Actually, buy it.
I just finished reading Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir of growing up in New York City, with her best friend Robert Mapplethorpe. Though after reading the book, I almost feel as if describing their relationship as just that is too simplistic. If there ever was a time for the use of the dreaded word “soulmates”, this would be it. For much of their lives, they lived and worked in tandem, and to Smith, Mapplethorpe was the driving force in helping her create her art. To read Smith’s book is to understand that there are certain people without whom we could never have become what we are.
Of this image, which graced the cover of Smith’s first album Horses, she says,
“I had my look in mind. He had his light in mind. That is all…When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us” (251).
Smith is a true artist. She manages to sound like less of a jack of all trades, and more like someone who was talented and flexible enough to have found dozens of ways of expressing herself. Her dedication to collecting, to creating from the bare minimum, flows through the entire narrative and made my fingers itch to produce things. She is incredibly honest about her life, without oversharing. Despite the drastic differences in the New York City’s we have grown up in, I felt connected to Smith by her commitment to the energy of the city. I almost envy the hunger she had to stay here, which was enough to get her through the times when she was, in fact, very hungry.
One of the driving forces of her narrative seems to center around belongings, despite often having very few of them. They were her art, her way of remembering and creating. She often describes shifts in her life around moving and leaving things behind, around the importance of what she chooses to bring with her. In describing the impact Mapplethorpe’s death had on her, Smith says,
“Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply. I got over the loss of his desk and chair, but never the desire to produce a string of words more precious than the emeralds of Cortés. Yet I have a lock of his hair, a handful of his ashes, a box of his letters, a goatskin tambourine. And in the folds of faded violet tissue a necklace, two violet plaques etched in Arabic, strung with black and silver threads, given to me by the boy who loved Michelangelo” (279).
As much as I feel overwhelmed by my pack rat tendencies, and as much as a show like Hoarders sickens me, belongings are always going to define us. They remind us of where we have been, and where we want to go. Though I admit that keeping my calculus notes doesn’t fall under the same category as collecting polaroids of my life, Smith seems to sadly acknowledge that when we are gone, all we have to hold onto is what we left behind.
As a bonus, my favorite Smith song, with Bruce Springsteen, of course. Listen up: