JUST KIDS – PATTI SMITH

1. Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added. Young men will adopt his gait. Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls. He will be condemned and adored. His excesses damned or romanticized. In the end, truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artist. It will not fall away. Man cannot judge it. For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him. (p.vii)

2. The skyscrapers were beautiful. They did not seem like mere corporate shells. They were monuments to the arrogant yet philanthropic spirit of America. The character of each quadrant was invigorating and one felt the flux of its history. The old world and the emerging one served up in the brick and mortar of the artisan and the architects. (p.27)

3. I was beat and hungry, roaming with a few belongings wrapped in a cloth, hobo style, a sack without a stick – my suitcase stashed in Brooklyn. (p.27)

4. I sized him up while he was looking at the sky. He had a Jimi Hendrix look, tall, slim, and soft-spoken, though a bit ragged. He posed no threat, uttered no sexual innuendos, no mention of the physical plane, except the most basic. (p.27)

5. Fifty cents was real money in 1967. (p.29)

6. Then I began to walk downtown, absorbed in my own condition. (p.29)

7. But I had a strange reaction watching Jim Morrison. Everyone around me seemed transfixed, but I observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness. I remember this feeling much more clearly than the concert . I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do that. I can’t say why I thought this. I had nothing in my experience to make me think that would ever be possible, yet I hsrbored that conceit. I felt both kinship and contempt for him. I could feel his self-consciousness as well as his supreme confidence. He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian. When anyone asked how the Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had responded to their concert. (p.59)

8. Often I’d sit and try to write or draw, but all of the manic activity in the streets, coupled with the Vietnam War, made my efforts seem meaningless. I could not identify with political movements. In trying to join them I felt overwhelmed by yet another form of bureaucracy. I wondered if anything I did mattered. (p.65)

9. He never seemed to question his artistic drives, and by his example, I understood that what matters is the work: the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the weave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion. To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged. (p.65)

10. I didn’t feel for Warhol the way Robert did. His work reflected a culture I wanted to avoid. I hated the soup and felt little for the can. I preferred an artist who transformed the time, not mirrored it. (p.69)

11. My sister and I returned to New York on July 21. Everybody was talking about the moon. A man had walked upon it, but I hardly noticed. (p.85)

12. The springs of the ancient mattress poked through the stained sheet. The place reeked of piss and exterminator fluid, the wallpaper peeling like dead skin in summer. There was no running water in the corroded sink, only occasional rusted droplets plopping through the night. (p.86)

13. There was nothing romantic about this place, seeing half-naked guys trying to find a vein in limbs infested with sores. (p.86)

14. Sitting by Robert, examining our own fate, I nearly regretted the pursuit of art. (p.87)

15. In 1969, Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues still had a postwar feel. I passed a fishing and tackle shop, a used record store with Parisian jazz discs barely perceptible through the dusty windows, a sizable Automat, and the Oasis Bar with a neon sign of a palm tree. Across the street was a branch of the public library next to a sprawling YMCA. (p.96)

16. He didn’t have the nineteenth-century view of convalescence that I had, savoring the opportunity of being bedridden to read books or pen long, feverish poems. (p.99)

17. I had no concept of what life at the Chelsea Hotel would be like when we checked in, but I soon realized it was a tremendous stroke of luck to wind up there. We could have had a fair-sized railroad flat in the East Village for what we were paying, but to dwell in this eccentric and damned hotel provided a sense of secutity as well as a stellar education. The goodwill that surrounded us was proof that the Fates were conspiring to help their enthusiastic children. (p.99)

18. The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Viril Thompson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the succesful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums. (p.112)

19. So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls has espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillers. (p.113)

20. The politics at Max’s were very similar to high school, except the popular people were not the cheerleaders or football heroes and the prom queen would most certainly be a he, dressed as a she, knowing more about being a she than most she’s.  (p.116)

21. We had a neighbor, an overweight sad sack in a rumpled overcoat, who walked his French bulldog back and forth on Twenty-third Street. He and his dog had identical faces of slack folding skin. We coded him Pigman. (p.128)

22. Who can know the heart of youth but youth itself? (p.135)

23. When I mourned my inability to finish any of my poems, he quoted Paul Valery to me: “Poets don’t finish poems, they abandon them,” (…) (p.137)

24. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university. (p.138)

25. Whatever it meant, with just a haircut, I miraculously turned androgynous overnight. (p.140)

26. The intense community of musicians staying at the Chelsea then would often find their way into Janis’s suite with their acoustic guitars. I was privy to the process as they worked on songs for her new album. Janis was the queen of the radiating wheel, sitting in her easy chair with a bottle of Southern Comfort, even in the afternoon. Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, both with the same speech patterns, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments. (p.159)

27. Jim and I had some very sweet times. I’m sure there were downs as well, but my memories are served with nostalgia and humor. Ours were ragtag days and nights, as quixotic as Keats and as rude as the lice we both came to suffer, each certain they originated from the other as we underwent a tedious regimen of Kwell lice shampooing in any one of the unmanned Chelsea Hotel bathrooms. (p.167)

28. Some of us are born rebellious. Reading the story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford, I identified with her mutinous spirit. I remember passing shopwindows with my mother and asking why people didn’t just kick them in. She explained that there were unspoken rules of social behavious, and that’s the way we coexist as people. I felt instantly confined by the notion that we are born into a world where everything was mapped out by those before us. I struggled to suppress destructive impulses and worked instead on creative ones. Still, the small rule-hating self within me did not die. (p.174)

29. I didn’t think they would publish it, but Jann called and said that although I talked like a truck driver, I had written an elegant piece. (p.178)

30. I did it for Poetry. I did it for Rimbaud, and I did it for Gregory. (p.180)

31. (…) often contradition is the clearest way to truth. (p.200)

32. He put his arm around my shoulders and walked me home. It was nearly dawn. It took me a while to comprehend the nature of that trip, the demon vision of the city. Random sex. Trails of glitter shaking from muscled arms. Catholic medals torn from shaved throats. The fabulous festival I could not embrace. I did not create that night, but the images of racing Cockettes and Wild Boys would soon be transmuted into the vision of a boy in the hallway, drinking a glass of tea. (p.243)

33. William Burroughs was simultaneously old and young. Part sheriff, part gumshoe. All writer. He had a medicine chest he kept locked, but if you were in pain he would open it. He did not like to see his loved ones suffer. If you were infirm he would feed you. He’s appear at your door with a fish wrapped in newsprint and fry it up. He was inaccessible to a girl but I loved him anyway.

He camped in the Bunker with his typewriter, his shotgun, and his overcoat. From time to time he’d slip on his coat, saunter our way, and take his place at the table we reserved for him in front of the stage. Robert, in his leather jacket, often sat with him. Johnny and his horse. (p.243)

34. There are many things I remember of this time. The smell of piss and beer. (p.245)

35. Christ was a man worthy to rebel against, for he was rebellion itself. (p.247)

36. He was carrying death within him and I was carrying life. (p.271)

37. Robert dying: creating silence. Myself, destined to live, listening closely to a silence that would take a lifetime to express. (p.276)

38. Up and down the deserted beach I walked in my black wind coat. I felt within its asymmetrical roomy folds like a princess or a monk. I know Robert would have appreciated this picture: a white sky, a gray sea, and this singular black coat. (p.277)

39. Finally, by the sea, where God is everywhere, I gradually calmed. (p.278)

40. Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuitis 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 Cortes. 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. (p.279)

41. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was splendor we only partially imagined. (p.288)

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