In 1959, my father suffered a compound leg fracture that ended his tour as an Army engineer in Germany. He was dancing with my mother and his enthusiasm for spirits and spirit colided, leaving him bedridden for some months. My mother, realizing that our European Idyls were ending, resolved to take four children and a neighbor for a whirlwind tour of the cultural treasures of Italy. Her youngest wastrel (me) found a trinket at a souvenier stall on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in FLorence that became his talisman: a roulette wheel keychain. All these years, I imagined it was my own idiosyncratic charm, and I never encountered another. Until I started reading Just Kids, by Patti Smith.
Someone named 'Robert' dies in the forward (and again, later, at the end). Stephanie, on page 8. By the end of Chapter 1, her first child is gone, and so has she... to New York, to find her life as an artist. If you're not in love by this time (at very least, with the prose), move along... there's nothing here for you.
Smith won a National Book Award for her efforts, but what she deserves is a National Love Award. I can't recall reading a finer testament to love and devotion.
I experienced a small part of the persecution of Robert Maplethorpe as guilt by geopraphy. I lived in Ohio at the time, and it was in Cincinnati where fulminating public ire (and no small dose of political opportunism) washed over a Cincinatti museum whose director foolishly imagined that art was somehow immune from local cultural politics. My embarrassment at the brouhaha was similar to the inevitable association between tOSU and Woody Hayes, whose synedechean iconography dwarfed other notable accomplishments of an otherwise fine university. I confess, I didn't know Mapplethorpe's work at the time. I just thought... oh, people, really... its just art... get over it!
As a taker-of-pictures, I've since come into glancing contact with Maplethorpe's work from time to time, and I've found his photographs perplexing, unsettling, striking, and even exciting. Not a riskless admission in a culture that suffered political disruption and policy dislocation over a Superbowl half time show. People... get over it!
Patti Smith's memoir is a stunning tour de force through a tumultuous transformation of culture -- in poetry, music, the visual and performing arts. I confess my own ignorance found me skipping over parts of the book that others with richer musical memories will find illuminating. Where the book really shined for me is in the chronicle of a great devotion between two people that transcended convention and endured STDs, outlandish piccadillos, and a confounding array of casual partners... and endured as a love worthy of the ages.
In addition to all this, you get the deepest possible insight into the conflict between the sacred and profane. If you want a flavor of one of the great global upheavals of culture, read this book. If you want to know why anyone should care about Maplethorpe's photography, read this book. But above all, If you want a model for what it means to love without reservation, read this book.
"Robert took areas of dark human consent and made them into art"
Patti Smith has taken her memories of it all and made them into art.
Ivar's near Seatac. Meals don't get lonlier than this.