Friday, February 18, 2011

kids will be kids

I'm still thinking about Patti Smith's Just Kids. Not only was it a great read, but it was a trip down memory lane. Not exactly my memories, but I did have a similar New York young artist experience about twenty years later than Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe. Maybe it's something about the city, or just about that time in your life, but the combination of a young kid on the loose in New York always makes for some amazing times.

My New York experience was actually a combination of Patti's and Robert's. Like Patti, I came from south Jersey and was definitely the "country mouse" walking on 14th Street in rubber flip flops while the natives smirked at me. The soles of my feet would be black at the end of the day. Like Robert I went to art school, in my case Parsons—he went to Pratt. I also lived in Brooklyn with an assortment of roommates.

collage - rock and roll
Brooklyn and New York goings-on.
Max's Kansas City was just a memory by the time I hit town. The "in" spots in my day were The Pyramid, Danceteria, Area. CBGB was more about hardcore than punk. But the idea was the same. Go out to see and be seen. I think my friends and I may have had a bit more fun than Patti did at first, because we spent a lot of our time dancing. It sounds like Patti wasn't much of a club-goer, but was accompanying Robert in his quest to be seen. I did see a lot of the same New York celebrities that Patti rubbed shoulders with. My dorm was a building down from Warhol's studio on Union Square and I used to see him all the time, strolling the neighborhood, flanked by two gorgeous blond young men. Mick Jagger rode the elevator up in our building to vist the illustrator Antonio.

Elizabeth, Andy and Robin
At the Warhol opening at MoMA. And no, that's not Andy.
I also worked retail like Patti to pay the rent. I worked at the Museum of Modern Art and met many artists, and got my second art degree just spending my lunch hours in the museum. A bunch of us who worked at MoMA went to the Whitney in 1988 to see the Mapplethorpe retrospective. It was amazing. I had seen his work in the city, but just a few pieces here or there. But seeing the photographs large-scale—a beautiful lily juxtaposed with an S&M couple—it is hard to deny the artist's refined eye. He treated every subject equally, with a glossy and perfect surface. I saw his Patti Smith photos, too, and smiled in recognition at familiar album cover art. I had no idea at the time of their strong link. It was just another celebrity photo in a series of celebrity photos. I keep thinking I saw Mapplethorpe there, too, but in New York you see so many people. I can't be sure.

Robert Mapplethorpe at his Whitney Retrospective, 1988 Copyright © Jonathan Becker / Vanity Fair
The most poignant part of the book is Patti's slow realization that the man she loves doesn't love her the same way. She pulls away, gets angry, gets pulled back in, and decides that they are too important to each other to not stay close. I'll never forget my grandmother telling me when I had been accepted to art school to be careful who I fell in love with. She was in the Parsons Interior Design program, before it was a college, in 1929. She had fallen hard for a man who became her lifelong friend, but also was her first heartbreak. Most of the guys at college in my day were pretty open about their sexuality, so I don't think I could have had Patti's or my grandmother's experience. I did have a brief crush on a guy who wasn't completely out yet, but it was short, because I figured out we liked the same sorts of guys pretty quickly. And then we became friends.

It's interesting that the bohemian experience, whatever the decade, can be so similar. It makes me wonder what my daughter's twenties will be like. As much as I'm terrified at the prospect of even her teens at this point I have to admit to a little excitement for her. Will she, like her mom and her grandma and her great-grandma before her, also want to find herself in New York? Will New York still be the "place to be" for the twenty-something set in another fifteen years? CBGB is no more and the Chelsea Hotel is up for sale, but I guess these iconic joints will be replaced with new ones. Kids will be kids, so a whole new generation of escapades is on the horizon.
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