“I was a dreamy somnambulate 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 never look back. I would not return to the factory or to teachers college. I would be an artist. I would prove my worth, and with my new resolve I rose and approached the kitchen.”

“It was there that I met Saint, my guide, a black Cherokee with one foot in the street and the other in the Milky Way. He suddenly appeared, as vagabonds will sometimes find one another.”

“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of “Crystal Ship.” Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played “Ode to Billie Joe.” There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life. It was the summer I met Robert Mapplethorpe.”

“Wordlessly we absorbed the thoughts of one another and just as dawn broke fell asleep in each other’s arms. When we awoke he greeted me with his crooked smile, and I knew he was my knight.”

“One cannot imagine the mutual happiness we felt when we sat and drew together. We would get lost for hours. His ability to concentrate for long periods infected me, and I learned by his example, working side by side. When we would take a break, I would boil water and make some Nescafe.”

“In the war of magic and religion, is magic ultimately the victor? Perhaps priest and magician were once one, but the priest, learning humility in the face of God, discarded the spell for prayer.”

“Robert trusted in the law of empathy , by which he could, by his will, transfer himself into an object or a work of art, and thus influence the outer world. He did not feel redeemed by the work he did. He did not seek redemption. He sought to see what others did not, the projection of his imagination.”

“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.”

“Life at the Chelsea [Hotel] was an open market, everyone with something of himself to sell.”

“Nothing was more wonderful to me than Coney Island with its gritty innocence. It was our kind of place: the fading arcades, the peeling signs of bygone days, cotton candy and kewpie dolls on a stick, dressed in feathers and glittering top hats. We wandered through the last gasp of the sideshows. They had lost their luster, though they still touted such human oddities as the donkey-faced boy, the alligator man, and the three-legged girl. Robert found the world of freaks fascinating, though of late he was forgoing them for leather boys in his work.”

“Gregory [Corso] made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged 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.”

“My room reflected the bright mess of my interior world, part boxcar and part fairyland.”

“I felt instantly confined by the notion that we are born into a world where everything was mapped out by those before us. I struggled to suppress destructive impulses and worked instead on creative ones. Still, the small rule-hating self within me did not die.”

“The things I thought would happen didn’t. Things I never anticipated unfolded.”

“He hurried off and I went back to my side. I caught sight of him through my window as he hurried past the YMCA. The artist and hustler was also the good son and altar boy. I believed he would once again embrace the knowledge that there is no pure evil, nor pure good, only purity.”

 

Just Kids. Copyright 2010 by Patti Smith.

photo by Jesse Ditmar

patti smith website: pattismith.net home

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