On a day that I just had a common, but very uncomfortable medical procedure, yet one that diagnoses that disease which probably killed my uncle, my beloved grandmother and definitely struck (but did not decimate) my mother and grandfather, I am reading “Just Kids” by Patti Smith.
I’m starting again from the beginning, because so much life had intervened with my initial attempt at reading it, I knew I had to start fresh to find the flow of the narrative. My first impression then, that it is a book of poetry in the guise of prose, still holds.
And just as I’m aware when I listen to Patti’s music, I recognize that there is a self-consciousness, an awkwardness of an over-imagined phrase next to an original, achingly crystalline phrase in this book. (Though fortunately, the powerful lines far outweigh the none ones.)
But I’ve always ignored the self-consciousness in her songs, or more perhaps, forgave what potentially could put me back into my critical mind instead of experiential one BECAUSE of her envelopment into the totality of the song. An envelopment that enveloped me.
She tranced for me. She excessed for me. She fought god for me. (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…”) She was strong – strong in voice and strong in not being afraid to make a mess of a song, but still so full of her sex to me (“See a young girl humping on a parking meter… oh she look so good, oh she look so fine… G-L-O-R-I-A”). These songs went to my heart and loins, together always together. In the 5 times, I’ve seen her perform (4 with the band, and once solo with only her poetry as accompaniment), that prophetic vinyl message (yes, first on vinyl, only latter delivered in bits and bites of digital code) was vastly reinforced.
In “Just Kids”, there is definitely a gauze of nostalgia, but much more it is a meditation on death and re-birth, both a celebration and an elegy of life in New York City and vice versa. And a life in art, and vice versa.
After all, the titular co-character kid is Robert Mapplethorpe – he who created exquisite images of often not overtly exquisite content and who then died young of AIDS. And Patti would lose her husband, her brother and one of her bandmates. All died young too.
I’m reading this book right now again because of Mz. Amuse – who bought this book for me as a Valentine’s gift. She said, “You’re recovering tonight – don’t run around. Drink liquids, rest. Read a book. Read the Patti Smith book.” She should know the right idea of recovery. She had breast cancer recently, at a younger than expected age.
Overtly, that explosion of wayward cells are all gone now, but the shadow remains. Statistics doing their statistically obfuscating thing go into overdrive in such circumstances where death is the prize. (Yes, I was the researcher – try to figure out the best course of action where numbers lie and tell the truth simultaneously. In the end, it was her choice anyway.)
Obviously, I’ve stopped reading to write this post. I needed the break to express. Too much loss and recognition. My losses, my recognitions of places the same or similar… but all different too, of course.
I’m sure my father’s death last month is only focusing my long standing profound sense of my mortality. I am only in, not of, the Zeitgeist as of this moment.
I don’t have the perspective, the distance from myself, to say whether or not Patti Smith is a great artist for the ages – I only know she speaks to me. She speaks to me.