Patti Smith is touring the West Coast this weekend, including my little surf town, and I'm a surprised at myself that I'm not already in line for a seat.
We both were so young and spontaneous the last time we "saw each other."
My Patti performance history begins and ends in Kansas--- not Max's Kansas City club in New York City, but 100-degree-in-the-shade Kansas in June of 1979.
That summer, I had traveled to Lawrence, by bus, for what I thought was going to be an epoch moment in women's liberation.
"Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government..." -- those were my words to live by.
Yes indeed, I was on my way to the National Women's Studies Association conference, held at K.U. I was the 19-year-old "Women's Studies Student Representative," and holy chickapoop, was I naive. No scholar was there to foment revolution; it was a staging area for anxious academics seeking jobs in a research field newly under siege.
This was long before the sex wars and I was still so discouraged in my youth by the feminist establishment, that Valerie Solanas herself might've shed a tear for my bust bubble.
I left the university conference halls, staggering through the radiant heat waves of a typical Kansas summer, hiking a half mile to the Episcopalian church which had allowed me to settle a sleeping bag on the floor. Nothing was too good for the "National Women's Studies Student of the Year!"
Here's where things get good.
I heard a dog crying as I entered the church garden. My god, there was a German Shepherd, terribly hurt, lying at the foot of a rhododendren bush. —Bleeding from the lower haunches and whimpering.
The combination of the poor bitch's suffering and my own humilation at the hands of snotty feminist administrators had me close to hysteria. But that wouldn't be any help to our pup. I ran into the church, which in '79, had its doors open 'round the clock with a phone in the foyer.
I called 911 and the Lawrence operator put me in touch with Animal Control. They told me to wait by the wounded Shepherd and someone would be over "in a jiffy."
Imagine my face when a butch dyke with a bowl haircut and city uniform pulled up in a white Econoline. The sure sign of unflagging competence!
The officer told me I looked like I'd been in an accident myself and told me to get in the front seat and turn on the A/C while she loaded our wounded baby into the back. I clambered in and found a copy of Patti Smith's BABEL, my bible, lying on the cracked vinyl.
The Shepherd's savoir came around to the driver's side. I stared at her brown eyes and quoted the lines: "I'll never forget how you smelled that night. Like cheddar cheese melting under fluorescent light."
She answered in kind: "Lay down darling, don't be modest, let me slip my hand in."
These are lines from Babel, Patti's infamous poem about rape. "Ms. Right Now" and I were using it as foreplay. Jesus.
I bet you want me to tell you her name. I don't remember.
I don't remember some of the finest lovers I've ever known, et je regrette rien. Since every awesome butch I've ever fallen for, has been blessed with a name right off a lace-covered jam jar, let's call her: Cheri.
She told me to grab my backpack and bag from the church basement and come with her.
"Wanna see Patti Smith tonight? You can stay at our place."
Did she know that the National Women's Studies Association was meeting in Kansas that weekend? Hell no. Her look of total disinterest inspired me. I was finally in the right place and all thanks to a canine 911.
We smoked a joint in the car— Lawrence homegrown— and Cheri assured me our beautiful puppy would be okay. She dropped me off at her pad while she finished her shift. Her roommates made me chicken salad sandwiches with gin and lemonade. I felt like a princess, instead of a lowly student-of-the-year.
That night, Cheri and I jumped on her bike— I know you want to know what kind but all I can tell you is, I held on tight— and we went to a place called the "Off the Wall Hall," where Patti was scheduled for a poetry reading.
As the following news clipping attests, there was a little poetry, but a lot of talking and music-making.
Unlike the reporter, I was ecstatic for the entire set. It seemed like there were just a few of us; I was sitting right at Patti's feet. She played the clarinet; she talked about the bullshit of the music business and the freedome of poets vs. than the tied hands of rock stars. She had a toy piano and finished her set by singing "Tomorrow, Tomorrow," the famous song from Annie--- my tears finally flowed in earnest. No Orphan has ever been more plaintive.
It was a beat poet's set, classic; it reminded me of being naked in the bathtub at the Venice Beach Gashouse, a toddler witnessing Ginsberg.
One night was perfect for me, but Cherie wasn't through. Neither was Patti.
Next evening, new venue. The Smith diaspora, seemed to be a punk dyke version of a Deadhead posse— every woman dreaming that Patti was one of their own. I didn't see a single straight man in the group.
Patti was supposed to play at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas--- but instead, she was "moved" at the last minute to a biker bar in the middle of nowhere. I'm thinking it was a place called "One Block West," but don't hold me to that. This gig is almost entirely lost to the Internet; I've looked a hundred times.
But I was an eyewitness, so I can't be all wet. I remember the bike sliding into a dirt lot, filled with Harleys, and plenty of Confederate flags.
That scared me shitless; I wanted to turn around. --I'd only barely escaped Louisville in 1977, under serious Klan pressure. Those were the days before I went to college and my attempts to smash the state were met with Cointelpro-style results. I was accustomed to rednecks pulling guns and hissing in my ear, just exactly where I could take my "niggerloving communist cunt" before they blew it off.
Cheri, being a Free State native, waved off my concerns. She thought I was a sweet little college girl from California. Into the bar we hopped. The place was filled with two entirely different communities who only shared one thing: black leather.
One one side were Smith's punk and dyke accolytes— on the other, a bunch of ZZ-Top afficionados playing pool and Liar's Dice, attended by tanned busty chicks in wifebeaters, with tattooed sleeves before anyone ever heard of a Urban Aboriginal.
The regulars were more than a little annoyed that some unrepentant androgyne in men's clothes, was crashing their weekend party.
Unlike Patti's contemplative demeanor in Lawrence, she was wasted this night, voluably pissed at the hijinks that had led to her sudden change of venue. She was railing.
It made for great performance art but I feared for her life. Patti leapt from the stage onto the POOL TABLE, like a parkour artist, knocking the rack and cues off the felt, wielding her mike cord like a bullwhip. She bellowed, she spat at them: "Shut the fuck up, motherfuckers!"
They could not believe her balls. My throat started closing up. I swore, "Patti Smith is going to be lynched and the riot is starting in 10, 9, 8..."
Her pissed charisma, the screaming guitar—and perhaps our leather bank, all hundred tripping freaks who'd made the pilgrimage— silenced further carnage.
Smith's striped men's shirt came undone, she did nothing to close it. The Stars and Bars peeled off the wall. Her pale tits hung in defiance of every cornfed outlaw.
G - L- O- R- I- I- I- I- I- A.