My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers by Fiona Helmsley
Fiona Helmsley’s “My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers” is about living a life in opposition to standard expectations. This means that punk rock comes up frequently as rumination of selling out, taste, aesthetics, and ultimate artistic purpose all are woven into the DNA of the book. Bringing these ideas together is the less traveled path, a difficult teenage hood, time spent doing the different things.
Personnel experiences serve as the vast majority of the body of work. The trips spent going to seedy parts of Connecticut, how that turned out, the many players involved in that journey. Some of the tough love receives notable attention: from not being allowed to come back home to the story of Amber, a person with whom Fiona Helmsley could sympathize in some manner. Amongst these better individuals are plenty of mere ghosts: sometimes they consist of individuals she met in New York City who brought her to the Bowery, back when the Bowery was a very different, less squeaky clean kind of place.
A few are literal ghosts as she sort of focuses on a unique kind of artist, the “pet savage”. Her critiques of the pet savage are particularly compelling. While she states that her aesthetic interests often bring her to these “ugly” artists (G.G. Allin) it is also rather disturbing the amount of leeway said artists are given in pursuit of their craft. One of these individuals is underground writer Gene Gregorits. Titled “Thoughts on the Shit Show” the chapter dives into exactly what drives the sort of transgressive artistic output or “pet savages” as she refers to them. Aspects of this work serves a greater purpose, one which explores the disaffection that effects plenty.
Plenty of these “pet savages” artists have no rules and in essence run a “shit show” where nothing is sacred. While most do adhere to a certain set of standard expectations in terms of behavior, these “pet savages” get relaxed standards because to expect the normal would be an affront to what they do. In this section Fiona Helmsley explains why so much of her writing comes from her time when she was a drug addict because it is a more revealing look at showing who she was. However, even with this in mind, there are still limits. Gene Gregorits is commended as being a very good writer however by dedication to the shit show, the “pet savage” he eventually goes too far, using his art as an excuse for inexcusable behavior.
Throughout the book Fiona Helmsley displays a unique gift for storytelling. Elements of her stories ring particularly true from the realization that disaffection sold to teenagers under the guise that this is what the rebel actually said. A quote of Sid Vicious appears throughout the book with the book only later lamenting that this was a marketing ploy to meet that specific emotional need at that specific point in time. A few moments in particular show how packaging of a unique experience can have a deleterious effect on the message: like how Fiona Helmsley eventually comes to realize what Courtney Love had to say with her band “Hole” when at the time she was too much of a “punk rock purist” to ever accept “Hole” or “Nirvana” into her listening habits. By far the most affecting of these moments is her time near the middle of nowhere, kicked out of rehab and cold in the snow. Here she is at her absolute loneliest away from everything with only an elderly man and his wife saving her from complete disconnection. These small moments, the tiny ones, are the ones that Fiona Helmsley explores with grace and style.
“My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers” possesses a unique empathy for those at the fringes from addicts to artists. Fiona Helmsley genuinely cares about the individuals she writes about whether they were people she knew directly and hoped they would find their own shining path, to those who she saw from afar and those who offered her hope, showed her a new way.