Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Just Kids

Patti Smith came on stage along with her interviewer. Patti sat down in her chair and as the interviewer was asking the first question, Patti plucked one of the small flowers from the vase between them and took a quick whiff of it. It was a throwaway gesture that I am not sure many people caught, especially as the event was insanely packed and the sight lines were fairly terrible where we were standing, but I caught the moment of magic and was already enraptured with this woman. I am reading her memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe right now, Just Kids, am quite in love with the book and the New York it describes and the relationship it describes, the way these two people lived, how they both pushed each other, and how they both loved each other and encouraged one another to become artists. It is an amazing story and to hear her talk about it tonight at Barnes and Noble's was also amazing.

There is a portion of the interview in which they talked about Patti's relationship with bookstores and how she worked at a fair number of them and her process of applying to work at them, what bookstores mean, what they did mean, and what an important job a bookseller is, what a romantic job it is. She worked at Scribner's, at Brentano's, at Argosy, and at the Strand, those first two both extinct now. She also mentioned how she tried numerous times to get a job at Gotham Book Mart, also now gone. That this discussion was happening in a Barnes and Nobles wasn't really remarked upon but was a depressing thought that did cross my own mind, imagining all these elegant, dusty bookstores weighted with history and with the touch and care of the booksellers who stocked particular books and pushed certain titles. Patti Smith described the old Scribner's bookstore in really elegiac terms, mentioning as the sad punchline that it is now a Sephora. I got really swept away in this discussion, having a similar experience of arriving in New York, spending my first two years working at the Strand and being lost all day long and night in the world of literature, of this thing holding supreme importance in my life. Now, sadly, it's role has been minimized to something maybe not even at hobby level, my actual time spent reading or thinking about literature so little these days and I thought about my time spent on the other side of Union Square for those two years and what an amazing time that was, how satisfied I was to look at books all day and talk to people about them all day and hear what they were reading and to tell them things I loved. I really did live in a world peopled mostly by dead women and men for a couple years and it was such a joy, something I miss now when I spend my days answering phones and giving wake up calls and counting laundry and doing fairly brainless, fairly soulless tasks. The difference is that I am making way more money now, but maybe that doesn't matter, maybe it does. I am not sure. Maybe the question is one more of time management and my own laziness. Maybe there is no question. Maybe just instead it was an observation, a rumination on what time and life means, and thinking to times that have passed me by now, thinking of these new moments I live in and what they mean. Biography Bookshop on Bleecker Street is closing tomorrow, a fixture on that block for decades. It is moving down the block to a new location under a different name, but was forced to move because of an insane increase in rent. And we have lost so many already and so to hear Patti Smith talk about this old culture of New York bookstores really did make me envious of a time that I am seeing the last gasps of now.

Her approach to life is really inspiring. She smelled that flower during the beginning of her interview, is taking the time to see these things and appreciate them, to recognize the beauty. There are constant connections and ghosts present and she is in love with old poets, Rimbaud and Blake especially. She even played some songs tonight, which I wasn't expecting at all, and which made me insanely giddy, patting Jacob's arms really fast to try to convey my happiness without screaming about it in the crowded bookstore, not shouting "Holy Fuck! Holy Fuck! Holy Fuck" like I wanted to, my patting of him arm some silent way of trying to convey that. She closed the evening by performing "Because the Night," prefacing it with a bit of the song's backstory and how Robert Mapplethorpe was really happy for her when it did so well and remarked slightly jealousy that she had become famous first. I felt really privy to some secrets listening to her talk and by reading this book.

When the event was over, we streamed out on to the street and met up with some of Jacob's friends. They were young, his age. He is young and most times I am unaware of this but to see him in their company made me feel a bit awkward, feeling slightly old. I had Patti Smith on my mind and the girls were wearing heels and talking about where to buy coke. One of them shook my hand really politely and unnaturally like you do when you are meeting an older adult or someone interviewing you, not a natural hello that you would direct to a peer, and I felt way too weird and uncomfortable to continue hanging out with them, to go eat with them. I told them I was still under Patti's spell and wanted to go read more of her, which I did. I came home, ordered some pizza, drank some beer, listened to Patti Smith on my computer, and read this depressing news about the election in Massachusetts.

And I could let it get me down, I could spend too much of my energy feeling demoralized that a fairly liberal state voted this way, that health care reform is now in jeopardy when it was so close to happening, and I am going to try not to. It's not going to change anything and it is a distraction. Instead I am going to read about these two kids starting out in the world, committing themselves to art, and will continue to be inspired by the book to keep reading, to keep dreaming, and to write, to create things, not only written things, tangible things, but also beautiful friendships, mystic connections, beauty, just to fucking live my life like one, like I am going to die (which I am) and to make the most of this thing.

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