Lame Adventure 463: Way Back Machine Encounter with a Rock Legend

Like many hardcore New Yorkers, I was born someplace else. In my case, it was San Francisco, a lovely city where I did my earliest lame adventuring. Bruce Thiesen, a Bay Area native who writes the blog, Ram On, recently published a post featuring verse by Patti Smith that triggered memories of an up close and personal encounter I had with her in May 1978.

Patti was on tour promoting her latest album, Easter. It featured her biggest mainstream hit, a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen called Because the Night. It reached number 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. She had also just published a book of poetry called Babel. I saw her on that tour when she played a fantastic concert at Winterland Arena. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic, Joel Selvin, published a rave review of her performance. He compared her “to a young Mick Jagger”. Mick was 34. Patti was 31.

Patti was appearing at B. Dalton Booksellers on Sutter and Kearny Streets in San Francisco’s financial district where she was signing Babel. I had a copy that I wanted autographed. I also packed my camera, a 35 mm Minolta SRT201. That was my parents’ reward to me for both graduating high school and getting accepted into San Francisco State University. It was their way of encouraging their slacker to graduate college, a feat that took me seven years to achieve, just like Sarah Palin. I attended my class in some subject that made absolutely no lasting impression, and then jetted over to Dalton’s. I was such a sloth it never occurred to me to cut class. That was very Bozo, for there was a line of people streaming out of the store and down Kearny Street; what appeared to me to be far more people than those that attended the concert. The cynic in me, who coincidentally comprises most of me, sensed that these were people that were there only because they read Selvin’s review and very few were actual fans.

It was apparent that I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting in to have my book signed, much less to take her picture. But I knew that my camera looked professional enough. A young guy in front of me, who had attended the show, held my place in line so I could slip into the store to take a shot.

So near and yet so far.

So near and yet so far.

When a store worker came outside to confirm my fear that we would not gain entry, I spewed a bald faced lie. I claimed that I was supposed to photograph her for the Phoenix, State’s campus newspaper. Swallowing the bait whole, he instructed me to go to the freight entrance where she’d be exiting.

Freight elevator door opened. black speck between hoodie man's shoulder and guy inside is Patti's bowler hat.

Freight elevator door opened. Black speck between hoodie man’s shoulder and guy inside is Patti’s bowler hat.

So, there I was, 19-years-old but I could still easily pass for 12, with the real deal all-male press. When she exited that elevator, in a bowler hat and a ratty fake fur jacket, I jumped in front of all those guys, and started snapping shots.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

Shooting while making my move through masses of males.

What I didn’t anticipate was Patti wrapping her arm around me and holding me close. I kept taking pictures. My adrenaline was pumping.

Patti Smith's profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Patti Smith’s profile while I am taking pictures of her.

Me (thinking): Patti Smith is holding me! This is so cool! I can see up her nose!

Looking up Patti Smith's nose.

Looking up Patti Smith’s nose.

When she saw the beat-up VW van her record label had waiting for her, she said in an incredulous tone:

Patti Smith: I came early and I stayed late and this is my limousine? This is the best that Arista* can do for me?

She turned to me:

Patti Smith: Wanna go to San Diego?

She held me closer and insisted:

Patti Smith: C’mon!

A security guard the size of a redwood approached.

Mr. Big: Let the kid go.

Just as he was going to grab me, she let me out of her grasp and entered the van.

Patti's hand as she entered the van.

Patti’s hand as she entered the van.

I can still see her gesturing at me to get in. But I didn’t pursue my groupie moment further. I had to head over to Petrini’s, a supermarket near my house, to pick up the fish for the family dinner that night. If we were the type of family where the parents were inclined to ask:

Parents: How was your day?

I would have answered:

Me: I almost went to San Diego with a rock star leaving you guys to eat canned tuna!

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

I also dropped off that role of film for development at my neighborhood camera store.

Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had I accepted her invitation and entered that van. Then I reason that that no-nonsense guard probably would have pulled me out with such force I might have ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But there is an epilogue to this lame adventure. Consider it another lame adventure that happened thirty years later here in New York. Patti and I met again. I was at a screening of a documentary about her that played the Film Forum.

Proof of my sister, Dovima's claim that we're a family of hoarders: Film Forum ticket stub circa 2008.

Proof of my sister, Dovima’s claim that we’re a family of hoarders: retained Film Forum ticket stub.

My friend, Albee, urged me to have her sign those photos I shot in 1978. He joked:

Albee: Maybe she’ll try to pick you up again?

That lightning didn’t strike twice, probably to the relief of both 61-year-old Patti and 49-year-old me, but she was still as cool as ever in person. Maybe even cooler. I finally got her autograph.

I got my satisfaction.

I got my satisfaction.

*Arista was her record label.

Advertisements

119 responses to “Lame Adventure 463: Way Back Machine Encounter with a Rock Legend

  1. Wow … early the fact this has Lame Adventures at different ages. Loved the fast thinking to be able to get the original shots. Agree … large guard would have probably removed you from the car – but love the tuna line. And cheers to finally getting the autograph!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a great story. I love how it came full-circle in the end. That was fun to read.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Jim. I’d been thinking about writing that post for years, but I had to find the pictures, get them scanned and, oh yeah, write the story. I was surprised to find that I saved my Film Forum ticket stub from 2008. I had put it in that ancient, ratty envelope with the pictures. What great thinking!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful story, V! So glad you got to meet her again and finally get her autograph on that print!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Not going along with her must have haunted you, but how crazy for her to ask!!!? I would imagine that would have been a Wild Ride instead of a Lame Adventure. Ha!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Wow, V. You could have interviewed her and been one of the Rolling Stones writing team, before they didn’t check their sources. What a great story! I never knew you and Sarah P had school in common but I think you’re a much better writer. Just saying. Way cool, story. Your level of coolness knows no bounds.

    I love that you’ve kept those mementos. I once kept a half-eated piece of cake that Henry Gross ate when I got to go backstage at a concert. It stayed inside the cake box, hard as a rock, for years before I finally parted with it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Brig and good one about Rolling Stone! Ha! I’m glad that you enjoyed the tale.

      Gotta admit that I had to research Henry Gross. Do you think he wondered what happened to his cake when you filched it? That was daring! Was getting his autograph just too ordinary for you? If only you could have had him autograph that cake! Where’s an icing cone when you need one? Maybe you should have had that half-piece shellacked or bronzed?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I bow down to your greatness! You are so much more daring than I ever would have been in that situation. (And when I was nineteen, I looked like I was twelve, too. Or maybe eight. It pays off later in life though.) Terrific post!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Would getting in the van have changed your life? The world will never know.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Only 19 but sophisticated enough to lie through your smile. Well played. You dropped off your roll of film. Ha. How quaint. Remember when you only had 36 shots and had to make ’em count? These damn kids today, etc., etc. Good thing you obsessed over a rock goddess who was nice to her fans. It could have turned out differently.

    Living in New York all those years did not harden me to spotting celebrities. I still love it. I used to work in 1166 6th Av. The McGraw Hill building and home to Howard Stern. I’ve ridden the elevator with all manner of celebs, exotic dancers and freaks. It never gets old. Coincidentally, I have a brush-with-celeb post in my draft folder. It’s the cheapest of thrills.

    Did you read ‘Just Kids?’ A masterpiece worthy of its praise.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This is so awesome!! Wow, those are such great photos you shot of her. That was a sliding door moment for sure….what if you went to San Diego with Patti Smith? That’s incredible you got a second adventure with her. Love this story, V.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t think a wily weasel like me was meant to accompany her to San Diego, Amy, but I will always cherish the memory of that lame adventure in my old home town. Living in New York City is living in the land of opportune moments. I know that I’ve been a very lucky nobody.

      Like

  10. Wow – what a cool story. Loved reading this. There’s got to be a way to get this to her so she can read it! Maybe she’s on Twitter or FB. I’m sure she would be flattered and find this entertaining!

    Liked by 4 people

  11. You may be able to compare yourself to Palin in one category, but do you “read all the newspapers”?

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Wow. That’s pretty far from a lame adventure. And, the best up the nose shot I have seen in a while.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Alas, it seems you let a promising career in nasal photography slip away. I can just see a famous New York gallery running an exhibit of your celebrity nose shots along with the caption, “Pick your favorite.”
    Great post. Perhaps my favorite of yours to date.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Russell and thanks for the career advice. Last week on the subway, one of the most accomplished living playwrights of our generation was sitting in front of me. Everyone around him was completely oblivious of the greatness in their presence. Everyone except this wily weasel who was standing completely transfixed. I held my breath, acted as invisible as humanly possible and snuck a gotcha shot of him with my iPhone. I emailed it to Milton and shared it with my boss the next day. The Boss was impressed. If only iPhones existed in 1978!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. How long did you run a series of what-if’s scenarios about what would have happened if you had gotten in the van? Weeks? Years?

    Liked by 3 people

    • If that highly intimidating guard who stood as tall as the Jolly Green Giant wasn’t hovering, the short answer would have been forever. But he wasn’t bluffing about me not entering that vehicle and I did not want his big paws on my little person. She was probably just playing up being a rock star and at the same time having fun with irritating the establishment. I was just the MacGuffin and a very thrilled MacGuffin at that.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the stories all of us seem to have in our history. This one is very cool especially that it came full circle.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Another fun to read Lame Adventures. Your self description of responsible slacker is so not true. You display reason and accountability carrying out your task of bringing home the fish. I can identify, by growing up Italian. Of course looking back now, you should of entered the van and suffered the consequences. As for celebrity memorabilia, the wife still has a bottle of Perrier she lifted from Barry Manilow’s dressing room back in the eighties.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s a great share Tom! The sacred bottle of Perrier! My brother, Axel, liked to refer to Perrier as Parrot Water when we were kids. I thought that was hilarious, but maybe you had to be there. Responsibility was in my DNA, that’s for sure. Often, all I really wanted to do was loaf in my room and listen to my records full blast. Those records included Patti.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Did you read Keith Richards’ “Life?” Because if you liked “Just Kids,” chances are you’ll like that one, too.

    Saw Hamlet at CSC. Deliciouso.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, I haven’t read Keith’s book, and I have heard that it is very good. I am sure that I would like it because I am a longtime Keith fan. His cameo in Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (or was it 14? 40? 400? There have been so many sequels in that franchise) compelled me to see that movie. In true Keith fashion I have zero recollection of it.

      I usher at CSC, but how they roll, is that they only let ushers work every other play. I didn’t get Hamlet so I’ll probably miss it. Last weekend, Milton and I got rush tickets to Something Rotten. We thought it was very entertaining, and the three male leads were superb, but the writing seemed to fall short. We both thought it was good, but it wasn’t great. What did you think of Airline Highway? Didn’t you see that one recently? I will head over to your site so feel free to answer me there; I’ve been meaning to get there for the past two days. We have a discount allowing us to see AH for $50. We’re going to go for it. We splurged and got tickets to both The Visit (later this month) and The Audience (seeing that in June). We intend to get rush tickets to Hand to God soon. I’m looking forward to that. Milton is grousing that we might not get a good view of Tyrone, the puppet. Have you seen that? It played the Lortel before I started ushering there.

      Like

  18. An excellent post, as always. Your Lame Adventures are always fun.

    Patti might have been the young Mick, but on that day you were the one on top of your game with the SF State Phoenix credentials. Quick on your feet.

    I will follow up over on Ram On this weekend with a post on my return to the scene of Patti’s invitation to San Diego. Spoiler alert – there have been some changes in the past thirty years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was a desperate situation that required quick thinking, Bruce, coupled with getting extremely lucky. Every time I visit San Francisco, it looks less and less like the place I knew in my youth. but then again, my neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side looks less and less like it did when I moved here 32 years ago. Obviously Heraclitus knew what he was talking about when he said that the only thing constant is change. I look forward to reading about what you discovered when you returned to Sutter and Kearny 30+ years later.

      Like

  19. Quick thinking. I never would have been able to pull it off. The thought may have come to me, but I’m not good under pressure and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten in the van. Nice follow-up years later.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I really wanted her autograph and I really wanted to take a picture of her. You know the saying: necessity is the mother of invention. But, being Lame Adventure, it did take 30 years to accomplish that goal. Fortunately, I am by nature a very patient person.

      Like

  20. Pingback: Scalloped Outlines | Ram On

  21. I wrote a follow-up to our Patti post. It’s not the post I thought I would write, so there aren’t any photos of the store today. Here we are: https://brucekthiesen.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/scalloped-outlines-patti-smith-san-francisco-virginia-antonelli/

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Reblogged this on isisreincarnated and commented:
    This is kinda awesome!!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I wouldn’t have the courage. To do that takes some serious guts. But hey you got your autograph.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Very cool story!!

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Look at you all Fresh Pressed and whatnot! I’m so happy for you! Congratulations. I love when someone I know is given recognition. Well done.

    Did you see those notices for Fun House?! Yikes! No more discounts for a while. I saw Wolf Hall on Sunday. All of it. Spectacular. Skylight tomorrow. Congrats, again. Maybe she’ll read this and want to re-kidnap you.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Mark! This was quite a lovely surprise.

      Milton also told me that Fun Home got a rave. I haven’t read the review yet. I impulsively saw it Milton-less the first time around in a partial view 20 clam seat at the Public. (He and I had let our membership lapse that season because I was super-broke and he wasn’t impressed with the slate.) The woman sitting next to me, a very kind swell, pitched a fit about her membership granting her and her husband such terrible seats and then she threw me in the mix expressing outrage about my seat! What a woman! If I was thinking, I should have asked her to adopt me. The three of us instantly got upgraded to premium! The show was wonderful. Emotionally, it’s a heartbreaking story that’s beautifully told and packs such a punch. Somehow, some way, Milton and I will see it together this time around. There’s a mobile lottery that’s one way of scoring tickets. Maybe we’ll get lucky there? We got rush tickets to Gigi and Hand to God over the weekend. We’ve heard all kinds of nastiness about Vanessa Hudgens, so we anticipated this could be a flat souffle. It was the exact opposite. That young woman is so talented. It’s delightful. All I will say about Hand to God is I never thought I would enjoy an evening with Satan so much. As usual, at the rudest moments in the production, Milton and I laughed longer and harder than anyone else around us. We’re passing on Wolf Hall, Neither of us has read the books, Milton’s not watching the series on PBS and I don’t have cable i.e., the only stations my antenna can pull in are ABC and Fox. I have to figure out what I’m going to do about watching the Tony awards … probably miss them this year. Grumble.

      Like

  26. What up V! Just catching up on some awesome stories. And I’ve got to say this one was pretty badass Lame Adventure … getting to meet Patti and almost getting whisked away to San Diego. Dude. To think that none of that would have happened if you didn’t speak up and it known that you were a world famous photographer. Dude, imagine if you would have been like all right I guess … next time. Dude! Not you! You were on a mission. Nice! Good to know that you were finally able to get her autograph years later. Nicely done. Those 15 seconds of bravery paid off.

    Liked by 6 people

  27. That is a much cooler adventure than my brush with fame . . . . Shaking Davey Jones hand.

    Why couldn’t Davey have been Joey Ramone …

    Liked by 4 people

  28. Checking out my Triple threat FP pal….

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Can’t believe how cheap the seat was for the concert!!

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed on this! 🙂 You deserved it!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. WOW! Congrats on your Freshly Pressed status!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. ‘I can see up her nose!’ – I LOVE IT haha

    Liked by 2 people

  33. F.R.E.S.H.L.Y. P.R.E.S.S.E.D.

    The right status for your very worthy Lame Adventures..

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Congratulations on your Freshly Pressed! That’s amazing!
    I’m proud to be your fellow New York City dweller 🙂
    Great story, as always!
    *Lia

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed for this, V!! Yay!! This was a great post. Well deserved. I’m excited for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amy. You were instrumental in this happening. It was through you that I “met” Bruce who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier this month, he wrote a post where he quoted verse written by Patti. That made me think of my encounter with her and I mentioned it to him in a rather long-winded comment. But as fate would have it, he enthusiastically welcomed my blathering. He worked in that very branch of B. Dalton back in the day! He personally knew that freight elevator very well. To quote a cliche that applies perfectly here: what a small world.

      Liked by 2 people

  36. I love everything about the post. As a young person you were pretty astute to have held onto even that receipt, let alone the photos all these years later. My one brush with rock stardom was not nearly as cool as yours, but a tad more embarrassing. I was working for a newspaper (not in a cool writer way, instead in a stiff business end way). We had an offsite retreat day to talk about marketing, held in a Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. Got into the elevator with co-workers. I had graduated high school many decades before with a guy who I had heard did the lighting for Pink Floyd. At some point after getting on the elevator, I recognized that guy and then looked to his left and realized I was in there with David Gilmore and Roger Waters. I whisper to my boss, “That’s Pink Floyd.” (yes, I was just that awkward) She says to them, “So, which of you is Pink and which is Floyd?” I couldn’t get out of the elevator fast enough.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Debby, I loved that story! Thank you for sharing it here! My colleague, Godsend, was wondering if your encounter might have been the influence in this lyric in Have a Cigar:

      Well, I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely.
      The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think.
      Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?

      Liked by 1 person

  37. Pingback: Maple Trees Just a Little Bit Duller | Ram On

  38. https://brucekthiesen.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/maple-trees-just-a-little-bit-duller/

    Photos of an old building on the corner of Sutter and Kearny Streets in San Francisco’s Financial District, the location of your encounter with Patti.

    Like

  39. Wow, just came back and saw you’ve been Freshly Pressed! Yay for you!

    Liked by 2 people

  40. This is WAY cool. It’s cool that you got to meet PS at that seminal time in her career, and cooler still that she was nice to you. And then you brought it full circle. All kinds of cool.

    Just think, if you had gone to San Diego back in the day, twenty years later you might earn a spot in the “Behind the Music” episode about Patti as “Traumatized Girl-Woman # 1.” Ah, what might have been!

    I’ve only met one musician, but that was a big one for me–Erasure’s Andy Bell. I know, I know–“serious” people don’t like Erasure. Well, if loving Erasure is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, and I saw you got Freshly Pressed for this. That adds another layer to the cool I spoke about in my comment.

      Like

    • Thanks, Smak. It was very cool and I have the actual photos to back up that it really did happen. I barely knew how to use that camera and I admit that my exposures, let me think of the right way to say it, suck out loud. But that encounter, both of them, are very cool memories. I’m glad that you enjoyed my tale. As for your fondness for Erasure and getting up close and personal with Andy Bell, I’ll cut you slack. I appreciate that you shared it here. It’s not like you’re a hardcore fan of some imaginary band like the Archies. Then, I’d be worried about you!

      Like

  41. Definitely not lame! If anything this is the coolest, I wish I could get that close to my favorite singer and take cool shots like that. Please check out my blog! Love this

    Liked by 1 person

  42. That was a wonderful read…seriously

    Like

  43. I once rode an elevator 5 floors with Chuck Mangione in a Chicago hotel. He slouched sullenly in the corner while 18-year-old me agonized, “Is it him? Should I say something? What do I say? It’s probably not him, anyway. But is it HIM?”

    We both got out on the ground floor without having exchanged so much as a glance, and I ran to the nearest record store on State St. Yup, it was him.

    I think this was in ’78 also. Must have been something in the water that year that caused brushes with musical fame.

    But I think you’ll agree that my adventure was WAY lamer than yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that your adventure was much lamer than mine, but maybe Chuck was sullen because the elevator happened to be playing Feels So Good at that moment. There was a time when that song seemed to play ALL THE TIME and EVERYWHERE. Thanks for sharing your tale!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s