I’ve never really been a big Patti Smith fan. Not that I was in any way anti-Patti, I just hadn’t really given her much thought. I couldn’t name a single one of her songs off the top of my head, unless you count Because the Night, but that’s just because I live in New Jersey. I certainly never expected to read one of her books.
Sadly, I’m not having a good brain week and I somehow lost nearly all of the snippets I had surreptitiously snatchedto share with you guys. I suspect they are still tucked between the pages of the book for the next library patron to find. So I can’t show you how stunning and heart wrenching their affection for one another was, or how inspiring their dedication to creating truth and beauty was – you’ll just have to take my word for it.
I’m always fascinated by people that sacrifice so much for their art. This girl? I’m far too fond of eating and sleeping indoors to embrace the existence of the starving artist. I’m far too pragmatic to spend my last handful of change on art supplies while ducking the landlord. Apparently I’m one bourgeois bitch – that or I’m just getting crotchety in my old age.
These two had a wholly different vision of the world – and of each other. Reading Patti’s prose, you felt that they were actually two pieces of the same person, that they could have easily inhabited the same mind and body, creating even more meaningful and moving works. Even as an impartial observer, I had trouble defining their relationship. It’s no wonder they struggled to understand their emotions.
I’ve always said that it’s unfair to expect one single human being to meet all your needs. I think it’s a little dangerous to have your partner also be your best friend. It’s too much pressure for that person. They can never fill both roles simultaneously. These two took it even further. They were everything to one another. Lover, friend, confidant, caretaker, invalid, artist, muse, sibling, parent, child, priest, teacher, student — EVERYTHING.
Sometimes I would awaken and find him working in the dim light of votive candles. Adding touches to a drawing, turning the work this way and that, he would examine it from every angle. Pensive, preoccupied, he’d look up and see me watching him and he’d smile. That smile broke through anything else he was feeling or experiencing — even later, when he was dying, in mortal pain.
Patti spent the entire book down playing her success and the sacrifices she made. I never felt that I was reading a memoir. Reading Just Kids almost felt invasive, like finding a shoebox in the back of a stranger’s closet filled with old love letters and diaries. In fact, near the close of the book, Patti included a letter she wrote to Robert as his battle with AIDs neared it’s close:
Often as I like awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand, grab it hard, Robert, and don’t let go.
The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.
If that didn’t get you at least a little misty, you’ve got no soul. I wonder if Patti really grasps what a tremendous gift she has given Robert by writing this book – immortalizing his brilliance and beauty as not only an artist, but as a man, a person, a being. It makes my heart hurt with its beauty.
Read it. ‘Cause I said so.