I am reading the most interesting book: Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Who is Patti Smith, you ask. If we go back to the late 60’s, to about 1967-68, there was once a poet rock singer named, Patti Smith. She was also the lover and muse of Robert Mapplethorpe, the infamous provocateur of the highly charged male body as traversed in his famous photographs – exhibitions that seemed to have scandalized most museums in our country. Why is everyone so afraid of the male body up close and personal?
Patti and Robert met the summer that Coltrane died,in 1967, the summer of love and riots, on a chance encounter in Brooklyn. They had a love affair, but it was a rather non-traditional love affair. While we, the graduating class of 1961 were weaning our way into early marriage and soon after making babies, there were others who several years later staked a claim to a true bohemian and literary beatnik style of existence.
I’ve always been curious about the history of the Hotel Chelsea and its eccentric band of writers and poets and musicians – true artists of the day. Their influence was at first on the fringe of the New York literati – think Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground.
It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding while most of us boomers were languishing in too early marriages and a lack of world knowledge and experience. College just didn’t past muster for those of us who dreamed of becoming a member of the off-off Broadway theater Cafe La Mama, and meeting Allen Ginsberg at the Chelsea Hotel and watching William Burroughs fritter away nights at Max’s in front of the bar. I drooled when I read that Patti Smith had an affair with Sam Shepard – the early Sam Shepard with the cleft chin and way too sexy visage.
Okay, I’m dreaming a bit. But we can dream. We can remember when it was sexy to pretend to be an intellectual and talk about Ginsberg’s epic poem, Howl, and read the visceral poems of the San Francisco poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and be hip to the gays above Columbus Avenue in North Beach in San Francisco. Some of us were there in 1961 – the year of our graduation from high school. Some of us were the great pretenders to the Beatnik generation. And then life took a quick turn to college, to finding a husband, to getting a degree in order to get a job, in order to please our parents. And we never made it to the Hotel Chelsea.
Patti and Robert never set out to please their parents or to conform to what kids should do after high school. They set out at eighteen to pursue their art and they did it by practically starving and always sacrificing themselves to the next creative idea to the next poetic moment.
I can’t put this book down. I’m supposed to be reading the final galley proofs of my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, and I find it difficult to concentrate. In a sense, I already gave birth – figuratively and metaphorically – to my book, to my life, to my Tao, to my Dharma. But Just Kids brings me back to a time of hope and excitement and I recognized through the writing of my book that I was unconsciously trying to recreate those moments of being a kid of nineteen and thinking there would always be hope, there would always be artistic creations, there would always be another round of exploring joy and fulfillment in a world without boundaries.