2015-06-04 - 6:55 p.m.
I just read Patti Smith's Just Kids, the story of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. I must say I had no idea how much of her Horses-era image was indeed performance. Like many another girl of my day, I first learned of her existence by seeing the cover of Horses in the record store, and it is indeed one of the great images. Sold! I bought it having never heard a single track before I brought it home, and I've never regretted it (although I suspect my mother wasn't real happy). Eventually the record was replaced by the CD. How many times have I played that record over the years...I can't even imagine.
And it was image, all a carefully constructed story between the two of them, a complete invention from start to finish. I remember hearing, years later, that she'd gone off and had babies, and I'm just...what. I didn't even really want to know any more about it because it just seemed like she'd been defeated somehow. But now I realize she was nothing like the picture at all and never was. It was just an act. She saw Jim Morrison perform and said, "I can do that." And, eventually, she did.
I suppose an artist has no obligation to be anything like her art, does she? The photo and the music are still fucking brilliant. I just find some of her thought processes entirely opaque...
Smith seems to romanticize sex work a bit. Of course whenever she ran out of money she just got a job or stole something or did buy & sell of used books, always somehow finding some rare edition in the nick of time to save the day. It wasn't like she was the one standing on the streetcorner. Poor Mapplethorpe apparently couldn't hold a job to save his life and was reduced to selling his, erm, sexual services on the street. She said she told him she'd bring in the money, but she didn't seem to bring in much, and anyway how do you feel safe if you can't bring in your own money? It's a constant refrain in the book: Robert was worried about money, Robert couldn't pay for film, Robert had to take Polaroids because he couldn't afford to get film developed...She seems to have a very romantic view about all this. But I don't know how romantic it is. He had a limited number of years to use his youth and beauty to catch the rich man, since he wasn't earning himself. Eek. You wouldn't think it was romantic if he was a woman. You'd think it was a little sad he had to go through all that to find recognition.
It really makes you wonder what you know about somebody from seeing their picture. Apparently you don't know anything. It's light on paper.
All Rights Reserved, Copyright 2002-2017 by Elaine Radford