Ecco first published “Just Kids”, Patti Smith’s painfully beautiful memoir about her and Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe‘s time in New York together back in January of this year. In the short time that has followed its release, it has already become a classic. No other book in my recent memory has made as lasting an impression or has inspired such a collective, unanimous love and following as “Just Kids” has. I also do not remember reading anything in my life I’ve felt I had to share immediately with as many different people as this book. Although the New York City on display within the pages of “Just Kids” has long since past, its intense romantic, ideology is at the core of everyone that has ever been truly in love with any person or place. The resilient dedication to that love and to the creation of art in general is what makes Patti’s book so important and inspiring to all of the romantics and artists of our time, two rolls that seem harder and harder to fill in the age of the instant and the manufactured.
I read “Just Kids” for the first time while I was traveling around Europe this past summer. My last serious relationship had just deteriorated and I spent nearly a month passing through foreign countries reflecting on myself with Patti as my compass and touchstone. The time I spent with “Just Kids” proved incredibly insightful, intimate and moving and when I returned to the states to find almost everyone else I knew in a state of some kind of artistic, romantic or spiritual crisis, I guided all of them to Patti’s book, which served as a source of solace and as a reality check to the world and it’s scope.
I wrote the following as an inscription to one of my closest friends that received one of the many copies of “Just Kids” that I passed around and gave away over the course of the summer. This edition was sent near the summer’s end:
I know that this book is not pristine and brand new. Forgive me for gifting you an already twice loved copy. This particular book has been carried around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, of Berlin and Amsterdam, of Valencia and Madrid and to various beaches in Spain that I do not know the names of. You are the third possessor of this copy and in your open arms in Buenos Aries it finds perhaps its final resting place. There is nowhere I would rather have it be.
Patti Smith is the last true New York romantic and “Just Kids” is a testament to that. This past summer everyone I know and love has had their thoughts on love challenged and changed. For those of us who are romantics (all of my favorites) this has proven to be a difficult and trying time.
There are a few things that I recently have become fairly certain of on this subject and I will share some of them with you briefly:
First of all, I am now certain that love only exists inside of oneself. It is born of your own heart and mind and relates to your perception of a person or place at a certain time, usually near the birth of your meeting with that person or place. The strength of your love depends on what it is you are perceiving and how much at that given moment of your love’s birth the object seems to agree with your perception of it. The closer your ideal image is to what the reality appears to be, the more you love and in this manner your love goes on forever.
The thing you love may change as it lives on. It may decay, or shift, or close down, or adopt a new life but it will always exist as you love it in your mind and in this way it is eternal, an instinctual reaction to an external source; your hand pulling away from a flame, a blanket being pulled up when you are cold.
This instinctual change happens without our control and continues on whether we want it to or not. Most people try to shut it off, to tell themselves not to feel it, denying it merely because it makes them nervous, sad or uncomfortable. This is most of the human race; sleeping outside naked in the cold, burning their skin off and pretending as though nothing is happening, denying themselves the irrational and beautiful reactions that their own bodies conjure or them.
This is not true for the romantics however, who are always alone, even when they are with others. Their love flies off of them in all directions and covers many different people, places and things. They do not stop feeling things because the feelings are not returned. They do not stop climbing trees just because they have been torn down. They move on from former lovers but forever hold them alive and with them in the time they shared together.
Who knows what Robert Mapplethorpe actually thought of Patti. It is clear that he was far darker than she ever knew or wanted to know. What matters in this book is how Patti perceived him to be and more importantly how she perceived them to be. Her love and perception is their romance. Whatever really existed is unimportant. There is truth and beauty in her words and in her mind. May you find love and yourself within.
This past month “Just Kids” won The National Book Award for non-fiction and was released in paper back, making it cheaper to purchase and easier to cary around for everyone who has yet to pick it up. Anyone and everyone should read this book and read it sooner rather than later. I know that there are always a billion things to read but it is a rare occasion that something comes around that feels as immediate and rewarding as this. To all lovers and creators, this is your new manifesto. Treasure it and share it with the ones you love.