Writing Wednesday: If You Miss a Beat, You Create Another

14 Mar

I had the great privilege of hearing Patti Smith read from Just Kids at The New School a while back.  She read from the priceless scene in which she meets Allen Ginsberg at an automat.  I’m quite fond of kitsch automat culture, and used to frequent the one down on Saint Marks when it was still around.  Basically, an automat is fast fast food: you don’t even have to stand in line to order a burger and fries; you just slip a few quarters into a vending machine and out comes surprisingly delicious warm food.  Whenever I ate at the Automat, I felt like I was a character straight out of The Jetsons.  I was hooked on their mac-and-cheese egg rolls.  The resurgence of The Automat only stuck around for a few years, but as a whole they were big a few decades ago.  When Patti Smith was in her early twenties, scraping by to survive, she fed a few quarters into an automat to get some quick, cheap food.  When she turned the knob she discovered the price had gone up.  The machine had sucked up her meager coins and she was about to go hungry when Allen Ginsberg offered her the additional cents and even paid for a cup of coffee.  They get to talking, she knowing perfectly well he is the great poet, and he thinking the whole time she is a handsome boy!

I knew for a long time that I wanted to read Just Kids.  It had all the makings of a book I knew I’d love—New York City, Beat poets, artists, The Hotel Chelsea, Andy Warhol, music, and memoir.  The only problem was that I was inundated with reading assignments for classes and bills to pay for tuition and books for said classes.  Just Kids wasn’t constantly checked out of the library, which was probably for the best because I didn’t have the time to read it anyway.  But!  I have at last read it—savored it.  I so greatly enjoyed Smith’s poetic voice and her obsession over Rimbaud.  I liked reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s relationship, their strivings toward art, their fashion!  And I was so happy to discover that in addition to the Allen Ginsberg connection, Smith also befriended poet Gregory Corso, whose poetry I revere.

Patti Smith also began a relationship with Sam Shepard, and they end up collaborating on a play together.  I find great reassurance in reading their exchange.  Smith was nervous about the prospect of improvising during the play, and on page 185 of the first edition (HarperCollins, 2010), Smith asked, “What if I mess it up?  What if I screw up the rhythm?”  Shepard replied:

“You can’t,” he said.  “It’s like drumming.  If you miss a beat, you create another.”

From Just Kids I learned a lot about being part of the “scene,” which comes across as important to the evolution and success of one’s career.  However, this little line spoken by Sam Shepard is a solid reminder that in writing and in life the beat goes on.  If you miss a beat, you improvise and create another.

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6 Responses to “Writing Wednesday: If You Miss a Beat, You Create Another”

  1. manonmona March 18, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    Reblogged this on Espacio de MANON.

  2. erikchristian March 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    This is such a great book! I’m reading it now. She could be a full-time novelist. Great post!

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      Have you read her other books? This is the first one I read, and I enjoyed her storytelling. It captured such a unique time in New York’s history.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Beat Hotel « Stephanie Nikolopoulos - March 27, 2012

    […] Just Kids, where she also talks about meeting Burroughs, Corso, and Ginsberg and about the idea of improvising in writing.  But I […]

  2. Writing Wednesday: Choosing the Right Writing Tools | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - September 25, 2013

    […] If You Miss a Beat, Create Another […]

  3. White Trash Uncut: The Resource Magazine Interview with Christopher Makos | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - March 20, 2014

    […] he photographed the scene on the Lower East Side—Beat writer William S. Burroughs, the Ramones, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Debbie Harry are just a few of the icons who ended up in his book White […]

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