A Christmas gift from a friend. Tickets to a rock concert. I had only been to one other, a stadium affair. U2. This felt different. Perhaps more authentic.
New Year’s Eve. Folks wore party hats and spirits, sparkles and glitter on their black and silver clothing. The line snaked down the block. It led to a brick building, used, weatherworn. After a brief frisk by security, you went up some stairs to get inside. They scanned your ticket. The lighting was dim. I saw my husband at the top of the stairs, waiting for me. I had raced back to the car to get a forgotten item. He went inside, but waited just inside the door for me. We went into the Fillmore auditorium together.
Old chandeliers hung over us. Pink horses shone against the red curtains on the right. No general seating, only a few tables under the horses, reserved for others. We looked at each other, my husband and me, girding ourselves for several hours of standing. I had the beginnings of a cold. But that’s alright. I had to go.
The band came out shortly after 9 and started playing tracks from 1967, the Summer of Love. They knew their crowd. Folks lapped it up. Then came two by Jefferson Airplane, “Somebody To Love,” and “White Rabbit.” On the second song, she slinked out, seductively, playfully, sashing her hips, her head covered in a cap and hoodie. We roared. Off came the cap, off came the hood. Her long hair greyed with life and experience flowed over her shoulders. She took the mic and sang. We cheered. We roared. We danced. I forgot that my arthritic ankles were starting to ache after only 45 minutes of standing. My husband took me from behind, put his head on my shoulder. I could feel his smile as we swayed and rocked. After she finished singing, she yelled “GRACE SLICK!”, paying homage. But it was Patti Smith who entered the space and our hearts. And then, she was gone. She slinked back as quickly as she had come out. The band played a couple of more numbers, before also leaving the stage. End the first set.
Way back in the day, we sat in another auditorium. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain had the stage. I looked at him, he would become my mate, nervously. A welcoming to my world. Would he like it? He said he did.
Now the roles had reserved. I entered his world, though after many years of prepping. Patti Smith had become a part of my world as much as Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha, Nikhil Banerjee, et al, had become a part of his. In his youth, he saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges. He listened to Patti Smith. In time, I learned to listen, too.
Around 10:30, they came back on the stage. They played Horses, the entire album, in order, track by track, song by song. A 40th anniversary celebration. Some songs I knew, and I shouted with the masses on the choruses. Others I listened to pensively, while still getting my grove on. Sore ankles and hamstrings went away when the music played. And my husband smiled and danced. He looked so happy. That gave me energy. We energized each other under Patti’s spell.
During the second song, someone passed out. She called for a medic, urged folks not to crowd around the one who had fallen. “What drugs are you guys taking?” she asked, teasingly. Pot filled the air. Who knows what else accompanied it. But the crowd was cool. Patti and her band picked up where they left off and kept on going.
She held the album cover a few times during the show. At one point, she took the album out of its sleeve. “This is when we take the record, flip it over, and put the needle in the groove. Side 2.” We cheered. Even the young folks got it.
They finished the album before midnight, and kept playing. We lost track of how many encores they performed. At midnight, when the new year began on the West Coast, we were showered with balloons. We kissed. We hugged. We tossed the balloons around. And they kept playing. The crowd thinned somewhat, but we stayed.
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Oh no! She began reciting Ginsberg’s Footnote to Howl. I lit up. In my wildest dreams I didn’t think she would perform this, but she did. How many times have I heard this around the house? Holy Peter! Holy Allen! Holy Solomon! A live performance from Portland. They rocked Ginsberg hard. But this time, she recited it alone, with minimal music. My husband held me close and tight. A bonding moment.
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!
She performed and gave herself to us, even as her voice began to crack, because the night, because the fans, because the music, because the poetry, because the art. What a way to end one year and start another.
Happy New Year.
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