Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November 19th, 2010

I very much doubt that, back in 1956, anyone congratulating Herbert Kubly — journalist-turned-university professor — on winning that year’s National Book Award could have imagined the life that would play out for a girl of ten at the time. If somehow a mid-1950s mind was able to wrap around what was later known as Punk, the idea of the woman eventually dubbed “Godmother of Punk” winning a National Book Award of her own might have brought on apoplexy.

It has happend. Yes, Patti Smith IS this year’s non-fiction winner for her book Just Kids.

It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.

Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max’s Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court. In 1969, the pair set up camp at the Hotel Chelsea and soon entered a community of the famous and infamous—the influential artists of the day and the colorful fringe. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years.

Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists’ ascent, a prelude to fame.

Patti came to music through poetry, a logical step that resonates on just about every level I have and made me a fan many years ago. Her lyrics have spoken , and with a generation I listened, absorbed and was absolved.

Her verse and voice still inspire:

Dancing Barefoot

she is benediction
she is addicted to thee
she is the root connection
she is connecting with he

here I go and I don’t know why
I spin so ceaselessly
could it be he’s taking over me…

I’m dancing barefoot
heading for a spin
some strange music draws me in
makes me come on like some heroin/e

she is sublimation
she is the essence of thee
she is concentrating on
he, who is chosen by she

here I go and I don’t know why
I spin so ceaselessly,
could it be he’s taking over me…

she is re-creation
she, intoxicated by thee
she has the slow sensation that
he is levitating with she …

here I go and I don’t know why,
I spin so ceaselessly,
’til I lose my sense of gravity…

And now, what has been called a “beautifully crafted love letter to Robert Mapplethorpe” has been oh-so-appropriately honored.

My congratulations and gratitude to the National Book Foundation for their supreme good sense.

You can read an excerpt from the book here, but here’s a bit from that:

We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad. Through the years these roles would reverse, then reverse again, until we came to accept our dual natures. We contained opposing principles, light and dark.

I was a dreamy somnambulant child. I vexed my teachers with my precocious reading ability paired with an inability to apply it to anything they deemed practical. One by one they noted in my reports that I daydreamed far too much, was always somewhere else. Where that somewhere was I cannot say, but it often landed me in the corner sitting on a high stool in full view of all in a conical paper hat.

I would later make large detailed drawings of these humorously humiliating moments for Robert. He delighted in them, seeming to appreciate all the qualities that repelled or alienated me from others. Through this visual dialogue my youthful memories became his.

Although it was far from fairy tale fodder and did not end up in happily-ever-after, the Smith/Mapplethorpe relationship … two dedicated artists sharing the path … stirs in my heart and mixes the sediment lodged there into the fluid of what it takes to create.

Ladies and gentlemen, Patti Smith … Dancing Barefoot …

Advertisements

Read Full Post »