Back in early March, Bill and I packed our bags and drove a couple hours north to Detroit.
Why did we go to Detroit, you ask?
Why, to see the amazing Patti Smith and her band perform the groundbreaking 1975 record album Horses, that’s why.
Okay, folks. I have to explain something before I get into all of this.
This particular adventure was one of my dreams come true. I love Patti Smith. She is one of my idols. Let me give you a little background on some of the reasons why.
Back when I was a girl growing up in the 1970s, I remember seeing Patti on the cover of an album called Easter. I remember people saying she looked awful because she had hair in her armpits. But besides the fact that I thought she looked beautiful with her black hair, white skin, and angelic skinny arm pose, the hair under the arm was fascinating to me. Even though I was just little, I knew that was different and that somehow this pretty woman was not behaving the way ladies should and that it made some people cranky.
It seemed to irritate my mother as well.
Because Patti was pretty, because she had hairy armpits and because she made people talk I remember thinking–I dig this person.
I didn’t own that record Easter even though everyone knew the song Because the Night. I was more of an Osmond Brothers, Tony DeFranco, and Bay City Rollers kind of kid.
I don’t think I would have been able to comprehend or appreciate the beauty of the music that the Patti Smith Group made back then.
As luck would have it though, years later when I was in my 40s, I would rediscover Patti through her writing and by then not only could I comprehend and appreciate her art, I was ready to submerge myself in it and use it as balm and inspiration on a daily basis to, as Prince once said, get through this thing called life.
I read her book Just Kids when it came out in 2010. Bill and I were poking around Barnes & Noble and I picked it up and said “I think I’d like this.” That turned out to be an understatement. I loved that book. Reading it lead me to pick up the documentary DVD Dream of Life. I loved that too. Dream of Life lead me to pick up the album Horses.
And that record rocked my world.
It also opened the door to all her other music for me.
When I rediscovered Patti, I was a mother of an 18 year old son and a 17 year old daughter I had dedicated my life to staying home to raise. My old job of “stay at home mom” was quietly coming to an end and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after the kids took off. I had always had an interest in making art. Back before I met Bill, I was a college student training to be a school teacher. While taking classes for that, I took an art class for elementary school teachers taught by one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. (interestingly named Dr Easter! ha. I just realized that.) I LOVED that class. I excelled in that class. The teacher asked me one day near the end of the quarter—why aren’t you doing this instead? By then, I had been in college for 3 years. Changing course would mean staying in school longer. I couldn’t bear it, so I dropped out. I never graduated. But I never forgot all the cool things Dr. Easter taught me and the boost of confidence she gave me when she told me I was an artist.
I’ve also always loved writing. When I was the same age I was when I saw Patti on the cover of Easter, I won a contest at school to have a story I wrote about Christmas printed in the local paper. That was one sappy-ass story. But I knew people would love it. I like doing that–making people feel emotions with words. When I was a little older, I discovered writing what we now know as “fan fiction”. My personal experience with writing fan fiction started when friends and I wrote stories featuring the Beatles.
God, I love the Beatles. I’ll tell you all about that some other time. Believe me, I have lots to say about the Fab Four.
But back to writing fan fiction. When I was 13, that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to get my stupid school work done so I could break out my special notebook and write the next installment of whatever I had John, Paul, George, Ringo and me and my girlfriends up to. It was GREAT. One of my favorite memories of all time was the day school was cancelled because of snow and I spent the entire day writing and listening to Beatles records. At one point, I took a break and sat in the window seat of my bedroom that night watching the snow fall in the light of the streetlights while listening to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song A Day in the Life always takes me back to my window seat that snowy night. Always.
I’m rambling, aren’t I.
So yeah. Writing. To this day I still enjoy reading or writing a good fan fiction. I have so many journals and notebooks and word documents all over my room full of stories or poems I’ve written over the years. I’d love to be published, but I admit I’m dealing with trying to get over my fear of putting my work out there for others to scrutinize.
I know what Patti would say about that. Or I think I know. I think she would tell me to quit being such a chicken. If I have something to say, say it. Screw what other people might think. She says she writes all of the time. And one thing I really love about Patti is that she left the music world in 1979 to go with her hubby Fred Sonic Smith and stay at home to be a mama to their 2 children. I love hearing her talk about how that was the hardest and most important work she ever did. It’s nice to hear someone like her say that. I feel validated by that. Also, I’ve heard her say that even through all the years she was a mama at home, she still had the need to write. She writes every day.
So….incredibly long story (not really) short…Patti Smith-the musician, the writer, the poet, the artist, the mother, the wife, the person-inspires the hell out of me. I really would like to be more like her.
I believe that has been true since I first laid eyes on her nearly 40 years ago.
SO….anyway, let’s get back to our trip to Detroit!
Back in 2014, Patti announced that she would be touring and doing the Horses album in its entirety for the record’s 40th anniversary. I told my husband then–I’d give my left eyeball to see that show.
So, imagine my bummed outedness when for the longest time I only ever saw tour dates in exotic foreign locations. I can’t say I blamed her. If I was the Godmother of Punk, I’d like to go all over the world and see all kinds of cool people and places too. But it made me sad. I thought maybe Horses would never come anywhere near my hometown smack dab in the middle of the Midwest USA.
It wasn’t like I didn’t get to see Patti at all. Back in 2015, Bill and I traveled to Chicago to see her do a Spring Awakening show at the Old Town School of Folk Music and that was incredible. That was my first time seeing her live. The same year we traveled to Cleveland for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and concert where we got to see, among many other amazing things, Patti induct Lou Reed.
But the Horses anniversary tour continued to elude me.
Until earlier this year.
Imagine my happiness when I finally found on Facebook a list of venues Horses was going to be performed right here in my neck of the woods. Finally, I thought. I saw the Detroit concert listed first and thought–Patti and Horses in the city where she and Fred met and raised their family.
It certainly couldn’t get any better than that.
Thank god my husband said yes when I asked if he’d like to make a weekend getaway out of it with me.
So back when I first heard about the Horses tour, when I was in the dreaming about it state, I invented the idea that if I ever did get the opportunity to go, being in the front row would be the ultimate experience.
The day the tickets went on sale, I was poised at my lap top and on my Ticketmaster app and like a giant bird of prey, I swooped right in and nabbed row A on Lenny Kaye’s side.
Something you might find interesting about me–I am an excellent ticket buyer. It’s one of my gifts.
So, off Bill and I went, to the great Motor City that sunny late winter Saturday.
We stayed at a hotel in the city but the concert was in a really hip little town on the outskirts called Royal Oak. We checked in and started getting ready to go to the show.
I was a nervous wreck the entire time I was getting ready. I told my husband I was freaking out because I had waited so long for this experience and now it was upon me and soon it would be over. I fretted like a maniac in that bathroom. I was happy when we finally left to go to the show.
We thought maybe we’d have a little dinner before the concert in Royal Oak. First of all, it was freezing up there. Bill and I parked our car, put our arms around each other and took off for the main strip. Interestingly enough, people were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Royal Oak, so one of the first things we saw there was a couple emerging from a bar and the girl barfing her guts out all over the sidewalk while her boyfriend watched. That was pretty gross. We moved along, looking for any restaurant we could get into. I was distracted by the many cool shops. But we had to concentrate. We ducked into several places, all of them packed. We gave up and headed to the venue to wait for the doors to open. There was a restaurant next to the Royal Oak Music Theater. It was packed, of course. But there was a small lobby right next to it and it was heated so we stood in there with another couple also there to see Patti. They weren’t very talkative, so it was kind of awkward being in that little space with them while we waited.
The venue opened the doors at 6:30 instead of 7:00 which was a welcome relief.
The Royal Oak Music Theater is a cool venue. Bill and I went straight to the merchandise table and I picked out and bought a Patti t-shirt and poster.
Then we bought a couple double Jack and Diet Cokes and went to find our seats. Front row, Lenny’s side, last seats in the row. That didn’t matter…there were only 5 seats to begin with and the usher pushed all the chairs more toward the middle so we were set up pretty darn good.
I was in heaven there in my seat with my drink waiting for Patti and her crew.
At 8:00 the lights went down and the crowd cheered. Lenny, Jay Dee, Tony and Jackson came out on the stage. I stood up. Everyone stood up. And then, there she was–Patti Smith, in the flesh, looking cool as fuck. The place went crazy. Patti stood in the front of the middle of the stage and took a look around the crowd. Her eyes made their way along the front row in front of her and then moved down our way. When our eyes met, Patti smiled.
My husband said to me–“She smiled right at you!”
And I said, “I know, right!?”
That was one of my favorite moments of the evening. Even though I’ll likely never get to say thank you to her in person, she knew all of us there that night love her and her music. The girl in the braids and cats eye glasses at the end of the row included.
Speaking of the music, when the first chords of “Gloria” started not long after I got the smile, I nearly died. Patti sang, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”, and I lost it. We were off and running.
The whole album Horses unfurled in front of me with 3 of the original people who played on it way back when in 1975. There were stories laced throughout, there was lots of singing along, there was dancing. Toward the last half of the show, Patti’s daughter Jesse joined the band on stage at the piano.
As the night went on, the crowd began to push toward the stage. Bill and I were already up there, so I held tight my spot in front of Lenny as best I could. Patti told the security people to lighten up after a while and let people come on down. We all gathered together as a sweating adoring mass to hear the last songs of the night. Elegie. Dancing Barefoot. Frederick. Ghost Dance. Citizen Ship.
Because the Night.
People Have the Power.
By the end of the show, a couple of younger girls had made their ways down next to me in the thick of things at the front of the stage. Which was fine by me. I’m always happy when I see people from younger generations loving the music I love. That way I know the music will continue to live on, you know? I was feeling reflective by the end of it all, amazed that I was able to experience this night of music.
Patti and the guys finished up the encore with People Have the Power and I was dancing and singing along, turning every now and then to look at my husband to see if he was basking in this as much as this as I was. The show was coming to an end and people were standing and cheering and I was sad because it was all but over.
Lenny Kaye walked back by the drum kit and reached into a little container and came over to the side of the stage where I was standing by the young girls. He passed out plectrums to the 2 girls next to me and I remember thinking–Oh please please please give one to me.
and then he did. He put it right in the palm of my hand and walked off.
I was so happy. I held the blue pick up in between my hands and gave it a kiss.
That was my other favorite moment of the night.
The show was over and the band left the stage.
I’m a lucky girl, I know.
That show was a dream come true.
I got to see the 40th anniversary tour of the record album Horses.
And I shall never, ever forget it.
Bill and I walked out of the venue that night into the freezing cold. We were starved by then. Lucky for us, the hip little joint next door that had previously been super-crowded now had a table for 2 available for us.
We sat by a window with a big full moon shining down from outside on to our little table where my blue Lenny Kaye pick sat and we ate the only meal we had in Detroit that weekend.
I just went to ask Bill what he ate that night and he said he doesn’t remember.
I had enchiladas. One chicken, one bean and one chorizo.
They were damn good.
So was that concert.
I love Patti Smith.
I love the Patti Smith Group.
I love Horses.
I always will.