I last saw Patti Smith in 1995 in San Francisco. I had just graduated college and was trying to sort my life out. She was playing at the Fillmore, one of the city’s most storied venues. Jimi Hendrix played there as well as a slew of other rock legends.
Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.
Unfortunately I wasn’t making much money at the time and the only tickets that were available were from scalpers who were charging outrageous prices. This was before the internets kids, when you had to line up or call Ticketmaster. Man, I still hate that company.
Since I wasn’t going to get in, I thought I’d just hang around the Fillmore and see if I can catch a few tunes that wafted beyond the doors guarded by some really surly bouncers. The venue was made of concrete and brick, so whatever sounds escaped were going to be pretty muffled. Still, I had to try.
I got there around the early evening and I could see the entourage’s tour buses were already out in front. There was a massive crowd in front of the Fillmore’s main doors so I knew getting anywhere close to hear anything was near impossible.
I was bummed out so I just hung back off to the side of the building. I don’t remember how long I was there, waiting for something to happen. But soon I heard a few people getting really excited just a few feet away from where I was standing. I knew it had to be her. I basically sprinted towards the crowd and there was Patti Smith climbing the stairs off to the side of the Fillmore to one of the secret entrances.
I thought then that was going to be my only chance to see her and since she’s one of my beloved heroines I had to do something to catch her attention. To this day, I’m still surprised to recall the stunt I pulled. I basically barged my way through the crowd and made my way to the foot of the staircase.
Of course there was a bouncer there guarding the gate that led to the staircase. I didn’t have much time because she was about to reach the door at the top of the stairs and disappear.
I shouted: “PATTI! PATTI! PATTI! HI! HI!” at the top of my lungs and started jumping and waving.
I think I freaked out some of my fellow fans but I didn’t care. It worked. She turned around and looked at me, smiled, waved and said hi back. After a few seconds of waving to other fans she turned around and disappeared.
That day still brings a smile to my face every time every time I recall it.
That warm feeling returned this evening when I finally got to see her again to talk about her new book “M Train” at the Lincoln Theater in Washington D.C. She was being interviewed by the founder of the 930 Club on stage. It was very much like being reunited with one of your favorite cool aunts who lived life to the fullest and having her share some pretty inspiring and crazy stories about her experiences.
She’s one of the artists I’ve always looked up to because she’s lived an authentic life. Moreover, Patti Smith is an amazing writer. She didn’t disappoint the audience. It was a very fun evening with some pretty heartwarming and heartbreaking stories.
Patti spoke about her late mother, husband and brother. I think I started getting choked up when she told us she wished she had a few more minutes with them so to say farewell. Patti also lived through the New York of the late 1970s and 1980s — which to me are the two decades that transformed that city into a cultural mecca for musicians and artists. Unfortunately, Patti Smith’s New York no longer exists. The city has become a Disneyland for wealthy adults.
It was during those decades that her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe helped shaped her as a musician — which she talked about at length in her book “Just Kids”. She also played a few songs for us and even covered her late good friend Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” to honor his memory.
Hearing the stories of her young adulthood made me realize so many artists of her generation are either dead or dying. I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse of living rock and roll history through her, even if it was just a couple of hours. But it was her reading a section from “M Train” about the illness and the death of her cat Cairo that really got to me. I realized then that Patti and I are kindred spirits, especially when it comes to love for our feline family members.
“The oldest, our queen, saw her 70th birthday but suffered a terminal affliction that defied devotion. The gravitational pull of her imminent departure cast a spell on the household. Cairo kept vigil, rooting out her hiding places. My daughter attended every atmospheric shift, the daily reality of her stoic deterioration. We awoke through the night to do her bidding. When she passed quietly in my daughter’s lap we mourned deeply, as fully as for any human being.”
Before she even finished the last sentence, I had shed a tear.