Patti Smith, Westhampton, NY, 8-15-09
Patti walked out onstage, almost shyly, told everyone that it was her first time out there and that she loved the beach and the water, and if you weren’t paying attention, you would have thought that she was saying that she liked the place. But she put on her glasses and opened the book and started reading “Piss Factory.” If there was a more obvious FU to the Hamptons, I’m not sure what it would have been.
Patti continued by talking about how she finally got on the computer and discovered YouTube – “You all know about that, right?” – and she’s been using it to pursue her recent love of opera, watching master classes. Patti then proceeds to sing an English version of the coat aria from La Boheme and I think, Please god, when I am 60, please let me be pursuing knowledge this intently. I am not sure the audience knew what to make of that whole encounter, however; had it been delivered back home there would have been the occasional I LOVE YOU PATTI in the pauses but I guarantee you that none of the residents of the area in the audience expected to come see Patti Smith sing opera to them. I think it completely threw everyone for a loop.
At first there were too many catcalls every time she paused, and it seemed like it was hard for her to focus. These weren’t the catcalls of idiots making themselves heard, it was the uncomfortable self-conscious reaction of people unsure of what to do. I’m sorry, but the guy wearing his best Faith No More shirt accompanied by the woman in the 6 inch stripper heels probably don’t go to a lot of poetry readings, but maybe I’m just a snob. Eventually, Patti was able to focus and get into it and it was a perfectly valid, absolutely compelling reading of this particular piece. I know I am biased, since I wear the last line of that poem engraved into a bracelet on my left wrist, but it worked.
The theater was miniscule. The sound was spectacular. We had seats, actual seats, second row center. I never get to be down front for Patti anymore because there are too many people those spaces ‘belong’ to and before you say “well just go take them, first come first serve,” there is some sort of social order that needs to be maintained and that I prefer to not disrupt.) The audience sat down the entire time. There were various attempts to get something started when people sprang to their feet for a standing O for certain songs, but it was clear, these people came to sit. By the time we got to “People Have The Power” and I could get to my feet, my first thought was “thank god, finally.”
So it was this odd meandering set in some ways studded with absolute gems. Who expected “Birdland”? “Birdland” was as out there as ever, with the invisible cord linking Patti and Lenny so strong it was almost glittering. Who expected “Pissing In A River”? I expected to get some Woodstock references, and thought we’d get “Are You Experienced” for sure, but did not expect this fabulous story about how Patti missed Woodstock, that she was living in the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe, and that she went down to El Quixote one night and there in the bar were Janis Joplin and her band and Grace Slick and her band, and a couple of guys from Country Joe, and in a corner, Jimi Hendrix and some blonde woman. And that her first reaction was, oh, I gotta go, I don’t belong here, and then the second was – wait, this is MY bar. And she said hello to Grace Slick and Grace said hello back and Patti was so thrilled she went back upstairs to absorb the encounter, and then thought “Maybe I should go back down there, who knows when I’ll see those people again” – not meaning it the way we would think about it now, of course. This kicked off a stunning version of “White Rabbit” which was perfect, even though she warned us in advance that she had forgotten to look up the words.
The kicker, the absolute kicker, was after we’d all gotten to our feet for PHTP and she steps up to the mic and utters that line
the boy was in the hallway, drinking a glass of tea
and a dozen of us raise our fists into the air, as she goes off into a perfectly paced stream of consciousness recitation about Johnny and the tea and what he’s doing and what he’s seeing and there are more of those uncomfortable self-conscious hoots and I just have my head down and my eyes closed and then, you know how it goes, you’re waiting for it, and then
HORSES HORSES HORSES HORSES
I am almost self-conscious about throwing myself into it with the usual vigor, you know, this isn’t audience participation in the first three rows, surrounded by the faithful who are there on the journey with you, shoulder to shoulder and hot and sweaty, it’s this genteel little theater in the Hamptons.
I decide I don’t care very much.
And it was “Land” into “Gloria,” and by my reckoning the last time I heard that was the last night of CBGB’s, and I feel bad for the people who haven’t seen it and can’t get into it and don’t understand it, because they were a good crowd, they were excited to see her, and this is it, really, isn’t it? I mean you could argue about it but it’s hard to argue about “Land” being ne plus ultra. If I wanted to explain Patti to someone I would want to play them this. I would want them to see this. I would want them to feel it in the pit of their stomachs, I would want their ears to ring, I would want them to be lost and dizzy in the meandering from the trilogy into the declarative statement. This version wasn’t the best ever but it was more than adequate, more than a taste, it was a legitimate entry to be sure.
The last Woodstock reference – again, I am still so religiously expecting and waiting for Jimi – was “My Generation,” except that Patti couldn’t remember much, or at least she said she didn’t, and it is almost a letdown, until they get to the end and she does remember:”WE CREATED IT – NOW *YOU* BETTER FUCKING TAKE IT OVER.”
She talked tonight about wanting to live another 30 years. I do not know how long she will keep doing this but I will keep being there for as long as she does.
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