Living in your own liberty: Mother & Daughter visit Patti Smith

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Proof that generations can rock-n-roll together.

When times are tough, think about good times. That’s been my motto as of late.

I wanted to tell you all right away about my experience taking my daughter to see Patti Smith. But following the concert Feb. 27th, life kind of fell apart with layers upon layers of crisis. My 17-year-old son is in the hospital (he will be alright, but recovery is going to be slow and take awhile). On top of that, my husband’s job just changed focus, causing him to work tons of overtime. Then my 14-year-old daughter was diagnosed with mono the day her older brother was hospitalized. And my 12 year old, Mr. Baseball is Life, has begun baseball season in earnest, with practice and drills and the occasional band concert every.freakin.night.

Life has been kind of rough on Mom, who’s been trying to hold everyone and everything together. Not to mention it’s planting season and I’m trying to polish the last of this current manuscript and get it out the door. Oh, and freelance work….

Are you tired yet?

On my way back from the 45-mile drive to the hospital (which will look like child’s play compared to the 5-hour drive to facility where he’ll likely be transferred in the near future), Patti came on the radio (tracing lazy circles in the sky). It took me back to that blessed night, where I could share with my daughter a love of mine and instill in her the goodness of questioning, critical thinking, play, and poetry that Patti inspires.

As I parked the car near the venue (score one for free street parking!), the Seattle sky opened up and a torrential downpour began. We were really early because I thought the concert started at 7 p.m. – not that the doors opened then. So we sought refuge in a coffee shop kitty corner from the Neptune, where Patti was to go on. We walk in the door, soaked to the bone, my mascara running down like I just did a set with Alice Cooper. I look up and who’s sitting at a table in the coffee shop? Patti Smith and her guitarist, Lenny Kaye. They were sitting with a 20-something couple just chatting. I walked by trying hard not to completely fan girl. Once we ordered our drinks, I let my daughter know that the Poet Priestess was mere feet from us. “Don’t go over there, Mom! Oh my god, don’t.”

Since the whole trip (concert, dinner, coffee, gas, parking et al) was for her – a birthday gift (courtesy her big sister, and the generous donation of tickets from a fabulous donor – a librarian at my alma mater), I abided by her wishes, even though my inner Lebowski did not want to do so.

I sat there trying to figure out if I could surreptitiously take photos of Patti & Lenny with my phone, while trying to wear down my daughter’s resolve to let the celebrities be. As they left the coffee shop and segued from java joint to hotel lobby (I never even knew there was a hotel there), I snapped a couple of very, very blurry shots. But, she was there. We were there. And I’ll never forget that night. Thinking about it makes me smile. Even though life is incredibly stressful right now.

We finished our coffees and went to the venue and found a good spot stage left.

Saint Maybe opened for Patti Smith, and if Smith had anything to do with who the band was, I could easily see why. I wrote before about how Patti accomplished what Jim Morrison couldn’t master – although his attempts were greatly appreciated – she successfully merged poetry and rock and roll in a manner where the poetry was first and foremost. Saint Maybe possesses that Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and storytelling aspect that Patti does so well. Be on the look out for these guys to do more and more. Seattle sure seemed to love them, not just me. Oh, and the crowd kept thinking that their keyboard player looked like she could be Patti’s daughter. Although, both her children have been known to back her up on this recent album tour, Saint Maybe’s keyboardist, Lesli Wood, is not related.

Just as the crowd was beginning to get anxious, Smith and Kaye appeared, along with the supporting cast, Jay Dee Daugherty and Tony Shanahan. She opened with April Fool, which I felt was fitting since my daughter’s birthday is in April

Jay talked Patti into doing Redondo Beach – something she apparently hasn’t done in a long while. In fact, she did a lot of old songs:  Distant Fingers, Ghost Dance, Free Money, Dancing Barefoot, Beneath the Southern Cross, Because the Night, Pissing in a River, We Three (which brought out the bic lighters in the audience – and many a tear), Land (my favorite), and Gloria. She interspersed Fuji-san, This is the Girl, After the Goldrush from the new album Banga.

As usual, her music was interspersed with self-deprecating stories about her fashion sense, her love of certain shows (giving props to The Killing), and her love for The Hunger Games (she wore a mocking jay pin, that I first noticed her sporting during a web event at Amoeba music last summer), and her concern about the state of our planet – both environmental and human-to-human connection. She got down in front of the stage and shook hands. Daughter and I were four people back, so couldn’t shake hands with her. But we did find ourselves the target of the Seattle Weekly’s photographer – who found the “generational” aspect of our concert going telling of Smith’s appeal.

Lenny Kaye and the band did an intermission covering Night Time, We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet, Born to Lose, and Pushin’ Too Hard.

Patti’s encore included Banga, Babelogue and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger. She was fired up, screaming into the microphone “We’re all fucking niggers” before the band whipped into an instrumental frenzy. Be advised in Smith’s song, the n-word is a term of empowerment, not an epithet. When she first released this song, she’d attempted a campaign to reclaim the volatile word for all people “outside of society,” starting with herself; there were few takers. Unlike the LGBTQ community adopting “queer,” Smith’s push to take back the n-word never caught on. Patti is a poet, not a political strategist. But the song served as a rallying cry for those in the audience that night — which we’re all on the outside when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When the oppressed become the oppressors, and that the future is now.

Before she left the stage she lifted up her guitar, as the audience hushed, and said, “This is the only weapon you’ll ever need.”

Thinking about that moment, and how my daughter nodded, makes me smile, despite what challenges I’m facing right now. Yes. Music. Poetry. Stories. That’s why I wanted to share “church” with my daughter. “We were going to see the world….”

So one evening is keeping me through these last few weeks. It’s a memory my daughter and I can share forever. Therefore, special thanks go out to Roxanna, Nada & Beverly. Without them, this night would not have been possible. Thank you. May your generosity come back to you three fold.

“It’s our anthem; it means nothing except that we’re all together.”


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