A few weeks ago I finished Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a memoir which explores her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Not such an easy relationship to define. They had a love and devotion to one another that few people experience, both of them completely absorbed in the other’s creative energies, so dedicated to the idea of ‘becoming’ an artist as they sat in dingy quarters, sharing grilled cheese sandwiches, trying to express themselves through poems and photographs and sculptures and song.
As I was reading, it occurred to me that, back then, everyone knew one another, whether they were all hanging at the Chelsea Hotel or milling around Max’s Kansas city, desperate to make their way into Warhol’s Factory. One day someone would be sipping an egg cream and run into their mentor at the local diner. The next they would be sitting on a concrete stoop in the village and share a cigarette with Jimi Hendrix. All the sudden a crooning little bird named Janis Joplin would be in the neighboring apartment writing a song.
A few years back, when I read Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller, a book that follows the careers of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, I discovered the same thing. Early in their careers, well before fame and fortune, whether they were sitting at the piano in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, summering on the beaches of Cape Cod, or setting up camp in Laurel Canyon, everybody knew everybody. They all lived together sharing this desperate creative energy to become.
I began to wonder why I didn’t live in a hotel full of fiction writers. Why I wasn’t having poetry slams in abandoned warehouses, or setting up camp with painters and singers and actors and photographers. Tyler is sitting next to me on the couch watching British football, not agonizing over a blank journal or a tortured canvas.
So where are all the little communities of artists today? Where are all the collaborators forming their relationships? Is anyone sleeping in the Bowery hoping the next Bob Dylan will invite them to sleep on their couch until they sell their first book of poems?
It occurred to me that we’re all gathering in different ways. With hash tags and @ replies and blogger comments and guest posts and RSS feeds and Mr. Linkys. I may not be camped out at the Chelsea Hotel, sharing chance encounters with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, but sometimes I’ll tweet a #Fridayread and the author and I will get into a twitter conversation. I’ll see acknowledgements in published books for groups of people who formed critique groups on the Internet. Everybody’s out there but are we together?
It’s interesting to me that the successful artists mentioned above all found one another before they were successful in the streets of cities, in the back rooms of restaurants and warehouses, surrounding themselves with creative people to support and learn from. And that, now, we’re all doing the same thing through such a new medium.
So, what do you think? Do you wish we were all sleeping on one another’s floors in the East Village of Manhattan? Or are you happy to be sitting in your bathrobe tweeting with the next @jk_rowling?