Billy was already home when I arrived with not only my shirt soaked with sweat but I also had nice dark half moons under my arms.
“You’re crazy if you think I’m going anywhere,” I huffed as soon as I walked in, putting down my briefcase. I knew the park would be unbearably hot that night, as the temperature had been dropping to the low 90s in the evening.
“No. You’re crazier if you think we’re going to miss Patti!” He was smiling when he said it but he was determined.
“Honey. I am fucking exhausted. No.” I was taking my suit off, shaking my head
“But it’s Patti. We can’t miss her. We’ve been planning this for a long time,” he was starting to whine which he knew always was the money shot.
"Hmmm," I really did want to see her. But then I thought, couch. Patti. “Okay. Let me just get out of these clothes and lie on the couch for a minute. Pleeeease.” I undressed down to my underwear, and the relief of the cool condensed air and cold leather couch was my bounty. I closed my eyes. Bye bye, Katy Rotheker, you old wine hag. So long, Bernadette, I know how horrible life can be when the stage manager has the nerve to talk to you like that.
“Here!” I looked up and saw him handing me a Diet Coke with a lot of ice. I started to gulp it down. “And here!” he said with a big grin, pulling out a joint from behind his back and handing it to me.
I knew how much he loved Patti Smith, as much as I did. I found it odd because the music Billy listened to in the seventies and eighties was Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith and Elton John. I didn’t see Patti sharing the same shelf space but he had all of her LPs and he knew them by heart.
We arrived in the park just before sundown and the air dropped to a humid ninety. There were about two hundred people, all sitting on the grass in a small grove off the Great Lawn. Fireflies were swimming in the air, winking their bodies into a warm orange glow. We laid out our blanket and unpacked the sandwiches we had grabbed on our way to the park.
No booming announcer claimed her arrival. Patti just strode out in a tank top and loose pants. Her hair was pulled back and markedly gray. She wore glasses. The last time I had seen her was in 1979, during her Easter tour when she came out bathed in the American flag and opened with Rock and Roll Nigger.
I grabbed Billy’s hand and looked at him chewing his sandwich and I watched him as he absently looked around at the neighboring blankets. She sheepishly thanked us all for showing up on such an uncomfortable night, braving the heat and she promised she would so her best not to let us down. Neither Billy nor I thought that possible.
She started to read Shots In The Dark, her tribute to her good friend, Robert Mapplethorpe, who had recently passed away. Her voice grew more forceful through the lengthy poem, anger seeping in. When she was finished and the applause settled down, a baby in the audience cried.
“You brought your baby in this heat?” she was shocked.
“We love you, Patti,” a voice came from the crowd.
“I wish you loved your baby more,” she joked. “Are you sure he’s going to be okay?” Her concern was genuine. There was some more banter before she launched into a reading of Horses, a song I had always imagined to be about a boy being raped in high school although I’m certain my interpretation was too literal. Or just a dream.
Billy and I sat there, enraptured for close to two hours. She ended the night with a reading of Piss Factory. When she started the poem, I lifted my head from Billy's lap where I had been watching the black leaves against the dense black sky. The audience stood as one as she waved good night but we refused to let her go. She came back to the little stage, her head bowed and told us she had run out of things to read. She said she could try singing something but she had no instruments. No one cared. We just wanted more.
She was tentative when she began Redondo Beach, one of our favorite songs and a reminder of how far away we were from our California home, but then she found her rhythm and she was soon swaying to the Caribbean beat of the song. We were standing on our blanket, mouthing the lyrics as the song came to a close. We clapped and cheered and turned to each other and hugged.
“Now aren’t you glad I made you come?” he was beaming right along with me.
“It was one of the best rock and roll moments I ever had, Guyster” and I meant it. There was purity in her performance that was tangible and authentic. In those two hours, she had us laughing and crying. She gave us a moment that we would use as a reference point for our years to come. Whenever I balked at doing something, all Billy would have to say was “Patti Smith,” and I would follow.
You'll never return into my arms 'cause you were gone gone.
Never return into my arms 'cause you were gone gone.
Gone gone, gone gone, good-bye.