Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!
By the end of the night she was barefoot, her frizzy mess of unwashed hair was
strewn with delicate white flower petals, and a dirty white sock hung nefariously
from the fly of her
baggy old Levi's. It was the first time I'd seen Patti Smith. But I felt strangely
nostalgic, like I was catching up with an old friend. I wanted to nudge the person
next to me, shake my head and say, "Man, she hasn't changed a bit." Something
deep inside was telling me she hadn't.
Levitating both arms like a preacher rallying her congregation, she was wild
and, like a true poet, totally lost in the moment. To fast, rocking songs, she'd
pogo up and down, her unkempt hair falling into her face like branches blowing
in the wind. To sad numbers, she'd sway, lean into the microphone stand and,
if things got intense enough, fall to her knees and hang her head, making me
think of a weeping willow.
Backed by a huge screen showing a collage-like collection of black and white
images interspersed with colorful psychedelic doodles, the two-hour set at Portland,
Oregon's Crystal Ballroom that sticky summer night (Wednesday, August 17) saw
and torn veteran, not hanging onto times gone by but pressing on with insight,
determination and an undying love for picking apart the world and rearranging
it to her liking. You can't hang on to something you never left. She's an artist:
creation is not an option, it's a necessity. The aching wisdom in her deep-set
eyes makes it easy to see she's a lonely soul, too easily touched by the hardship
of living. But over her many years of penning stark, sometimes almost too painfully
genuine songs, she's consistently embraced her role as an artist and a voice
for the underdog. "This next song's for Charlie," she said onstage. "Charlie's
a homeless guy I ran into before the show. He asked me to dedicate a song to him
Charlie: this one's for you!" As if she were talking under her breath,
laughed and added: "Gotta stick to the streets, you know."
Wearing an oversized, beat-up white T-shirt that had a faded peace sign made
of tiny roses on it, she brushed over the upcoming election but never once mentioned
the B word. "You're all gonna vote, right?" she asked, her inquiry bringing
riotous uproar to the room. "That's a stupid question we've got to unite,
got to get him out, we've got to." And she trailed off with a sad look on her
face before the band broke into a song, whose name I don't know, that featured
a lot of inspiring words of revolution and high-spirited fist-pumping.
With about three songs to go, she flopped over, pulled off her black ankle boots
one at a time, ripped off the left sock, flung it sloppily to the crowd, pulled
off the right sock, shoved it in her fly, allowing it to hang just so, looked
at it, looked up and smiled. She left that sock there for the rest of the night.
I smiled and thought to myself, some things never change. Jenny Tatone [Friday,
August 20, 2004]