After what has been a rather exhausting couple of weeks, I managed to break away from the office and finally do something cultural without the pressure of then having to persuade journalists to write double page features on it… Or that I wouldn’t have to write a feature on, for that matter.
Along with some work friends, I went to the timeless London Review Book Shop in Bloomsbury to watch Patti Smith, one of the most inspiring and beautiful souls, read from her latest book, Just Kids. An evocative memoir of her life and love with the now infamous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids invites us into their 60s bohemia in New York.
Breathlessly, we watched Patti (I feel first name terms are appropriate) regail us with stories of Robert’s penchant for chocolate milk, being mistaken for a pretty boy by Allen Ginsberg and writing poetry about Bob Dylan’s dog, unlike some book readings, where we are given a static regurgutation of written words, she told her tales as if we were all just chilling in the Chelsea Hotel, where her and Robert, along with many other bohos, whiled away much of their time.
Her list of friends reads like one of those ridiculous alive-or-dead-dinner-guest party games, a veritable who’s who of the people I have spent most of my young adult years idolising, the beatniks, the photographers, the bohemes – the life that inspired me to write, to take photographs, to love music and poetry. And here’s Patti, stood a few metres away from me, hand casually resting on the mic stand, wearing the iconic Horses get-up of white shirt and black blazer, telling me about her life – so casually and naturally this incredible life almost became believable, real. So much so I found myself wondering which of my friends will fuel the stories I’ll tell on my first book tour…
To see her speak about her relationship with Mapplethorpe is incredible – considering the obvious turbulent relationship they had (despite Robert’s revelation that he was gay altering their role as lovers in each others lives, the two remained friends and muses until his death in 1989) their friendship and abject adoration for one another – and one another’s work – is too heartbreakingly beautiful.
It’s easy for me to see this life as something too perfect to have existed outside a low budget indie film, a group of penniless bohemians making their living through their art, but in reality, these names would just have been names of people who hung out in the same cafes, hotels, gigs. Not the names as we know them now.
She tells us about the title of the book – young and in love and completely unknown, Patti and Robert were walking through Washington Square Park in 1967, Patti no doubt in something effortlessly stylish, Robert probably in his trademark sheepskin vest and glass beads. A couple of tourists stare, considering whether the two are worth a photograph – a snapshot of the lives of NY youth. “They might be artists”, the woman says, to which the man replies – “No, they’re just kids”. It is such a simple but striking flash of meaning from their past. They were just kids – not the names and figures that have come to define this era.
She closed her reading with an a capella performance of Because the Night, a moment that will stay with me forver, primarily because it is a rare occurence for tweed wearing, bespectacled old men to sing “Touch me now” in perfect unison, but mainly because it was one of the rare moments when you truly understand where the words in a song came from. For Patti, the night did belong to lovers.
I wonder who will be my Mapplethorpe.