My Patti Smith Story

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This one’s for my friend Bill, who loves my old New York rock and roll stories. He was in Florida back then, so he can only hear stories about it.

I was 20, I think, it’s hard to remember what went on back then because I was in such a state of flux that even I didn’t know what was going on with me.

I had my first camera, no, actually it was my second camera, a Minolta 101. My first camera was a Leica, not an F, but close to it. I didn’t like it because it was a rangefinder and I found it too difficult to use. I didn’t know shit about photography (or cameras) then. I bought the Leica for $25 from some girl in the dorm (she promptly used the money to buy pills from me) and later sold it for $200. I bought the Minolta for $100 from some other desperate Pratt student.

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This is what my Leica looked like.

Around that time little black and white flyers started popping up all over campus about a show, or a poetry reading, rather by a girl named Patti Smith. I’d heard of her, of course, being hip and artistic and literary and all that. I remember seeing her around campus even before I went to Pratt (I lived nearby and hung out on the campus as a teenager). She had a very tall, skinny and very pretty boyfriend who wore a tight black leather jumpsuit. She was very pretty and exotic looking too. She wore big t-shirts and no bra. It was always a thrill to see them around, even if I didn’t know they were Patti Smith and Robert Maplethorpe.

The flyer said Patti Smith would be reading poetry at the student lounge one friday afternoon. I took my camera, because who wouldn’t want pictures of a pretty poetess?

There weren’t a lot of people there, probably 20 or so in a room that easily held 100. The couches and easy chairs had been pushed against the walls to form a seating space in front of the performance area. We all sat on the floor.

There was a small fender amp set up next to a microphone, and then a girl who was the student rep or something came out to introduce Patti. She’d been sitting on one of the couches with a tall skinny guy with glasses and an electric guitar. They sauntered up to the mike and amp.The skinny guy plugged in and Patti started talking, or reciting poetry. The guitar guy did some psychedelic sound effects.

Suddenly Patti launched into a song, “Paint It Black”, by the Rolling Stones. She started prancing around like Mick Jagger, and shaking her hips. This was pretty cool, I thought.

I’d taken a couple of pictures, politely, at first, I didn’t know if she was going to say “no pictures”, but she said nothing so I kept snapping pictures of Patti standing at the mike.

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The Minolta with the loud shutter.

Unfortunately, the 101 had a really loud shutter, and when she was just doing poetry every time I took a picture and the curtain went up and down it made a “thwickup” sound.

Thwickup, thwickup, thwickup. Every time I did this a girl sitting on the floor just in front of me would turn around to give me a dirty look.

When Patti started singing and moving I got up, I started following her around and getting as close as I dared. She seemed to be digging it, looking straight at the camera, she was a rock and roll star now. I even got some accidental shots of the braless breasts when she bent over and you could see up the collar of the loose white tee shirt. She had nice ones.

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See?

 The shirt had a picture of someone’s face on it, one of those Kodalith  things, but I can’t remember who it was.

Everybody was digging the singing, even the girl with the dirty looks who finally stopped starring at me.

Patti ended with “Pale Blue Eyes’ by the Velvet Underground, one of my favorite songs in the whole world, and I knew at that second that Patti knew rock and roll. I would love her forever.

A few years later, not many actually, Patti was headlining at CBGB’s one night. I was tight with the bartender at CB’s at the time, my friend Roxy, and I got in for free to most gigs. I practically lived at CB’s when i was 24.

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I was broke at the time, and I hit on a brilliant idea. Sell the pictures of Patti to Patti. I got a manilla envelope and filled it with a bunch of 8X10 prints I’d made of Patti’s Pratt performance.

At some point before the show, I made my way back to the dressing room to talk to Patti. After all, we’d been this close to each other at the student lounge, and she was a cool, liberal woman, we were practically friends. I hadn’t counted on the tall skinny guy with glasses and a guitar. His name was Lenny Kaye, I’d found out.

Lenny was standing at the door to the dressing room, I could see Patti somewhere in the back talking to someone, but she paid no attention to the door.

“Can I help you?” He asked.

“Yeah, man, I got some pictures of Patti I took a few years ago at Pratt, and I thought she might be interested in buying them.” I thrust the 8X10s at Lenny, who took them out of my hand and started leafing through them.

I was pretty stoned on pills, so I’m not quite sure how my pitch came out, but at least he was looking at the pictures. Them he would show them to Patti. He finished looking at them and handed them back.

“No thanks.” He said.

“But you haven’t shown them to Patti.”

“She’s busy, but I’m pretty sure she’s not interested.”

“But there’s some of you, too, aren’t you interested?”

“Get lost before I call the bouncer.”

I walked away dejected. I didn’t know how to feel about Patti now. I knew the Kaye guy was a prick, though.

I lost the pictures along with everything else I owned not long after that.

One of the bouncers at CB’s was a woman. I used to do whippets with her at CB’s when my girlfriend wasn’t around. I later married her, and now I think it would have been really weird if Kaye had called a bouncer over and it had been her. Life in the fast lane, huh?

About xaviertrevino

I like to write, take things apart and put them back together, turtles, and my lovely wife Danusia.
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4 Responses to My Patti Smith Story

  1. janetgzinn says:

    I love your endless adventures. Thanks for the story. I’ll stay a Patti Smith fan, no matter who guarded her door.

  2. Pingback: My Patti Smith Story! | PleaseKillMe®

  3. Patricia says:

    That story sounds so much like my life, hahaha! I loved those years in NYC too but as you I too lost everything from that period. I lived at 315 East 9th St, for most of my years in the city. I can’t belive Lenny wouldn’t let you show Patti the pictures. She was always so nice. Then again they really didn’t have a lot of money at that point. New York, is now just a fond memory for me. I actually hate how the city is just a place for the rich now. The day they built a K-mart in the East village, I knew NYC would never be cool again, lol.

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