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Just Kids

I will forever remember the sticky summer of 2014 as the season I read Just Kids by Patti Smith. A vulnerably honest and painstaking account of New York’s transient art scene in the late sixties and early seventies. Great personalities touching and circling one another like atoms, charged electrons sparking, personalities fading, and the never-ending array of those who were “allowed” to sit at the main table at Max’s Kansas City. Artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, transvestites, all knights in Arthur’s proverbial round table. Throughout the memoirs, Smith casually runs into Dali, Joplin, Ginsburg, Corso, and a whole slew of indelible characters.

I mostly read the book with deep visceral aching, like a yearning to time-travel, or a wish to be born in someone else’s circumstances, or body. However romanticized and naive that might be, truly, I am jealous of Patti Smith. Waxing poetic on Genet, Baudelaire and her inspirations, it seems Bohemian ennui spans generations.

And yet, being truthful to myself, and to reality (that cunning thing), the streets were mean. The young children were dreaming in lofts with no heat, the gonorrhea infected souls in homes with no showers, no medicine, pee in tupperware on the floor, coffee of the instant variety. Without great luxuries, but embodying opulence. Her childhood somewhat picturesque, and yet also devastated by teen pregnancy leading to a secret adoption, and the end of formal schooling.

Flea-ridden artists describing their struggles, and not just the spoils of success, are hard to find. Robert Mapplethorpe and Smith, in their years of homelessness, pennilessness and struggle tried anything to succeed – writing; drawing; photography; jewelry design; theatre; performance poetry; installations, escorting.

I lived on 21st Street and 7th avenue for three years. In the exact footsteps of her journey, tiptoeing on the same pavement, and yet her ghosts didn’t whistle. I passed the Chelsea Hotel with not so much as a nod sometimes, in all its majestic beauty and history. Her NYC might be gone, but her beautiful love story (more about relationships as connections of human spirit) is an allegory that can occur anywhere.

And so, exactly as Patti would not want, here is a commercialized simulacra of her world – reducing her memories to things:
Patti Smith, Just Kids
 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9 // 10 

“Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.” ― Patti Smith, Just Kids

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Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of traveling to Illinois for work. When most Americans conjure up an image of the Land of Lincoln, or the Prairie State, it includes one of two things: Chicago or corn. Indeed, I was able to see both of those on my trip. Beginning on Sunday night, a colleague and I flew from Queens, NY to Chicago, IL.

From the international airport, we hopped on a moral rural connecting flight to Peoria, IL. Peoria is actually the oldest European settlement in Illinois, founded in 1691 by a French explorer. There is an ongoing understanding of  Peoria as the archetypical example of middle American culture. Indeed, the place becomes referenced in pop culture often as a stand-in for Anywhere, USA.  This filler place name is considered the representative of mainstream taste, hence the bromide “Will it play in Peoria?”

“The sound of the engines and the smell of the grain / We go riding on the abolition grain train / Steven A. Douglas was a great debater / But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator.” – Sufjan Stevens, Decatur

Finally, from the archetypal town, we rented a car and drove an additional hour to Galesburg, IL. Although small, and certainly rural, Galesburg has some key pieces of American history: the birthplace of esteemed poet and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Sandburg; the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on a temporary speaker’s platform attached to Knox College’s Old Main building on October 7, 1858; and a smattering of railroad and baseball history. Quintessential Americana. 

The land of open skies, steel, corn and brick.