY, ADELE, FKA TWIGS, BJORK or transgender artists like ANOHNI and LAURA JANE GRACE, or even male artists like PERRY FARRELL, PRINCE, DAVID BOWIE, LITTLE RICHARD and LOU REED challenge normative prescriptions of beauty it makes me smile. it makes me think there is hope from all these anemic, hollowed-out contorted space alien disfigured bodies that many of these celebrities inevitably become as time paces ever slowly forward.
just accept your humanity. even if your audience doesn't. that to me is what PATTI SMITH represents as a cultural figure.