Fractured Facade

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Patti Smith in 2014 - I Danced, I Sang, I Cried

I really don't have much on my bucket list, but one item I did have on it was to see Patti Smith perform live again. I never thought it would happen, but I always held out hope. Those of you who know me, know what a huge fan I am, and the rest of you now know. I've been with her from the beginning, and the last time I went to see her I was 19 years old...May 20th, 1978 when she was performing at the Palladium in New York City.

Unfortunately, I never made it to the show. Instead, I spent the night in a Brooklyn police station after a friend and I got beat up and robbed the moment we stepped on an N train on our way into the city, by a gang that was hopped up and heading back from Coney Island to their stomping grounds in Sunset Park.

At the time I still had the wrinkled ticket wedged tight in my back black jean's pocket, and although I was bruised and beaten, I still wanted to go catch the show. It never happened. I always regretted it. Shortly soon after, Patti met Fred Sonic Smith, they married, she moved to Michigan, and they started a family. Patti put performing on hold and, like many other mothers, focused her life on the children.

After the death of her husband, and by the time Patti re-emerged back in New York City I had gotten married, moved to Virginia, and put my life on hold to raise my children. I still listened to her music, bought every new cd, read all her books and usually capped the year by listening to her on Sirius as she performed a New Year's Eve show at the Bowery Ballroom.

I had gotten used to being alone on New Year's Eve with Patti, me dancing and singing, while the other members of my family hid, or left. One year I heard two friends scream my name during a lull in between songs, and I felt, for a second, I was in New York City. So it was a great disappointment when I discovered Patti was no longer being broadcast live on Sirius. Being far away from my friends and family in New York, never getting invited to any parties in Roanoke, made each New Year's Eve in Virginia a depressing date. This past New Year's Eve looked to be the worst one yet as both of my children wouldn't be spending it with us.

And then my cousin came to my rescue. The only person I know who is a bigger Patti fan than I am, he asked me if I wanted to see Patti Smith with him at Webster Hall on Patti's birthday, December 30. YES! So I set about arranging things so we could run up to New York right after Christmas, and if all went well, even spend New Year's Eve there amongst friends. By the time he went to get the tickets Patti's birthday show was sold out, but she was also performing the night before so he got tickets for that night.

I then heard that another band that I loved from back in the day, Television, would be playing at Irving Plaza the night before Patti played. Since he had bought me Patti tickets for Christmas, I told my cousin I would buy Television tickets for his Christmas present. When I received a notice that Gogol Bordello was also going to be playing in New York City on January 2nd I thought I hit the rock 'n roll trifecta! I figured this musical holiday trip would be my live performance swan song.

We drove into the city to see Television and congrats to former mayor Bloomberg to making the city, especially the lower east side, a place I no longer recognized, and one unfriendly to car drivers. Every avenue and street caters to bicyclists. Parking spots are even rarer than they were, and the lanes barely fit a vehicle. We almost got creamed on E. Houston Street, before the show, and I was so shaken up I had heart palpitations. Thank God my husband was driving because if it was me we probably wouldn't have made it to the show.

I can't remember the last time I was at Irving Plaza, but it was a time when I was younger, thinner, could stand for hours in a hot crowded place, and didn't pay $8 for a 12 ounce can of Budweiser. We stood way in the back and I could barely see Tom Verlaine. Too many tall people were blocking my view and we were stuck under red spotlights that made me feel like I was a piece of chicken being kept warm while sitting on a counter. The show was good, but cut short after Verlaine's hand cramped up while playing Marquee Moon. I felt so bad for him. You could see he wanted to go on, but his 60-something year old hand was making it impossible. Before this happened I was mesmerized by the way his guitar sang. His voice did not sing as well and I thought he might be fighting off a cold or something. By the time we left all three of us were complaining about our aching feet, back, parched throat, etc. My husband was glad he was staying home the next night. After taking an hour to find a parking spot back at the house, waking up sore after a restless sleep, I felt like staying home the next night too. But I couldn't, so I pushed myself, and told my cousin we would be taking the train into the city instead of driving. I hate driving the mini van in Roanoke, there was no way I was attempting it in the city, and driving around hours looking for a spot in Brooklyn was insane.

Just the mere thought of taking the subway to see Patti brought back horrible memories. I was working myself up into a near panic attack just waiting on the platform. I kept telling myself I was being ridiculous, but every gangsta that stepped onto the train I imagined would pull out a straight-edged razor and threaten me with it. As my pepper spray was illegal in NYC, I had taken a Binaca spray in its place -- thank you Elaine from Seinfeld -- and I hoped I only would have to use it to kill bad breath. When we finally arrived, my heart jumped when I saw the marquee...

My cuz

I dressed smarter for this show by wearing comfortable shoes that had a sole, a very light-weight shirt, a jacket I could tie around my waist, and I smuggled in a bottle of water. We found a spot to the left of the stage much closer than I thought we would have gotten. There was only one tall guy in front of me so I was able to see unobstructed as long as I tilted to the right. The crowd was electric and everyone was so nice. Way different than the night before where I had this one loose cannon near me muttering, "I feel like I gotta hurt somebody. I'm gonna go off, I can feel it!" as he became more and more drunk. He must have smuggled in his own booze! In front of me at Webster Hall, was a dad my age with his two teen-aged children. The only bad thing about where we stood was someone was letting out silent but deadly farts the entire show. Disgusting!

Anyway, I was surprised when Michael Stipe stepped out on the stage before Patti.

The one "big head" in my way. Stipe complained it was cold, but having sweated like a roasted chicken the previous night I was happy it wasn't stifling.

He said she had asked him to open up by reading poetry or performing or something. It had been eight years since he performed on a stage and he said he was nervous. He told us how he played Webster when it was the Ritz and knew REM had "made it" when they opened for Gang of Four. When he stood on that stage at that time he thought the Ritz was huge. Then as REM got bigger and bigger whenever he came back to town and went to the Ritz he thought it was tiny. Now, once again, after not singing for so long, looking out over the audience, he thought it was huge. His voice has changed, but he sounded great. He performed six songs, accompanied on piano by Patti's daughter Jesse which included New York, New York. Anyone can sing that song, and if you're a New Yorker, especially someone who moved out of New York, it will bring tears to your eyes and chills down your spine. "These little town blues are melting away..."

And then Patti stepped on stage and I was transported back to the seventies.

Her voice, her mannerisms, her back-and-forth with the audience was everything I remembered seeing her the dozens of times. Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Dougherty were still right there with her. The band was tight, she was loose, and I felt young again. I danced, I sang, I cried. It was beautiful. I couldn't believe she was going to be 68 in a couple of hours. I didn't want the night to end. The only "disappointment" was when she said they wouldn't be performing anything from Horses as November 10, 2015 was the 40th anniversary of the album and they planned to perform it live in New York City on that date. Yes, I want to go!

Right before she ended the show she gave what I would call a pep speech, and when she ended it with stating we shouldn't fear, or never have fear, or show no fear, or something to that effect, I felt like she was talking directly to me. Fear is stifling. Fear stops you from living life to the fullest. I want to make 2015 the year of no fear.

As if to put it to the test, we got back on the subway around midnight and the train that pulled in was an N train. Not only did we take it, but we had to switch trains on 59th Street in Brooklyn, the very station where I was beaten and mugged. I stood there waiting on the empty platform for the R to come, and guess what, I felt no fear...


  1. What a wonderful read, Elena. Thank you. And so happy you got to experience all this!

  2. I'm so glad you got to experience this, Elena. Way to start the new year!