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TRIBUTE VIDEO:The Magic Hour Always Comes Right Before Dawn

January 21, 2010

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, soul mates and “just kids”

Just the other evening, I meandered into the Union Square branch of Barnes and Noble. Just so happened that this coincided with the launch of Patti Smith’s book, “Just Kids,”  her memoir of her history with first husband/soul mate Robert Mapplethorpe. The place was packed with people, girls draped in black pea coats and capes; guys in leather jackets, women of middle age or older who still retained a certain been there done that grit.  These were Patti’s minions, the late ones wandering in like me, didn’t even get close to the fourth floor where she graced a mere thousand people with a staged interview on the book.

I just wanted to graze through a copy, already en route to my home. Even this was difficult to obtain. But securing one in a secret corner and ducking the store help, I noticed  that Patti started the tome by remembering the first time she saw a swan, on a river with her mother.

She was transfixed, describing it (now) as: “The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.”

She takes our hand in a way that only Patti can. Each word evokes an image, spurs a membrane, ignites the seed of a star or a ripe misery, just about to be buried deep. Whatever, the case, her words tie us to a universe of happenings, stirrings. This is her magic. And I believe, even though I have yet to finish “Just Kids,” that she started with a swan, because Mapplethorpe was her swan, her mate for life, in a creative ethereal sense. But who am I to speak for Patti Smith? She does that well enough on her own.

A little over a year ago, well before I met Patti again at the Robert Miller Gallery and  at dinner last week, I worried that she had perhaps lost her soul a little, as evident from the post I ran at the end of fashion week (Sept 2008), when someone invited me to a Patti Smith fashion party. The dialogue– part of what I wrote then, copied here — went  like this:

“You going to the Patti Smith Costume National party?” A stylist friend asked me this evening. Apparently Patti — our generation’s female Bob Dylan — is hosting tonight’s fete at the Italian label’s store and my pal craved a nut of integrity to motivate her after a week of fluff and frills. “I just don’t see the connection.” She told me.

Yeah, okay `the Godmother of Punk’ does rock Costume National and Ann Demeulemeester sleek black ensembles. She’s an individualist of style with a studied eye. But also, she lives to create, each day. She told New York Magazine that she needs to finish something, an image, some verse, before she retires to sleep each night.

Her one bit of advice, when she and I discussed writing fiction. “Keep working.”

Lest my fans think this will become the Patti Smith dedication page, fear not. But, I’m reprising this video for her. Since on the eve of her fashion fete, I was up in a room with a few scrappy musicians and spontaneous poets, watching the sun come up, playing with verse and Arlo Guthrie, living in the moment. The tribes that we seek (whether in verse, art, fashion, music)  remain  hidden  in corners. But, in this age of celebutards, it’s worth the excavation, away from the crap.

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