Recently, Josh and I read a book together. It was fun having our own little book club and sharing ideas about the characters and themes as we went. But mostly it was enjoyable because the book was set in the late 1960’s, a time that feels very close to my soul. Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” is the story of her special friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, following them through back alleys at grimy-chic hotel rooms of Manhattan in 1967 and beyond. As Patti and Robert work on their respective crafts, smoke cigarettes, and explore New York, stars like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jimi Hendrix weave their way into the cloth of this rare story. I could not put the book down, filled with a glittering nostalgia that doesn’t really belong to me. I know Josh felt it too.
Growing up, my mom held onto her favorites from a bygone era; it was the late ’80’s but her loyalty was with Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and their cronies. Though it had moved from records to cassette tapes (and later, to CD’s), this became the music of my childhood. I remember vividly the draping silks and velvets, the strands of beads and pearls, and the dotted cotton voiles that comprised my dress-up duds. Mom’s most treasured outfits from her college days and the years that followed in New York became the stuff of my childhood, and I loved it all dearly.
My first college course was an intensive workshop on Andy Warhol, taught by a contemporary of and expert on the artist (who had also taught my dad, back in ’72). Of course we learned about Warhol’s beginnings and every step that took him from corporate commissions in the 1950’s to artistic actualization and the complications therein. But it was the stuff of the late 1960’s through the mid-70’s that really struck me and fired me up for a string of some of the best papers I believe I’ve ever written. The Warhol seminar was an enriching class and a perfect way to set the tone for the next four years of my life, making my own choices out in the world. I also would feel continuously connected to my parents over that period of time, as I started my days, sat through classes, and sipped cheap wine in the same buildings they had, and as I explored the same rivers, small towns, and mountains of Vermont that had been their backdrop during college in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s.
The stories that have always moved me the most are set in the time between 1968 and the mid-70’s where I picture a blur of long, wavy hair, the crooning of some uber-talented twenty-something paired with the strumming on a guitar, dark rooms, bright summer days, and love. I reference much of my personal fashion and beauty choices off of this period as well; whenever I get close to looking like Mom did in ’74, I feel a surge of cool wash over me. I almost feel like I remember this time, though of course I do not. But today, cueing up my iPod, it’s almost always the stuff I turn to first. Joni’s Blue, Joan’s Diamonds & Rust, Simon & Garfunkel, Lennon, and more. They may not be my own memories, but they sure have impacted more than just their own generation. If you were born in the wrong era too, I suggest you pick up “Just Kids” today, and catapult yourself back to where you belong.