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Currently showing posts tagged Patti Smith

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.

    To revisit an old trope of ours, travel, read, planes, swim, read, beach, Mexico, drink, pool, read, run, read, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan, which is to say we were travel, we read, and we are now Barbarian Days: A Surfers Life. We are also something else, what... well first, let's begin by saying how much we are reminded of Just Kids by Patti Smith when musing on the quite enthralling experience that was engulfing Barbarian Days, and second, we are reminded of what we once thought we might, and still yet could, be. Should we unpack all of that? We should, clearly, and we will, now, post-haste. To begin at the end, so to speak, this is how we mostly finished our rumination on Just Kids:

    "We are wondering how we are supposed to be living now, when so much isn't going as planned, but the need to be a creative force of some kind is unrelenting? We are also wondering how Patti Smith and by extension her fellow kid Robert Mapplethorpe did it. How anyone does it? Hungry. Lacking for money, shelter and any signs that something great even awaited them at all beyond the belief that greatness was somehow awaiting them. We've never lived like that, and maybe we never could, but if Just Kids has shown us anything, it's that this is a real option, and a choice, to be someone, find something, seek out kindred spirits who will push you, love you, support you, and make you believe that you are here to create based on the mere fact that they believe in you."

    This passage, and yes it is obnoxious to be quoting one self, and yet here we are, is at the very heart of every reaction and reminder we had to endlessly lyrical Barbarian Days. Barbarian Days is about many things, family, surfing technique, surf boards, legendary surfers, surf spots, and surf history, all things surfing, waves, so much about waves and how they work, and do not, Los Angeles and its surrounding environs in the 1970s, one of our favorite topics, friendship and brotherhood, and suffering, but more than anything it's about obsession. In this case the obession is about finding, understanding, loving, possessing, hiding, owning, succumbing (to), and surfing, the perfect wave at the expense of all else, including not only family and most all romantic relationships, but work, finances, comfort, safety, professional development, eating... just everything. And this is where Barbarian Days is so much like Just Kids, the sheer need to pursue one's obsession at the expense of all else, and the eloquence and command of langauge both authors possess in painting their respective pictures of obsession. That one is about making art and the other the art of bending physics, might call for some debate about the utility of their respective pursuits and the defintion of creation, but the authors, if not the books themselves, are kindred spirits, and writers of great facility, and both were willing to live lives of great scarcity to see their respective obsessions evolve towards some kind of ongoing, and cumulative, ownership and fruition. Something we don't know we were ever capable of.

    Which raises a question about art and obsession and what it means to live it. Both books show us its real, and a choice, but it remains as hard to fully imagine as ever. And yet, we do believe that one can still find people to push you, and you can still become something you haven't been, which brings us to what we once thought we might be. Not an artist per se, though we want that now. Nor an obsessive, though with running first, and now writing, we have certainly eschewed activities and people, family and comfort, even safety, possibly fincances, and definitely relationships, for both. But we always did want to wander as Finnegan did for so many years, to live, breathe, and love elsewhere, and then do so again at the next place, and the one after that, new places, new cultures, new people and environments. And we haven't been that. Not close. But that doesn't mean we still can't find a way to do this in whatever way is most comfortable for us. The children will grow older. The need for stability and structure will change. The ability to avoid discomfort and suffering to make it all work will be minimized, because the world has changed, culture and work are fluid, and we have changed, and so as we noted when we wrote about Just Kids, that things have not played-out in recent years as we thought they might, things may yet work out. Creative things may happen in new and interesting places. Work will become ever more portable. The hustle will produce cool shit. And if we never quite become Patti Smith or William Finnegan, some kind of Barbarian Days may yet become thing, with laptops and internet, Google hangouts and shared docs, working here and there, wherever, however, may yet be real, and life will change, which really, is all we've ever strived for, changing lives, ours, yours, everybody's.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - Gunmetal Blue and Wanted: Elevator Man by the Joseph G. Peterson.

    We began this year reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and asking whether "the act of wanting to create art inherently political or does the work itself have to be political in intent?" The feeling was that to decide that one can somehow live wholly as an artist such as Patti Smith has done is a political act in and of itself. We were thinking about this sentiment as we read Chicago author Joseph G. Peterson's new novel Gunmetal Blue, as well as Wanted: Elevator Man back to back, the latter because we somehow inexplicably missed it when it came out, and that gap just wouldn't do if we are to be the Peterson completists we strive to be. Peterson is one of Chicago's more prolific, yet still (quite undeservedly) more obscure, writers who represents the best of what it even means to be a Chicago writer - local, even parochial in the best sense of the word, blue collar, writing of this beautifully ugly city in all the ways Chicago writers do - no whiff of pretention, nor even the urbane. The characters remain of this world, denizens of Wabash Avenue, train tracks, grime, and bars, with their ineloquent timbre, and grand speeches, making their way in a world that does not care about them, and does not exist to anyone who lives on a coast, any coast, and outside the city limits. And yet, all of that is an exaltation of what Peterson does, not what he is, a working-class writer as grinder, and finder of truths, who is all artist, but still going to work, nose to grindstone at all times. We write this, because his workman-like qualities are not political in and of themselves, and this despite the poetry he brings to these qualities in his characters, but his work is subtly political at all times, and never more so than in his new joint Gunmetal Blue, a noirish detective tale that is ultimately about guns, access to guns, and the trail of blood and loss they inevitably leave behind when available, and accessible, to all. Is Gunmetal Blue an anti-gun book then? Maybe, but that's too simple.

    It's an exploration of grief and all that violence tears from us. It is also about guns and how guns and violence are never far enough apart. It is also a triumph, as Peterson books tend to be, which brings us to Wanted: Elevator Man as well, a commentary certainly on those left behind by an economy, and a body politic, that no longer exists to serve the little, or is it common, man, or woman, assuming it ever did, but also a mission statement as it were on the kinds of stories, and more importantly, the kinds of characters who populate Peterson's life's work. We were particularly struck by a line late in the book, which is a sort of mission statement for this missions statement, writing by us that is too cute and meta by half we know, but here we are reading back to back Peterson pieces, and swimming in all those tumbling Peterson elocutions, and so, meta, and cute, we are. But now onto that line (page 131): "Home," he said aloud. "Home. Where has it gone and what have I come to?" Where has it gone and what have I come to? This is the essence of Peterson, the search, the confusion, and the constant seeking of identity when nothing feels quite clear or defined, not even when it should, and we believe we deserve, or at least know better. It's also certain to change your life, not just the line, but Gunmetal Blue, and all the rest of it too.

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - Just Kids by Patti Smith.

    Is the act of wanting to create art inherently political or does the work itself have to be political in intent? A question no doubt influenced by the current political climate, though well worth asking regardless. Said differently, is the mere idea that one might make a life revolving around the creation of art so radical as to be political? Is this decision, one that is such an affront to societal expectations for structure and stability that the mere desire to even want such a life is a repudiation of what we are otherwise taught to do and be? Or is the artist merely in on a secret otherwise guarded by the republic - you are allowed to create, we have room for the artist, and while we won't let you know this, if you figure it out, we will ask you to suffer first, with no guarantee of success or happiness, but if you are willing to suffer, and put in the time, searching for rhythm and voice, the hours melding with the hunger, the joys sporadic, albeit spectacular, then go with God. Now, maybe none of this exists anywhere but inside our heads, and maybe none of this has to do with the current political climate, as much as our personal climate, one where work hasn't been working so well, and the desire to create all of the time, which includes creating a lifestyle that allows for this creation in the first place, is where we're at, have been at and want to be at. And so it is, that Just Kids by Patti Smith has been staring at us for at least the last year plus, and we have finally chosen to pick it up when we needed to do so, something we think Patti Smith would appreciate. It is also true however, that the personal is always political and we are wondering how we are supposed to be living now, when so much isn't going as planned, but the need to be a creative force of some kind is unrelenting? We are also wondering how Patti Smith and by extension her fellow kid Robert Mapplethorpe did it. How anyone does it? Hungry. Lacking for money, shelter and any signs that something great even awaited them at all beyond the belief that greatness was somehow awaiting them. We've never lived like that, and maybe we never could, but if Just Kids has shown us anything, it's that this is a real option, and a choice, to be someone, find something, seek out kindred spirits who will push you, love you, support you, and make you believe that you are here to create based on the mere fact that they believe in you. Which may not be political in the slightest, but it is sure to change one's life - theirs, ours, yours, everyone's - and in Smith's hands, and words, beautifully, lovingly, and poetically at that.