Just Kids by Patti Smith

patti-and-robert

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” ― Lester Bangs

I have just finished reading ”Just Kids” for the second time and I can’t help feeling a bit of anguish as I’m about to express my perception of Patti’s first book of prose mainly, I suppose, due to the fact that it’s a best seller. Not that I disagree, Au contraire! All the praise about ”Just Kids’‘ is very well deserved, but so much has been said already that I forbade myself to read any of it so that everything I would say would  be 100% mine. Therefore I will simply pretend I’m the only bloody diamond geezer who was clever enough to read it, heartily hoping to bring something new to the table in the process. I chose this quote by Lester Bangs as an opener because these words seemed to be the very foundation of one of the most sincere and coolest relationship ever, one that’s been told through the pages of ”Just Kids”, a true story that would in itself become an inspiration for so many more to come. It’s a call to be who I really am no matter what, because by doing so, I might be able to bring something unique and new in this bankrupt world.

”There Will Always Be Us!”

first-edition-2

     In ”Just Kids”,  legendary, highly authentic American inspired singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist Patti Smith, who  became an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement, offers a very unique, never-before-seen glimpse of her honest, enduring, sister-brother, Yin/Yang, boyfriend/girlfriend magical everlasting relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s and 70s.

The relation itself is the guiding light and the whole purpose of this book and if, at times, certain passages might seem trivial, well, they never were. This unconditional love they shared –  creative, sensitive, stimulating and artistically prolific – becomes a sincere and deeply moving story of youth, friendship and ultimately success. The best thing being that anyone can relate to it in a very intimate, personal way.  ”Just Kids” fully grasp the heartfelt passion and holds this very same unique, sensitive and lyrical quality that is written between each lines of her formidable body of work, from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

patricia-lee-smith
Photo©by Frank Stefanko scanned by Patricia Lee Smith 

No one else could have better described all the ins and outs of the unique, constantly evolving story she shared with Robert Mapplethorpe, and this means way more than just itemizing their body of work, for the whole represents way more than the sum of it and their relationship in itself was on its own an expression of art. It just couldn’t be contained in its entirety in little works nor in big works for all to see.  Parts have been laid in music, paintings, poems and photographs but even all these, as inspired and beautiful as they are, fail in giving us a complete picture. Even if it celebrates a friendship that left a permanent impact on almost every artistic aspect and style in America, it still had to be told in a book. It was essential and sacred. Patti had to share their journey under the blue star, a symbol of their undying love for each other, one last time.

Patti writes in a Last Note to the Reader:

”We were as Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young  people nor tell with any truth of their days and their nights together. Only Robert and I could tell it. Our Story, as he called it. And, having gone, he left the task to me to tell it to you. ” – Patti Smith, Just Kids, May 22, 2010

What makes this book so special is how Patti manages to express a magic that started almost immediately. Patti arrived in NYC with almost nothing but her wish to accomplish something no one has done before. Robert was already in NYC and struggling on an urban survival mode, but nevertheless they both had a deep sense that life had something very special in store for them and that it was written in the stars. They never thought it would be so hard, that they would have to struggle so much just to survive but nevertheless it didn’t take very long for them to be able to recognize the signs. We can feel that they saw in each other something true and very real, something which they felt they would later be able to rely on as persons and as artists. Of course there were moments of doubts but maybe it was these crucial moments that would prove them to be essential to one another. It never was a give and take type of relationship. The base for it might just be honesty, true faith in each other’s talent, the hope that there was a place for them as they were and that with a lot of work, perseverance and a little bit of luck, they would both find their niche as people and artists. Lots of spoken, unspoken pacts were made, very few ever broken.

Patti Smith by ©Andy Warhol , Ca. 1972

Despite a certain ”twinlike” aspect, their part in each other’s life could also definitely be seen as complementary. One could say that Robert was the eternal dreamer, on some aspects, even alien to practical knowledge and certain everyday life faculties and that Patti possessed a more down to Earth perspective on life but this is only a half truth since, when needed, on several occasions, they could trade roles and when the other one would be in dire need of a trait that would normally be the other one’s unsaid character/task assignment, they would put their egos aside and would manage to trade places if it would help the other to get through a rough patch.

”The premise was simply that one of us always had to be vigilant, the designated protector. If Robert took a drug, I needed to be present and conscious. If I was down, he needed to stay up. If one was sick, the other healthy. It was important that we were never self-indulgent on the same day.

In the beginning I faltered, and he was always there with an embrace or words of encouragement, coercing me to get out of myself and into my work. Yet he always knew that I would not fail  if he needed me to be the strong one”

The Chelsea Hotel

Patti Smith on the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel , 1971
Patti Smith on the balcony of the Chelsea Hotel , 1971

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively”

Back in those days, New York City was a very dangerous place. Some areas were filled with what is commonly regarded as the lowest forms of the human species likes thieves, pimps, rapists, thieves, hookers, murderers and so forth. Being young artists who strive to survive, of course they were bound to have to live in such areas. At one of their lowest points they were plainly told that they had to get out, that they wouldn’t make it if they stayed. Fortunately, there was a place that offered hope if you were an artist, a little island of optimism, gathering past, present and future generations of artists of all kinds where you didn’t even need to have money right away. Stanley Bard would keep your portfolio, or take a work of art until you could get it back and you were now part of a community that was very special, during the 60s and the 70s especially. The Chelsea played a huge part in the history of the new generation of artists of the 60s and the 70s.

”Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged me and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new University. ”

”The Moon Turned Blood Red”

robert mapplethorpe and patti smith in their chelsea hotel apartment, circa 1970, photo©Albert Scopin.
Robert and Patti Smith Chelsea Hotel, circa 1970, photo©Albert Scopin.

Yet they came to a point where one or both of them needed more space, more freedom. Some things are meant to be faced and dealt with on your own even if they knew the other one will still be there for me if need it be but never taking one another for granted and always being grateful of each other’s effort to play the right part when needed, never taking advantage of one another. In one word: Respect was of course the cement that sealed the ”deal”. Robert soon had to face his inner demons and question his sexuality again and again. Of course this was heart wrenching for both of them.

”He had been with a fellow and not for money. I was able to give him some measure of acceptance. My armor sill had its vulnerable points, and Robert, my knight, had pierced a few, though without desiring to do so.”

Their relationship morphed and this had major effects on their everyday lives. It is during theses major changes and adaptations that could have tore them apart that we see that love makes all the difference in the world and that instead of trying to exert control on each other’s lives, they simply went ahead with the flow and they grew stronger. I would say that we witness how something some would see as a humiliation becomes merely a chance to humble ourselves and let life take its natural course. Never stop to love and support those who are true soul mates. A bond stronger than marriage.

I will not spoil all the fun and tell you everything that happens. I already told you the big lines and a few little ones but Here is one last thing that I realised reading ”Just Kids”.

I so happened to notice that in general there can be two different kinds of artists. Some very callous, careless, aloof and undisciplined that are successful because of their God-given talent  and so much passion that they seem to evolve in a different space and time, going all the way with everything they’ve got, with all their worries and genius. They truly appear as some unstoppable forces of nature, pushed by some alien powers. Then there are others with which they share the same gift, also having a remarkable imagination, but very rooted in their reality, very lucid and conscious of the space they occupy in space and time as well as having a clear view on what is their place in society and what their relationships made of, how strong can they be.

Now certain artists are lucky enough to have just about the right proportion of each of these components within themselves, to be well supported by a team of people they trust and that have faith in their work. I think ”Just Kids” is about the encounter of 2 people who miraculously manage to complete each other perfectly as people and as artists.

Patti Smith and Sam Shepard in their play, Cowboy Mouth, in New York in 1971
Patti Smith and Sam Shepard in their play, Cowboy Mouth, in New York in 1971
smith-dylan
Dylan, Smith and Sam Shepard attended a party at Allen Ginsberg’s Greenwich Village house, where ©Ken Regan took several photos of Dylan and Smith in conversation on the stairs.

So?

”Where does it all lead?What will become of us? These were our young questions and young answers were revealed.

It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

Fred "Sonic" Smith (September 14, 1949 – November 4, 1994) , was an American guitarist, best known as a member of the influential and political, Detroit rock band, the MC5. Later in life he married and raised a family with poet and fellow rock musician, Patti Smith. The couple collaborated musically, and raised two children together.
Fred “Sonic” Smith (September 14, 1949 – November 4, 1994) , was an American guitarist, best known as a member of the influential and political, Detroit rock band, the famous MC5. He married with poet and fellow rock musician, Patti Smith. The couple collaborated musically, and raised their two children together. 

Together the Smiths had a son, Jackson (born 1982) and a daughter, Jesse (born 1987). Jackson, a guitarist, was married to Meg White (formerly of indie band The White Stripes). Jesse is a pianist. Both have performed on stage with their mother along with other members of the Patti Smith Group.

Patti Smith never forgot Robert Mapplethorpe and wrote ”Just Kids” in 2012. She had made a promise to Robertthat she’d write a book about them and she did, Patti wrote this memoire of their friendship in her own unique personal, direct, sensitive and wholhearted style and we should be all damn happy she kept her promise!

photobooth

Just Kids won:

Also by Patti Smith  9781101910160

 

About Unfinished Poems…

gregory-corso
Gregory Corso, 1953 

Gregory loved Keats and Shelley and would stagger into the lobby with his trousers hanging low, eloquently spewing their verses. When I mourned my inability to finish any of my poems, he quoted Paul Valery to me: ”Poets don’t finish their poems, they abandon them”…  Patti Smith, Just Kids

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe by Norman Seeff, 1969
Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe by Norman Seeff, 1969

Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris

EXCLUSIVE

Questions and Answers About ”NYC Bad Boys” and a Lifetime Partnership

By Tobe Damit
by Tobe Damit

Introduction in Disguise

I will try to, like the Clash album says, ”Cut the Crap” and say that I heard about Victor Bockris the first time through a book called ”Conversation”, which I read avidly the first time it fell in my lap and have re-read a few times. Those Conversations were a goldmine for a Burroughs and Warhol amateur like me who believed that both of them have been to art in general what the Sex Pistols were to music. To me, ”Conversation” is an essential book that should be archived and kept for safety like a mystical artefact, exactly like Burroughs’ paranoid mind would have imagined it; like files that unknown alien forces are constantly updating, thus keeping tabs on the underworld agents. Numbered transcripts sourced and supported by audio, film, and/or photographs, describing meetings between liberating forces from one of the leading underground artistic mind and the Godfather of the surgeons of the Beat Generation, leading to a whole new way of deconstructing and re-creating different realities that were bearers of an extremely particular strain of virus called  PUNK.

Jagger, Burroughs and Warhol by Marcia Resnick, Conversation
Jagger, Burroughs and Warhol by Marcia Resnick in ”Conversation”

I also knew, reading that book, that Victor was already working very closely with Marcia Resnick back then. I followed the timeline traced by her  photos and discovered a whole new world in Resnick’s fascinating images and thoughts, starting with Re-Visions and already seeing that Punks, Poets and Provocateurs that was only released in 2015 (yes! the very day this article was posted!) already was and always has been in the making very early on after the day those two kindred spirits met for the first time. In fact Marcia began the book the same month they both met in September 1977, and finished taking the pictures in 1982. She then worked sporadically on videos of the pictures, showed some of the images in group shows through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. She also participated in a traveling show, which became a book, called ”Bande A Part, New York Underground 60’s-70’s-80’s’‘ which featured the photographs of many of her contemporaries. This was showcased as a ”travelling show” in venues in Tokyo, Paris, London, Hong Kong, LA and New York, from 2005 to 2009. This was a very positive sign that her work was still alive and growing. In 2010, she had a one-woman show of her vintage portraits from the 1977 to 1982 period at the Deborah Bell Photographs in NYC. It was also in 2010 Marcia and Victor began to ”physically” put the book together. The result is a shared vision of the world that is exposed through a sincere, honest, disarming, straightforward series of photos, poems, thoughts, paintings and a variety of ways and any possible means to recreate the feelings attached to those vivid memories. Each of those forever preserved time capsules humbling me, reminding me of how fragile some of us are or were, especially some of those NYC Bad Boys, but also revealing how our weaknesses are non-dissociative parts of our inner beauty.

Victor Bockris and Marcia Resnick
Victor Bockris and Marcia Resnick

No need to say I was delighted when I was asked to do an article about Punk, Poets and Provocateurs in an interview format. Marcia and Victor were kind enough to gently respond to some questions I had in mind after I got the chance to read and feel ”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” that is righteously presented here as the triumphant accomplishment of a lifetime collaboration between two artist I admire so much. I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as I did!!

LAN: ”How did you two met?”

Victor Bockris: ”We met at an opening of a photo show at the Andrew Crispo gallery in September 1977. And spent the next six weeks talking and running around town meeting all sorts of people. I helped Marcia collect back cover quotations for “Re-Visions” and published “Why I Hate My Girlfriend” about her in High Times in 1978. Fuelled by love and hate.”

LAN: Do you think the term Bad Boy is as appealing to the general public as it was in the 60s and the 70s? Has anything changed?”

Victor Bockris: ”Bad Boys is a generic term which has lost most of its meaning. That’s why we changed the title from Bad Boys to “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs” which had previously been her sub-title. Although Marcia does a good job defining the Counterculture’s Bad Boy Icon in her outstanding texts. ”

LAN: ”Do you see some of them as angels with broken wings?”

John Lydon
John Lydon by Marcia Resnick

Marcia Resnick: ”I see Bad Boys as rebels of attitudes and codes who often shake things up in the best way.”

LAN: ”Do you still find inspiration in your old friendships and acquaintances? You must have developed special everlasting relationships with some people!”

Marcia Resnick: ”We know the people we used to hang out with and love and support them. We are always overjoyed to see them, like veterans of a war. We definitely find inspiration in all our living and departed friends.”

LAN: ”It’s a well-known cliché to say that most good artists have suffered a lot, and somehow channeled this suffering and/or anxiety through their art. Do you consider you went through that too?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Art is an act of confronting what distresses you most and overcoming the distress by turning it into art.”

LAN: ”Has it ever happened to you that on the moment something appeared to be a bad thing, but you later came to realise it was in fact a good thing?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Contradiction is one basis of creativity. Challenges that appear to be bad are often very good for you. This can also be said about artistic mistakes.”

LAN: ”Do you consider yourselves more as Poets, Punks or Provocateurs or none of the above? If none of the above, how do you consider yourselves if you had to pick one or few words?”

Both: ”Punk Poet!”

LAN: ”What do you think Burroughs and Ginsberg (and by extension the Beat Generation) brought to the punk scene? Do you think they fit into that equation?”

Victor Bockris: ”The punk scene shone a light of affection and affiliation on the Beat scene. Allen and Bill lived in the midst of a punk neighbourhood, the Lower East Side. Punk was neo-beat.

LAN: ”What about The Velvet Underground?”

Victor Bockris: ”The Velvets were the archetypal punk band. Lou Reed was the most important person who visited CBGB’s. He supported punk from the outset. Punks loved Lou.”

Joey Ramone by Marcia Resnick
Joey Ramone by Marcia Resnick

LAN: ”Punk was about industry, not virtuosity.” Could you expand on what you meant by that?”

Victor Bockris: ”Punks worked very hard to make beautiful music. This industry was inspired by passion and could be accomplished with a DIY attitude as opposed to a stringent technically proficient prowess.”

LAN: ”With everything that is going right now and the overall empowerment of the world by the 1%, do you think that we would need to return back to the sources with a very simple, bold, loud, clear and shall I say even aggressive message that was the very essence of Punk Rock?”

Victor Bockris: ”I think we need to bring back the counterculture as a global force for humanity.”

LAN: ”Do you find that everything is more diluted today? Do you think that the messages delivered by today’s artists are as strong today as they were in the 60s and the 70s?”

Victor Bockris: ”Artists of the 50s 60s 70s were all connected by the umbrella of protest against the atrocities of WWII. Passionate realism is the key. Post 83 or so the people have no single ring to fight against.”

LAN: ”Do you think sex should be a hidden thing or more out in the open like in Japan? I’m asking because you represent both sexes and have lived as adults in a period Pre-AIDS and without shame but you also know what shame is… You also lived in an era in which homosexuality and transexuality were illegal. I’m thinking for example of Candy Darling, and Lou Reed who received I think 19 (if not more) shock treatments just because he had gay THOUGHTS.”

Marcia Resnick: ”Sex is like God. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened but its been co-opted by same people who say God is on our side. Nobody owns sex but a lot of people exploit it, like the Catholic Church or the Sex Industry. Obviously do what thou wilt is all of the law. Everything is permitted. Sex is good. No laws against sex are recognized in the magic universe.”

LAN: ”If you could talk to the young ”you(s)” when you were 15, what would you say to yourself?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Focus on learning how to live the artistic ways of life. It has great benefits but if you don’t know how to live it doesn’t make much difference”

LAN: ”Do you consider yourself a survivor? If so, what or who made you able to overcome what could have been your downfall?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration. We have helped each other survive by working to a united end on this book.”

LAN: ”The 1977 Blackout in New-York was seen as a turning point by many people because they were seeing judges and doctors turning into looters in the anonymity provided by the dark. Were you there? If yes did it have any effect on you at the time?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Sounds like a fantasy! The July 77 NY Blackout heralded a great new period because everybody walking around in Greenwich Village was exhilarated to see each other and was full of joy! People were conversing with people they didn’t know!”

LAN: ”What beauty have you ever witnessed coming out of what some would describe as a wreckage?

Marcia & Mick
Marcia & Mick

Marcia Resnick: ”Andy Warhol, Keith Richard. Lou Reed, William Burroughs for starters.”

LAN: ”This one I guess goes out more to Victor. Since Warhol himself was always taping and taking pictures, did you feel at times that you were interviewing the interviewer??”

Victor Bockris: ”I learned about how to do interviews from Andy Warhol. I cannot understand why a book of his interviews has never been published. I wrote the first draft of “Exposures” with him. He had an enormous influence as a writer which has been strangely subdued.”

LAN: ”Since we are talking about Warhol, I was curious to find out if you saw a change in Warhol after he was shot by Solanas?”

Victor Bockris: ”Everybody says that his presence was everything before he was shot. It took him a long time to recover, but the man I met in the mid seventies had more energy than anyone. It made him cautious about hanging out with hard-core people. He really bloomed in the early 80s painting with Jean-Michel (Basquiat).”

Andy Warhol by Marcia Resnick
Andy Warhol by Marcia Resnick

LAN: ”Have you ever been personally the victim of a blatant injustice?”

Victor Bockris: ”No. I avoid policemen and lawyers. It is dangerous to get involved with them.”

LAN: ”Any words of advice for the generations to come?”

Marcia Resnick: ”Collaboration is the Key to Life. You can go into any field you want to, from poetry to the law, but your chance of success will always be much greater if you find other people or another person to do it with.”

Marcia Resnick
Marcia Resnick

”Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: NYC Bad Boys, 1977-1982” by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris is now available in the nearest bookstore!!  

Book signing with Photographer Marcia Resnick Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982 by Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris Published by Insight Editions Tuesday, November 10, 2015 6:30–8:30 PM / Admission free! Click on picture below for a lot more infos on related events to come!

cheetah
Johnny Thunder and Cheetah Chrome by Marcia Resnick. Click on image for more details!                      Proofreading by Helen Burkholder! TY so much!

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