From today’s perspective, the ideas promoted by the representatives of ‘flower children’ generation through sixties and seventies, appear rather overly idealistic and naïve.
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Nevertheless, there can be little doubt as to the fact that, while advancing these ideas, the affiliates of hippie and punk movements never ceased acting in an intellectually honest manner.
It is not only that they genuinely believed in the beneficence of an idea of humanity’s liberation from religious/capitalist oppression, but they were able to incorporate this idea into the very fabric of their everyday living – they actively practiced their beliefs (Tarr 6).
The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to a new edition of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, in which she provides readers with an insight onto different aspects of her early biography, mainly concerned with author’s pursuance of a romantic relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
As it appears from Smith’s memoir, ever since her childhood years, she has grown utterly fascinated with the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud: “I had found solace in Arthur Rimbaud… He possessed an irreverent intelligence that ignited me, and I embraced him as compatriot, kin, and even secret love” (21).
In its turn, this defined the qualitative essence of author biography’s consequential phases, because even though that, formally speaking, Smith’s first encounter with Robert Mapplethorpe was essentially accidental, it nevertheless appears to have been dialectically predetermined.
After all, in Smith’s eyes, Mapplethorpe was nothing short of a walking embodiment of Rimbaud’s values. In fact, even Mapplethorpe’s very appearance used to remind Smith of her favorite French poet: “He (Mapplethorpe) wore a huge Baudelairean bow and an armband identical to the one worn by a very defiant Arthur Rimbaud” (35).
In its turn, this explains why, even after having broken up with Mapplethorpe as her boyfriend, Smith never ceased remaining a very close friend with him. Apparently, their relationship was deeply spiritual, which is why it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that it lasted right up until Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989.
Apart from having succeeded in enlightening readers on the nature of her spiritual closeness with Mapplethorpe, reflected by the essence of both individuals’ artistic aspirations, Smith also succeeded in helping younger readers to gain a better understanding of what accounted for the actual realities of her ‘countercultural living’ in New York.
As it appears from the memoir, there used to be a strongly defined spirit of genuineness to the ‘cultural revolution’, which was taking place at the time.
According to Smith, unlike what it is often being the case with today’s artists and musicians, whose activities seem to be motivated by the prospect of a monetary reward alone; at the time of ‘cultural revolution’, the activities of America’s intellectually advanced artists and musicians have been motivated by purely idealistic considerations, on their part: “We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect, and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll.
We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation” (245). Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think that the themes and motifs of Smith’s memoir are being solely concerned with author’s irrational strive to idealize just about all the aspects of ‘cultural revolution’, in which she participated rather passionately.
For example, even though in Just Kids Smith never stops admiring Mapplethorpe’s photographic art, she nevertheless remains perfectly aware of the fact that it was namely her boyfriend’s addiction to drugs, which served him as a foremost artistic inspiration: “Robert’s early work was clearly drawn from his experiences with LSD” (98).
At the same time, however, there is no even a trace of judgmentalism to how Smith elaborates on her and her friends’ drug-related experiences.
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According to the author, throughout sixties and seventies, the very atmosphere of intellectual liberation, which dominated in New York’s artistic circles of the time, was naturally causing ‘flower children’ to experiment with drugs.
Such Smith’s idea is being explored in regards to a number of socially prominent New Yorkers of the era, such as Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll and Allen Ginsberg, which in Just Kids appear to be the individuals who thought of expansion of their intellectual horizons as such that represented their lives’ foremost priority.
Therefore, it would not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that Smith’s memoir does not only represent a high literary but also philosophical value (Rogers 47).
After all, it is namely intellectually flexible Americans’ endowment with cognitive open-mindedness, which traditionally served as a driving force behind the process of this country remaining on the path of a continuous social, cultural and scientific progress.
Given the fact that this idea is being subtly promoted throughout memoir’s entirety, readers’ exposure to the semantic content of Smith’s memoir should prove utterly beneficial.
By gaining a better understanding of the essence of young Smith’s experiences, anxieties and aspirations, readers are not only being provided with an opportunity to learn about what used to account for the particulars of author’s ‘countercultural’ living, but they are also being prompted to adopt open-mindedness as an integral part of their own lives.
Rogers, Jude. “The Boy Looked at Patti.” New Statesman, 139.4990 (2010): 47-48. Print.
Smith, Patty. Just Kids. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010. Print.
Tarr, Joe. The Words and Music of Patti Smith. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008. Print.