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In a Relationship with… Patti Smith

ATKA ATUN │atka_brozek@yahoo.com

An androgynous woman, an embryo in a jar, a boyish adult, Andy Warhol, Allan Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, LSD, STDs, AIDS, art for art’s sake, Chelsea Hotel, hunger, lice but then – love, friendship, respect, almost divine devotion – innocence. “Just Kids” is a story of an extraordinary couple in the thick of New York City’s glory of the late sixties. Just that and only that.

Patti Smith’s memoir200px-Just_Kids_(Patti_Smith_memoir)_cover_art, winner of a National Book Award as well as one of the New York Times’ bestsellers for thirty-six weeks, commemorates her life-long friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is about seeing the world in black and white. It is a book of opposites and edges. It glorifies a notion that, for an artist, there is no place in the middle, neither in his mind nor in society. The title “Just Kids” says it all and does not say anything. On one hand, no matter if they are twenty or forty, Smith and Mapplethorpe remain childish creators. Naïve faith in the importance of their art remains the same, even though time goes by. On the other hand, the maturity they gained through hardships they experienced make them older than expected – poverty, giving up a child, prostitution and bodies full of scars cannot stay unspoken, so they write, paint and scream.

He grabbed my hand. ‘‘Come with me. There’s freedom there. I have to find out who I am.”
(…) ‘’I am already free”, I said.
He stared me with a desperate intensity. “If you don’t come, I’ll be with a guy. I’ll turn homosexual,” he threatened.

But they never really parted. She got married and he found a partner for life., nevertheless, they were never so close to anyone than they were to each other.

Robert died on March 9, 1989. When his brother called me in the morning, I was calm, for I knew it was coming, almost to the hour. I sat and listened to the aria from Tosca with an open book on my knees. Suddenly I realized I was shuddering. I was overwhelmed by the sense of excitement, acceleration, as if, because of the closeness I experienced with Robert, I was to be privy to his new adventure, the miracle of his death.

Smith’s words flow slowly but sharply. She describes the world as if it was a clear poem. The feeling remains the same when I listen to her songs. Her stories about Mapplethorpe resemble the ones from “Angels in America” – homosexual men living like omnipotent cherubs and dying in pain, with an angel-like grace.

In all that, Smith remains unnaturally ordinary and innocent. She never judges but always worries. She never takes but keenly observes. She is always present even if far away.

I close the book and smile. In my mind Cohen’s song plays: “I need you, I don’t need you, and all of that jiving around…”.

If you liked Atka’s article, also read In a Relationship with…Stefan Zweig

AAtka(Beata)TKA ATUN, Literature Editor
Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow, Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.

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