Tag Archives: rock and roll

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.

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Lame Adventure 393: Cheap Special Thrills

It is no secret that I have been riding on the fast track to get rich slow my entire life. Recently, when I had the opportunity to purchase one of the two last row coffin corner partial view $20 tickets to the hit musical, Fun Home, currently staged at the Public Theater, I pounced. I reasoned:

Me (reasoning): Better to see some of this show than none.

Below, is an image of my irresistible view.

This equipment console sure makes a better door than window.

This equipment console makes a much better door than window.

I could see about a third of the stage. The woman sitting next to me, who paid the $45 membership rate price, had a full view, but was not happy. She also felt sympathy for me. An Alpha New Yorker, she complained to someone. I figured that when the show would start, I would stand for the 105-minute duration. But the woman’s complaining reaped results. Shortly before the play began, an usher informed everyone in the back row that we could have better seats. I was moved to the center of the seventh row as if I paid full price for my ticket. I thought:

Me (thinking): Sweet! This is a great day!

Then my iPhone vibrated in my pocket and I was gob smacked back to reality. I had an alert from the New York Times announcing that Lou Reed had died. Even though he was 71 and had liver disease, I felt sucker punched. Lou was one of the reasons why I moved to New York City in 1982. He was one of my heroes when I was growing up in San Francisco. He was cool, he was smart, he was talented, he had attitude and he was a Brooklyn born New Yorker. He was the real deal.

My sitting in the cheap seats has a connection to him. When I was a high school senior attending Our Lady of Perpetual Misery School or, Our Lady of PMS, Lou was on tour promoting his latest album, Rock & Roll Heart. He was playing in the East Bay at the Berkeley Community Theatre on November 30, 1976. I told my best friend and  fellow Lou-fan, a girl named Faith, that we had to see him. We agreed that we would sit in the $4.50 seats. We deemed the $6.50 seat price too steep. We were sitting so far away at this sold out show it was as if we were watching Lou sing from another galaxy. I brought my super 8 mm Minolta movie camera with me. Somewhere in my father’s house today is a reel of silent, anything but super, super 8 mm film of a gnat-sized Lou Reed performing.

The Minolta super 8 mm movie camera that filmed Lou Reed in concert.

The Minolta super 8 mm movie camera that filmed Lou Reed in concert.

Fast-forward 35 years to October 15, 2011. Milton and I are attending a screening at the New York Film Festival of a documentary film called Pina directed by Wim Wenders. As I approach Milton at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, he is giddy with excitement. Milton recognized Lou standing outside the theater. Quick thinking Milton, whipped out his iPhone and immediately took a photograph.

That's Lou Reed's foot and Milton's finger.

That’s Lou Reed’s foot and Milton’s finger.

Then, he took more images finger obscuring-free.

Lou in long shot just standing on Broadway talking to a friend.

Lou in long shot just standing on Broadway outside Alice Tully Hall talking to a friend.

Lou closer.

Lou maybe confiding, “Don’t look, but there’s a guy with an iPhone breathing down my neck.”

I was very happy that Milton took the pictures, and we were both amazed when it turned out that Lou was sitting in our row just a few seats away from us. Lou probably felt like he was being stalked. Lou made a quick escape before the Q&A ended, but when we were leaving, we saw him again in the theater lobby talking to Wim Wenders. Milton took more pictures and Lou, to his credit, did not file a restraining order.

"Wim, I cannot escape that guy with an iPhone. Help me, please!"

“Wim, I cannot escape that guy with the iPhone. I’m begging you, help me, please!”

One of the many great things about living in New York City is that you never know when you might run into a legend on the street. Unfortunately, there is now one less legend around town to glimpse by chance. Embedded below is the title song from Rock & Roll Heart that I heard Lou sing live back in the day.