Subject: REVIEW: Patti Smith in Central Park, (reading) 08-Jul-1993
Date: 11 Jul 1993 22:08:33 GMT

Smack-dab in the middle of a heatwave that sent the temperature in New York City to 100 degrees, poet and rock goddess Patti Smith re-emerged (just for one day) from a 14 year self-imposed exile from showbiz and celebrity to do a poetry reading in Central Park.

Apart from an unsuccessful "comeback" album in 1988, and limited publicity and performance appearances at that time, Patti Smith has been in "retirement" in Detroit since 1979, publishing occasionally.

There was quite was quite a predictable buzz at announcement of her engagement, which opened the Literary series at Central Park's "SummerStage" series. Despite the heat wave, some 2,000+ people showed up to sit *very* close together, to listen. What they heard was what they always got from her: Patti Smith, pure and simple, like it or lump it.

But Patti Smith in concert was never just a rock concert, so it is fitting that Patti doing a reading should be much more, also.

By the end of the night, she had:

and in general played with, teased, cajoled, and inspired the audience. This was Patti at her best, so it was rock and roll at its best, only without any instruments.

Originally planning to open with the classic "piss factory", she admitted to being overwhelmed, and instead chose "amelia", a selection from her 1980 book _Babel_ about Amelia Earheart.

Her work has made several interesting developments over the years. Most consciously, she has shed the frantic wordiness of her early work, as she herself noted during the reading of an old piece requested by her brother Todd. Stopping cold in the middle of one line that threatened to leave her breathless, she asked rhetorically, "I was a wordy little something, wasn't I?", and she was tellingly self-deprecating during another faux pas in the same piece. "This really doesn't matter, does it? I mean who *cares* if the 'sunlight comes streaking in the whatever'", referring to a particularly ambitious phrase that kept tripping her up.

Apparently, she is no longer enamored of the big statement, the wide-open images. Her tribute to Richard Sohl, from the perspective of a former lover of his, takes place entirely in her apartment - no golden shafts of light from the sun, beatifying the artist, just some grey shadows from the television, and a shaken woman, unable to grieve in the appropriate manner, unable to discern her baby's cry from the other room.

She continues to use the labors of the creative process as a theme, perhaps because the muse is such a bitch to her. Patti leaves pieces unwritten for years, and indeed, one of the new works she read had been started years before, and finished only that morning. One of the few celebratory, or "up" pieces, was one that dealt with the completion of a piece.

She also can veer into sentimentality quickly and without warning. The pathos of a poem about the death of a young baby from a Libyan bomb run, or a song for Somalia, are always in danger of sheer sentimentality, but Patti, even when using her little girl voice to sing that if she were a river, she'd flow through Somalia, is all adult, and perfectly straightforward. It is perhaps the naked honesty of the emotion that keeps it from being a parody, and forces you to consider, as it is apparently hoped by the author, the fragility and preciousness of life.

The audience was in love with her as much as an audience could be, and enthusiastically applauded everything from her flubbing the words to a classic poem, to every time she lost what she referred to as her "set list". Reacting to an enthusiastic response to an off-hand comment, she said, "You don't have to applaud *that*. But I'll take it".

Yes, she had to do little more than show up, but she worked hard, and by the end of the night, for example, was emphatic that everyone understand the setting for her final piece, "Wave" (taken from her 1979 album of the same name) by going through a protracted setup. Her maturity as an artist did not prevent her from a strong, passionate delivery of old war horses like "piss factory", bringing the house down in the process.

With only one encore, an a capella verse from "Paths That Cross" from the 'Dream of Life" album, she managed to pad the one-minute performance with several minutes of self-deprecating comments, thanks, and chides to the audience for "taking advantage" of her, and for being more unfamilar with her recordings than she herself was.

She's just easy to love.

+-- Anthony J. Rzepela -------------------------- rzepela@XXX.XXXXXXXXX.XXX --+
  "After fourteen years, you wanna know if I can spell 'Gloria'?
   G-L-O-R-I-A. That's it. That's all you're gonna get."      -- Patti Smith

Copyright © Anthony J. Rzepela 1993

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