This review gives insight into Patti Smith’s life, on stage at the Roundhouse in 1976, but also in New York at the notoriously ‘creative’ Hotel Chelsea and on the road touring. It describes her audience as the “regular Sunday night Roundhouse crowd, stoned and shaking sack loads of dandruff over their Levi’s”. “She comes bouncing onstage like Muhammad Ali jumping up and down on the spot, punchy and laughing, grinning… with a stack of burning energy bursting through.”
Miles, New Musical Express, 22 May 1976
Patti Smith at the Roundhouse, facing fans, friends, fungoids and straightforward weirdos – Britain’s first live chance of checking out the ‘legend’. MILES went as a Friend but was genuinely impressed.
SHE WAS on the phone when I arrived, ticking over on reserve tanks but still on her feet. Patti and the band had played the Paradiso in Amsterdam the night before – one of those clubs where hashish is legal and handed round in huge bins and the “Summer of Love” still exists in time-warp.
A few hours’ sleep, airports and a hassle with customs and here she was, traces of that nervous energy still there, abbreviated stabs at the air while she talks, a highly expressive set of mouth muscles.
We are in the basement café of her hotel, waiting for the band to come down. As she eats she periodically shouts out in her clipped South Jersey accent, “Gee, you girls sure know how to make a great-steak” or “Gee, you girls know how to make a great salad.”
She flips through the dailies, looking for the interviews with her. She freezes half-way through a page turn.
“Keith Relf dead?”
The band wander in and Patti grabs Lenny. Relf gets added to the growing list of rock’s casualties.
“Same initials as Keith Richard.”
“Same first name as Keith Richard”, replies Lenny Kaye.
“Brian Jones was asthmatic too. Maybe it’s that blond hair…”
A rock and roll death, more tragic than ordinary death because rock represents the pulse of life. It’s a symbol of energy. Unthinkable for a rock ‘n’ roller to keel over and die.
“We must do a song for him at the concert tonight …”
I know her from the late ’60s when we both lived in the Hotel Chelsea in New York. She and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in the smallest room in the hotel, tucked away up on the 10th floor next door to Sandy Dailey, the film-maker who made the (in)famous film of them, Robert Having His Nipple Pierced.
Patti and Robert were artists in those days. Patti had just returned from Paris and was burning energy. They were everywhere, at all the poetry readings, the art exhibition openings and the rock and roll concerts.
She was very much part of the “Chelsea Scene”, the frenzied socializing, partying, drug-taking, film-making, love-making, book-writing interaction that went on between the 500 inhabitants of that crumbling hotel.
It was where Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan lived, where Brendan Behan went to live and drink and Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter and many up-and-comings drank at the same bar as Arthur Miller, Arthur C. Clarke, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso.
Virtually everyone staying there writes poetry, books, porn or journalism, or else deals, is a high class hooker, is a famous painter or makes movies. It’s a 24 hour full-time creative vibe, if you can handle it. Patti could.
“I always said I’d move back into the Chelsea when I had some bread but I never did. I guess I want to protect the memories of those great days.”
“Miles knew me when I was just a nobody”, she told Lenny. But now she has fame. A cover of Rolling Stone , a huge black limo to take her to the gig. Patti looking tiny and regal in the back while curtains twitch in the street as people peer out to see who it is.
THE DRESSING rooms at The Roundhouse are stark and bare but better than most. There are some fan letters for Patti there.
“This is a good one for you to read aloud, Lenny.” It’s in rhyme. It says, “Marry me. I want to fuck you,” and it’s from someone who says he lives in a council house. Patti is delighted.
The audience are regular Sunday night Roundhouse crowd, stoned and shaking sack loads of dandruff over their Levi’s, part Patti Smith cult fans, including a large number of women delighted to have someone female do for rock what David Bowie did for the males.
There are also a few fungoids and weirdos who have come to check her out.
She comes bouncing onstage like Muhammad Ali jumping up and down on the spot, punchy and laughing, grinning, overjoyed at the cheering applauding audience who are all clapping with their hands over their heads.
Lenny Kaye adopts the classic stance, legs wide apart and then that familiar New York music begins. And they are very New York.
Patti doesn’t mess around. Just grabs the audience and takes them up there. She has tremendous stage presence, not showbizz, not glitter, just a personal magnetism which keeps all eyes beamed straight at her.
“Redondo Beach is a place where women love each other (kiss, kiss)” she announces. A pair of little lesbians in front of me hug each other with glee and then yell, “Yeah, tell it to them Patti.”
But Patti is not a woman rock and roller as such. There’s plenty of sex drive in her act but it’s not specifically male or female by any usual archetypes, it’s just a stack of burning energy bursting through. Not even so much sex as love because for all the sullen street punk imagery she is really warm and friendly.
“When there are 1,000 people in the audience and 500 of them are guys and 500 are girls, why just talk to half of them? Why should I, being a girl, just sing to boys. I want everybody to love me. I want to communicate with everybody. I don’t really think of myself sexually or other people sexually, I just think of sex period.”
She did a great version of ‘Free Money’. The constant fuzz roar of feedback guitar, The sound of New York City, of the IRT subway taking a curve, the screech of tortured metal, iron on iron, trucks rumbling over the cobbles in lower Manhattan, transformed into music, Organised by the regular no-frills drumming of Jay Dee Daugherty, always on top of it, kicking it into shape.
The influences are The Velvet Underground, the unspecified mix of influence from the backroom at Max’s and the Mercer Arts Center, a little Rolling Stones, maybe some Motown.
Most of the squealing comes from Lenny Kaye who’s got the New York strut and also knows the coitus interruptus bob. We all like him because he’s a rock critic. Patti’s one as well. They wrote for Creem and Crawdaddy.
The audience responds with the secret semaphore of arm jerks known only to a particular sect of mutant punk rock/heavy metal fiends. An algebraic signal code uniting all those that can be united.
There was foot shuffling, stomping and much working out with the arms. The guy with the shaved head and metal studded leather wristbands flexed his biceps on the off-beat. Two guys, Andrew Bailey lookalikes, boxed each other playfully about the ears as Patti spat on stage. Oh, transport of delight!
Patti was the boss, Ms Rock ‘n’ Roll: the Keith Richard look-alike only had to flash a clenched fist and the whole audience flashed one straight back. A couple of right hooks and a sea of arms jolted everyone’s beer. Arms together over the head and the room was pleasantly aired by 2000 sweaty pits.
The band eschew solos, functioning very much as a unit to punch out pure positive street energy, raw, bare, naked.
Lenny and Patti crouch at each other like playful lion cubs. Patti relates to him a lot on stage. They’ve been together now for 6 years and the chemistry must be just right because the strain of playing together in a band is heavy.
Lenny began backing her on guitar when she gave poetry readings. He was then a rock critic. As her readings became concerts – a poet transforming into a singer – he became a guitarist, his skill improving by being tested by the new demands she made of him.
His solutions are often unorthodox but they are always the right ones for her. They are right ones to get the space right. No-one would claim he’s a great guitarist in the way of solos or even fairly rudimentary melodies.
THE FAMOUS Roundhouse heat builds up and Patti throws off a couple of shirts, getting down to little-league T-shirt and jeans. She beats her breast to the music. She’s suffering from travel fatigue (having just played Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam), time-warp, orientation-stress and lack of sleep.
The lights are beating down on her, everyone’s sweating like pigs. So she does a few push-ups, she really starts to work out in her T-shirts and jeans.
She leans on the front of the piano and stares at Richard Sohl. He looks scared. He can’t take his eyes from her and has to feel for the notes on the piano. He does it OK because they are pretty simple notes and he’s played them lots of times.
He is the one who secretly holds the music all together, playing one note at a time-chink-chink-like he was dealing poker chips.
Then Patti gets a white Keith Richard jacket and a guitar of her own.
She stumbles over the words. What’s she trying to say? She’s strangely inarticulate. It’s a tribute. “It’s a field of sound. It implies any kind of magnetism that we’d all like to do for Keith Relf….”
“Yeah”, says Lenny. “Keith Relf was one of the inventors of feedback.”
They do a feedback guitar piece. They know how to pace themselves and relax on stage, not to knock themselves out in the first few numbers. It’s not a heavy metal roar, more of a spacey, ice-edged number. If it weren’t for the honesty and directness, it could have fallen apart here but it didn’t.
It worked, despite the fact that Lenny couldn’t even get his guitar to feedback. He held it up, he held it by the stage monitors… nope. Well, just a bit.
“Right now, we are here in this room together, I don’t think I’m too fucking cool to relate to you!” She formulates it. The twisting path towards human relations, through the grit and humiliation, the alienation and competition. She cuts through the hallucinatory vapours of the American Dream, growing ever more fragile and more and more realising that no-matter how much more they buy and consume they’re not any happier.
Patti is showing them an alternative.
“Do you feel frustrated? Do you feel like a loser?” Heads actually nod in agreement, thinking, “Yes, yes, she’s talking to me. She understands.”
The audiences have their eyes riveted on her now. She is in direct communication. They want her for their friend because many of them haven’t got any real friends, at least not any that they can talk with about that kind of thing.
Patti is telling them to let go but it’s so difficult to break out of the armoring. It’s so difficult to wag a frigid ass, to look an open friendly girl straight in the eye, to find someone to love…
Patti gets down and masturbates her guitar, she doesn’t pretend to know how to play. The white noise roar of feedback builds up and up in waves as she and Lenny crouch together, almost grinding their guitars in a dry hump a-la Ronson/Bowie.
FIRST SHE took them up, then established a cruise speed and relaxed some. Now she began to punch it up to the end. A rambling spoken intro led into ‘Horses’ and the evening made that magic flip over from being concert into being event. It no longer mattered about the playing not being all that hot sometimes, or that Patti was away from the mike on some of the audience’s favorite hook lines. The band was producing a rush.
Taking you there.
A sea of hands waved as she stomped straight into ‘Gloria’ without a break. Fantastic. All my apprehension about her gone. I didn’t like the album very much and thought the OGWT showing was derivative and lacked energy but live, she’s terrific.
I’ve not seen such audience appreciation in a long time. She returned and encored with ‘My Generation’. They made her come back again and she ended with the appropriate Stones number ‘Time Is On My Side’.
As she left the stage after the second encore she shouted to the audience “Remember Keith Relf” but it was lost in the cheers.
Backstage afterwards she was exhausted but very up. A roomful of rock press congratulated her (CSM and Sue breaking their honeymoon to catch the show and to meet her and Max Bell looking cute…)
Even later at the Hard Rock Cafe she was still jumping, cruising the aisles, talking to fans, waiters, friends. Telling Max to keep practicing his guitar. But she was close to fade out and as the limo headed back to the Portobello Hotel, Lenny Kaye, flopped out in the seat and muttered:
“I can see my little bed and it has a little pillow on it and I’m pulling the cover up round me….” Patti was asleep.
© Miles, 1976