Patti Smith's movie for the night appears to be Don't Look Back. She showed up for the post-gig press and media binge held in the bar of her Amsterdam hotel in full regalia of the 1965 Bob Dylan. Dark suit, white shirt, the identical impenetrable heavyrimmed shades. Now, up in her room finally doing the interview she'd been postponing all day, her voice crackles with exhaustion as she alternates NYC street-sneers and put-downs with long elliptical surrealist streams-of-consciousness (to put it politely,), and spaced jive babbling (to not).
She's definitely into her role as Dylan in Don't Look Back.
Me, I seem to be cast as the man from Time magazine.
'. . . it's like ... there's no shame in not being cool sometimes, y'know ... I'm often really uncool. Back in the States they call me "winghead" because my hair always ... didj'ever notice how my hair sticks out?'
'I thought you did that on purpose,' I murmur.
'it sticks out because I'm too spaced out to take care of it. I mean, why do you think they call them "dreadlocks", man? It's all tangles, man ... when you've been on the road a long time you forget what you look like, you enter a kind of monkey stage. I think we're getting to the monkey section of the tour. By the time we get to England I'm really gonna be a monkey. I want to be a really mean monkey. . .'
The gig was at the Paradiso, a converted church near the centre of town. It's the most famous rock venue in the country, undoubtedly the top club/small gig in town.
Like the Milky Way, a more recent and less publicized club with more or less the same set-up, it's renowned for its openly sold dope. Last year at the Milky Way (I ended up there because the Paradiso was closed that night), they'd had giant slabs of hash laid out on stalls so that you could taste and try, buy however much you wanted or could afford, and then wander over to a table and smoke yourself stupid in a paranoia-free atmosphere. Things seem to have tightened up some, though, because we're told that anybody who's buying has to go through some complicated play- acting rituals with the bloke at the pipes-and-skins stall. We're also told to watch out for dealers palming the wares and replacing the package with a seemingly identical dummy or inferior one sneaked out of a pocket. This ain't the summer of love.
There was an ominous crackle in the air. Things had gotten off to a bad start when Patti's piano player Richard Sohl - generally referred to as 'D.N.V.', an abbreviation of Death In Venice, because of his resemblance to the young boy who plays Dirk Bogarde's bete noire - had dropped out of the tour because of his dislike of heavy-duty touring and large concert halls. D.N.V. had been with Patti longer than any of her musicians except Lenny Kaye, and therefore Andy Paley, a former member of The Sidewinders and a long-time friend of the band, had been drafted in as pinch-hitter, done two rushed rehearsals and schlepped straight off to Europe.
'Andy is real crazy, he's amazing. Amazingly crazy. He was telling me what a good soldier he was gonna be - left right left right, y'know - he was gonna be a real fascist - and he's so spaced out. You know what he put us through? The first night we're on the road a girl comes into his room to interview him and the only word she knows is "champagne". Then he had a nervous breakdown and heart attack. Every heavy metal record happened to him on this airplane on the way to Hamburg and we had to put him in an audience ... ambulance. Lenny and I had our pockets ... I had so much hash on me and we were sitting in this hospital with au these people like ... like nurses, y'know? ... I've never been to a fuckin' hospital, man, I'd rather crawl across the floor a thousand times and bang my head against the wall than go to hospital ... and there we were in this Nazi hospital in Hamburg . . .'
Everyone seemed tired and on edge. Downstairs in the dressing-room area a young French fan called Claude was sprawled in a chair terminally drunk. He'd been hanging around all day waiting for a chance to meet Patti and the management had let him wait in exchange for a bit of amateur stagehanding. But here he was finally in front of Patti Smith and he was too drunk to recognize her. All he can do is vomit what at first looks like blood but - to everyone's relief - turns out to be wine.
Patti snaps in a one-liner, New York street style -'Hey Claude, ya want some heroin?' - then genuine concern takes over and she moves in, holding him by the shoulders and talking to him urgent and gentle, close up. His head tilts back and he heaves up some more wine. 'It's okay,' Patti says, 'every man I've ever fucked has thrown up on me at least once.'
Everyone stands around embarrassed. 'It's getting a little bit too real,' someone mutters. Hanging thick in the air is that peculiar mixed reaction people always get when they see someone stripped down and ugly as a result of an overdose of anything - a reaction compounded of more or less equal measures of contempt, repulsion, pity and guilt which tells them that if something drove them to hit a bottle or chemical that hard they wouldn't be presenting a much more admirable spectacle themselves, therebut-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I and don't laugh too hard or crack too wise because next time it could be me alone and incapacitated in a roomful of strangers.
Gradually the fog begins to clear and Claude realizes that someone's talking to him soothingly and wiping his mouth with a damp cloth and that it's Patti Smith.
He reacts first with shame at having disgraced himself before her, then anger because he thinks she's laughing at him. He shoves her hard in the shoulder and the manager moves in to restrain him. Patti waves him away and takes Claude in her arms. He begins to cry.
Everyone looks away and then wanders up for the soundcheck. Patti and Pennie Smith (no relation) gently lead Claude upstairs.
The support act for the evening is George Melly and The Feetwarmers. Melly strolls in looking like the Mayor of Savannah in a cowboy hat and an ostentatious check suit. He's chewing a More and leaning on an elegant white cane, which he describes as 'purely an affectation really' when questioned about his health. Someone later, rather uncharitably, ascribes it to gout.
The Feetwarmers, all immaculately costumed in Early Gangster, set up their equipment with a sulphurously phlegmatic professionalism while Patti and the band and their sound man, Mo, express various differences of opinion. 'It sounds really Mickey Mouse up here,' snaps Patti as the slow and painful process of adjusting each amp, mike and instrument sound winds interminably. on. The Feetwarmers seem to regard rock bands struggling to sort out their mountains of gear as being inept, spoiled brats who can't work their own gadgets.
'I'm sorry that we won't be able to stay and see you,' Melly tells Patti urbanely, 'but we have another show to do tonight in The Hague.' Patti tells him sure, she understands, she knows how it is.
By showtime the club is pretty thoroughly packed. Up in the balconies as well as down on the floors like the District Lane in the rush hour except that everybody's stoned as fruitbats and the train ain't leaving the station.
Lights go down, roadies loom around with torches, the troops go on to the usual preliminary clang-honk-tweets and then Patti and the band blaze into Uncle Lou's 'We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together' as the lights go up. It's a great opener short, sharp, appropriate without being too obvious. Ivan Kral and Lenny Kaye are already in overdrive on the guitars, Jay Dee Daugherty's lamming into his drums like a crazy man, slipping a hi-hat accent just a whisker ahead of the beat to give it just the right jet-boosting surge with Patti leaping up and down like a demented pogo stick, her flea-market rags a constant blur of motion.
Nice applause. She calls them children of Paradise, tells 'em that she's been 'sampling the local wares. I rilly like think windmills are sooooo cool, ya know.'
Puzzled silence. One jovial drunk with the equivalent lung power of a mid-price PA system yells "'Break It Op!"'
'If you take one part windmills,' says Patti from the stage, 'one part hashish and one part cocaine . . .' ragged cheers of recognition of the key words. The drunk yells, "'Break It Op!"' again and then changes his mind. He refills his lungs and bawls, 'Fock! Fock!'
Patti ignores him. '...you get a rilly great drink.' They work their way through the set, through a few selections from 'Radio Ethiopia' ('This is from our new album. It's a rilly cooool record with a rilly great bass and drum sound'), a couple of borrowings - a great blasting version of The Stones' 'Time Is On My Side', preceded as always by Patti's 'Tick tock - fuck the clock' recitation riff, and their medley of Lou Reed's 'Pale Blue Eyes' and the Punk Archivist National Anthem 'Louie Louie' - and some of the material from 'Horses'.
Throughout it all our stentorian friend keeps on howling for "'Break It Op!"'.
'Redondo Beach' is, as ever, talked in. 'Redondo! Beach! Is A Beach! Where! Women! Love Uthaaaaaahhhh! Women!' staccatos Patti then closes in on the mike to make little kissing noises.
They do a fair version of 'Kimberly' - their live performances of it always pall in comparison to the album track, because Kral and Kaye are both on guitar and that magnificent bass line is therefore conspicuous by its absence.
Both because of a basic shift of musical emphasis and in order to take the weight off Paley, the band is much more guitar-heavy than they were the last time I'd seen them. Paley moves to bass for 'Gloria' - Kral sketches in the opening chords on piano and resumes his guitar duties as soon as the song hots up - and plays some guitar on the encores.
Patti has amp trouble during 'Radio Ethiopia' and this only adds to the irritation caused by the audience's fairly subdued reaction throughout the set. By the time the set proper ends she's on the verge of losing her temper and walks straight offstage.
The first encore is the speciality version of 'My Generation' with Kral singing the alternate verses and Kaye taking a nicely over the top bass solo. Patti leaves still simmering, and on her return for the second encore berates those who dwell in the 'false paradise' in a long improvised rhythmical tongue-lashing. She's into a rap about breathing and energy and pyramids and triangles when our friend Break It Op starts broadcasting again. Without even pausing for breath she goes from pyramids and triangles and breathing and energy to 'Fuck you, asshole!'
'Do you think you're really cool just standing there going, "bleccccchh"?' she snaps. 'I can do that too. Why don't you take your dick out? Gowan take your dick out! Or whyncha go home and just say "blechhhhhhh!" in front of the mirror?' There is silence. Mr Break It Op has subsided.
She gets back into her rap and steers it into 'Land' and finally they really drive it in and drive it home and drive it deep and the people start dancing, but it's too little and too late to effect any kind of major reconciliation.
As the number rampages to a climax, she steps to the mike and rattles off 'Andy-Paley-lvan-Kral-Jay-Dee-Daugherty-Lenny-Kayethe-Patti-Smith-Group!', makes a pfui-l-wash-my-hands-of-you gesture and rushes offstage. Her brother Todd, who's working with the road crew on tour, takes her arm and then they vanish.
The audience, probably brought down more by her anger than by any deficiencies in the set, leave quickly and quietly. You can tell that it's one of those occasions where it is definitely not cool to wander into the dressing-room before allowing a reasonable interval of cooling-off time to elapse.
When Pennie Smith and I are finally summoned to join the assembled company, the unspoken feeling enfolding the room seems to be that they'd just blown Amsterdam pretty thoroughly.
Whether it was the exhaustion, the residue of various injuries and illnesses, the sound problems, the audience or whatever, it'd been a bad gig. And while an artist of genius who does a bad gig can still be an artist of genius, a bad gig by an artist of genius is still a bad gig.
'So what's your instinctive reaction to a guy in the crowd who yells out?' I ask Patti back in the Don't Look Back suite. 'To ignore him or cut him back or what?'
'It's the same as your instinct might be. Sometimes I'll laugh, sometimes I'll tell him to fuck off, sometimes I'll ignore him, sometimes I'll like seduce him to do it more. I'm just reacting. Like I don't have like a stage act - I don't have like a stage persona' - she pronounces it per- son-na - 'I don't turn on a separate set of reflexes when I get on the stage, I'm the same person I am here. In fact often I'm better here than I am up there, y'know? I know what I can do alone as an artist, y'know, and it's rilly intoxicating and to get up on a stage, y'know, and to try and match that intoxication takes a lot of fuckin' work. A lot of fuckin' work. Your head has to be like pounding like inside the belly of a bell, be made of like concrete. But soft, rubbery concrete.
'It's just incredible what you have to do and then sometimes you don't even get off because the people are like uptight or they don't understand that they're free, y'know. I don't give a shit what people do. They can say I hate you as long as they say ... anything, y'know? Sometimes I really dig people who give me a hard time because it's friction but it's reaction . . .'
That afternoon we'd all gone down the Flea Market. Patti bought an obviously, blatantly fake US Army shirt. She was wearing an Amelia Earhart flying cap and enormous goggle-like shades.
She delightedly traded insults with a couple of very stoned and extrovert faggots who asked if they could buy Ivan Kral ('I might pick you up if you were alone and wearing different coloured boots') and posed for pictures waving around copies of her three bootleg albums and a Blue Oyster Cult bootleg. (Two out of the three - 'Turn It Up' and 'Hard Nipples' - are actually the same one in different packaging, so be warned. The third, 'Teenage Perversity And Ships in The Night', is the one Patti recommends, anyway.)
The guy behind the stall doesn't understand. He thinks this crazy girl is trying to steal his records. He grabs and shouts. She turns on him.
'Fuck you asshole - I'm Patti Smith and this is my record! I ain't getting any money for this - I oughtta call the cops on ya. . .
A pinch-faced customer with hom-rimmed glasses, spots and the kind of short hair that they had before long hair, unhesitatingly sides with the stallholder and grabs the records back. They stare dumbly at this frenzied apparition in the jackboots, flapping khaki coat and shirts, goggles and flying helmet. She turns and stalks away.
'What was so good about the sixties,' she'd said over dinner, 'was that we had so many great dressers to copy. Every time I saw Brian Jones with some new trousers I had to get some ... I remember I saw a picture of Paul McCartney in some really great striped trousers. He wasn't my favourite Beatle but those trousers were sooooo cool that even John had to get a pair. I hitch-hiked into town and I found a pair in a department store and I got them ... that was such a thrill. I want to do that, I want to provide kids with something cool to copy. . .'
She's had her lookalike phases, her Keith Richards, her Bob Dylan, her Jeff Beck, her Jim Morrison.
'I put in a lotta work studying those cats. When you work as hard at it as I did, you really end up getting them down. I've been studying a lot of Jeanne Moreau. She is like so cool. She is sooooo heavy. She's the complete woman ... complete anything,, she is just complete. I've been looking at a lot of photographs of Brigitte Bardot, too . . .'
In the studio of a Dutch photographer, she asks him what kind of photos he wants. When he shrugs obligingly, she runs through some riffs - he gets the eyebulging speedfreak, the blank arrogant poker-face sneer, the gamine grin, the sexy guerrilla with the army shirt opened at the top to show the tops of her breasts and knotted up over her belly, he gets mock-Vogue, he gets wistfullittle-girl ... Riffs.
'So what makes the difference between a really great rock and roll record and one that doesn't happen?' I ask, faithfully adhering to my role as man from Time.
'If it makes me feel great ... if it makes me laugh ... like a bubble breaking in my heart. Like a really completely sincere effort to communicate and desire to connect: even if it doesn't totally come into focus the intention is so clear that unless you're a really bitter person you'll open your heart to it and let it reach you.
'See, there's like two different great kinds of rock and roll. There's fascist rock and roll, which is like Bowie and disco and Motown ... y'know, like a metronome. It's rilly great, it's perfect, I mean it gets ya. You can't help but get caught in the groove, y'know?
'The other one isn't really defined; it's like raw energy that you're trying to sensuously and rhythmatically hone - is that the right word, Lenny? Hone? - hone ... you do your honing, get into different kinds of plants, kind of cup-shaped ... more like bell-shaped like tulips ... no, not like tulips but like lilies ... you get into the horn of any flower that has a bell shape and it's a really pleasurable thing ... ya know sound. If you're really relentlessly into something and you're into sound, it gets to the point where it doesn't matter whether you're good or evil or dream or nightmare or whatever, you get into this rhythm of sound and you just have to be great no matter who you are. I mean, Karen Carpenter could be great if she'd just loosen up a little.
'It's all there. You just have to be willing to get baptized over and over again. Most people just get baptized once and they think they got everything covered. They know how they're gonna think for the rest of their lives . . .'
Do you want to make a fascist rock record?
'I wanna make something like "Station To Station". . . something in as purposive a state as "Station To Station" and as perfect as "Black And Blue". Those two albums are like "Sergeant Pepper" and "Pet Sounds" or something ... and then "Radio Ethiopia" because it's going to be really great. I really love both elements there's more than two elements, there's three. There's like language which you don't have to deal with - I'd just as soon deal with sound, but when I'm called upon to use language in order to go a step higher or a step further to explore just for the pleasure ... of Man ... is real cool. I forgot where this sentence was going to end ... I had to say "real cool" because I couldn't remember where the sentence should end up...
"'Radio Ethiopia" is a lot like Albert Ayler. That's not hard to understand. I don't know what people will think of our record, but bow I view it is like the first record was like a little egg, ya know and this one is like a little chick and then the little chick opens its mouth and takes in a little worm and gets nourished and gets strong and becomes . . '
'A bigger bird,' croons Lenny Kaye.