One of the most evocative and touching books I’ve read is Patti Smith’s Just Kids. I’m a huge fan of Patti Smith the singer-songwriter. Her album “Horses” is something you need to listen to every so often, an amazing piece of music history but I never really thought she would be such an engaging writer writer. I took notice when I read a news bit that “Just Kids” won The National Book award for Non Fiction and I frantically looked for a copy. I called out to twitter and asked where I can find a copy, I dragged my ass to the nearest bookstore and in an hour flat, I was locked in my room and found myself completely immersed in the book.
Patti takes us into the celebrated art world of New York of the 60s and 70s and her life with the late great Robert Mapplethorpe. So much has been written about that time that some stories make it feel so mythic or folkloric but Patti has managed to make this once fantastic world personal, reachable and emotional for us, the readers. Apart from the storytelling, Ms. Smith presents a study of two entirely contrasting artists – Patti Smith vs Robert Mapplethorpe.
Patti came from a poor background and she evokes a seemingly authentic bohemian lifestyle. She wanted to be an artist and wanted to live, eat and breathe art. Robert, on the other hand, had his mind set on being a big star. He wanted to be bigger than Andy Warhol and he would do anything to get there. Although Robert had established a strong work ethic and he was confident in his talent, he was less secure with his own persona and his sexuality.
There are many many stories in Just Kids that I would always go back to – how they met, the days spent in Chelsea Hotel, accounts on the NY art/music scene – but what stands out the most is Patti Smith’s unwavering faith in the talent and life of Robert Mapplethorpe.
Call it a pre-feminism feminism. Many fiercely intelligent and talented women of the 50s and the 60s established their womanhood by attaching and sublimating themselves to the great artistic and literary minds of that era – Anne Roiphe to Jack Richardson, Yoko Ono to John Lennon, Heady Jones to LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, among others. These women wanted to live for art and what is more sacrificial than cleaning his clothes, cooking his food and bearing a future legend’s offspring?
It is Patti’s natural nurturing quality that has pushed Robert Mapplethorpe’s legend. And this is the key idea I took from this book.
In a time when most of my peers have moved into a different direction from mine, I can only feel a little bit relegated to a particular “subgenre” of the independent single woman often portrayed by “Sex and the City” caricatures. I find myself sitting through conversations amongst old friends, mostly young mothers now, talking about disposable vs cloth diapers or breastfeeding or picking between progressive vs traditional schools and I smile and take mental notes. They have successfully tuned me out of their little world and to try to reel me back in, they ask me “how’s the social scene” and “how are the boys” and I tell them dating anecdotes but I really wonder-are they really interested or are they just indulging me. Even on the internet, there is a big divide between the mommies and the singletons and one can only feel a little marginalized. Have we become less of a woman by choosing this life?
But what I’m driving at is – modern womanhood can no longer be just defined by being a wife and a mother. It is the woman’s natural ability to nurture that defines our femininity. We nurture love, life, children, family, friends, talent, ambition, progress. And we have that ability in every one of us.