Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Patti Smith and living the creative life.

I’ve just finished reading Just Kids, by Patti Smith, about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I saw Patti Smith in concert, supporting Bob Dylan.

She was part of the New York scene in the70s, where the most famous artists, poets, rock n rollers and theatre practitioners hung out together. Patti lived with Robert at the Chelsea hotel, went out with Sam Shepherd (they wrote Cowboy Mouth together), and Allen Lanier (of Blue Oyster Cult), knew Janis Joplin, William Burroughs and members of Andy Warhol's Factory. She hung out at Max’s and CBGBs. She supported herself by working in bookshops, writing album reviews and finding second hand treasures to sell. (The most surprising thing was that people seemed to be in the habit of visiting each other with a fish to fry. Literally.) She married Fred Sonic Smith (of MC5), had two children with him, and continued working. She doesn’t mention who looks after the children while she is working. The memoir ends with Robert’s death.

What struck me, as a feminist mother (because I’m on the lookout for these things) is the fact that she had a child as a teenager who she gave away. Like Joni Mitchell, she knew she couldn’t raise a child (unsupported by a partner) and live a creative life. On giving away her child and moving to New York, where she was homeless in the beginning (and met Robert) Patti vowed (as had Robert) to dedicate her life to art. Joni has always fascinated me. When bedridden with polio she vowed to dedicate her life to art (Joni paints as well as makes music) and she did. Yet when she was reunited with her daughter she said that creating art/music was just something she did to spend the time until she found her daughter. Well, it didn’t look that way to me, Joni. Interestingly, Patti never mentions that child after giving him away.

Joni is also quoted as saying about her music career that it is doing what you love in an industry you hate, which is kind of a good analogy for motherhood itself sometimes.

Yesterday I read this interview in The Guardian with actress Kim Catrell.

This peripatetic childhood contributed to making her feel like "a constant outsider", but that also came from her "knowing that I wasn't really normal. I didn't want to get married and I didn't want kids – I knew I wanted to act." And does acting preclude marriage and children? "Oh yeah," she says with a dry laugh.

Motherhood and the creative life. Compatible? Possible?

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