“Let me respectfully remind you
Life and death are of supreme importance
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost
Each of us should strive to awaken
Awaken, take heed do not squander your life.”
Enclosed is a Polaroid photo I took of you in New York City in 1980. I was a psychology grad student at Columbia University at the time, coming from the West Coast. I know there is probably no way you’d remember the day I took your picture as you rested your head in the lap of your friend in Washington Square Park. You looked like you had no other agenda than to be a human being among human beings. I had already taken allegiance as one of your hardcore fans, so I thought my head would burst when I saw you in the flesh. I was with my friend Billy, who shared my sentiments about you, and we debated whether to ask if we could take your picture or respect your privacy and leave you alone. Obviously, we chose the former.
You not only said yes without hesitation, but you waited patiently while we screwed Billy’s instamatic onto the tripod he had run back to his dorm to get. Billy was a film student at NYU, so he wanted to be very professional. Of course, our excitement made us awkward and clumsy. Luckily, however, we got a fantastic picture that I’ve held onto to this day. I keep it under a glass covering on my desk at work, next to my computer. It is a regular conversation piece for patients who walk by.
Consistently their comments are of love and affection for you. Things like, “Wait, where did you get this snapshot? You like Patti Smith, too? I love her.” The admiration my patients have for who you are and the creative work you do as a poet, author, singer, songwriter, survivor, maverick, and icon forges a bond between us. I see many musicians and songwriters in my practice, and am myself an avid amateur piano player. I also write poetry, do photography, and am ferociously curious about what the ledge walkers of the world, like you, are doing.
I’m currently reading M Train,and like millions, I hold you in my heart as a kindred soul. I’m also drawn toward quirky, non-mainstream things in life. I too, worshipped The Killing, loved The Master and Margarita, and am most interested in what is off the beaten path. I have studied Buddhism and esoteric meditation since I was 18, and ate way too many mushrooms in my twenties as I sought a fast track to God. Oh, what would life have been like if Terrence McKenna had been my brother?
This fan letter comes on the heels of the loss of one of my husband’s best friends, Adam Roth. Like you, Adam was a musician, and from the days of CBGB and the punk rock/new wave movement. He was about all the things that bring joy, humor, meaning, and groundbreaking consciousness to the music and culture of our generation. He was the kind of person one felt an immediate sense of kinship with. For my husband, he was a true brother for over 35 years, and he had the opportunity to take care of him for a portion of his journey in treatment before he died two weeks ago of bile duct cancer at 57.
Adam’s death was a huge reminder that life is short. It was a reminder to connect with infinity daily, to love madly the people we know, to not take ourselves too seriously, and to treat people we don’t know with kindness and humor. I didn’t know Adam well myself, but I am 100% sure he would have both made fun of me, and encouraged me, to send you this letter. So, in honor of my love for him, and the people around him who loved him most, and my love for you, I am sending it your way.
It’s time for me to get back to your book. Please know how wonderful it is to follow you around, page by page. I feel grateful for the uniqueness of who you are, and the balls you’ve had to express yourself authentically year after year after year. The way you walk in life inspires me to keep following my own instincts, without giving a flying fuck about anyone else’s opinions, and usually without knowing where they will lead me next.
Happy New Year,
and thank you again from the bottom of my heart,
P.S. I have the same name as your mother. I choose to believe, whether it’s karmic, or just my own delusional mind, we are cosmic sisters. There is no amount of rational thought that will ever have the power to delete that fantasy. And, why should I?
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