I am so mad at Patti Smith. I really am.
Without a ticket to her way-sold-out Roxy show, I consoled myself with the knowledge that she’d be giving a free performance at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. After, she’d sign albums and fan memorabilia.
At first, I didn’t care about having anything signed, but at the last minute I riffled through the Weekly’s photo archives — practically a museum of band pix. There were no Patti Smith pictures, but I did find a tattered promo shot of Patty Smyth, the new-wave pop princess from the group Scandal who sang “Goodbye to You” and married punk icon Richard Hell before moving on to tennis star John McEnroe. (A co-worker has a theory that Hell thought Smyth was Smith when they first hooked up.) In the picture, Smyth, basically the anti–Patti Smith, looks like Billy Idol’s new-wave Bobbsey twin: mousse and an R-rated lip-stick pucker, lace gloves and spiky bangs.
What kind of doofus would ask a serious artist like Patti Smith to sign such a thing? It was a lose-lose prank, I realize now. But at the time I thought that maybe, just maybe, she’d appreciate the zaniness, have a laugh and sign it.
Compared to the mini-sets you often see by the big names who perform at Amoeba, Smith put on a good hour-plus show, punctuated with plenty of self-deprecating banter. Fans stood in the aisles holding CDs, vinyl and posters, including a special one for the event given free with the purchase of Twelve, her new album of cover songs. She brought out her clarinet for “Are You Experienced” and went into the aisles for the “hell-lows” of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” She even solicited requests, though she did glare like a rabid raccoon when somebody yelled out “Rock & Roll Nigger.”
As the efficient Amoeba staff organized the crowd into a neat line for the signing, people were checking out each other’s souvenir booty: old posters, plastic-protected Rolling Stone covers, books of poetry. The nice lady behind me clutched an electric guitar, mint-new in its cardboard box.
“I’ve been saving this guitar to have it signed by Patti Smith,” she told me.
One 20-something dude saw my photo and tapped me on the arm to say, “You know that’s not her, right?”
My favorite comment was when yet another friendly woman took a close look at the photo and saw the 1987 copyright date. “Wow,” she said, “Patti looked hot when she was 41.”
As I waited, I debated several options for presenting the photo to Smith. I could have gone with the “Zany, huh?” shrug, or the “I know this is silly, but wouldya please?” expression. When it was my turn to hand her the photo, I just placed it on the table in front of . . . PATTI SMITH!!
Literally, in less than an eighth of a second, she swiftly thrust the photo back at me across the table, jerked her head 45 degrees to avert any possible sliver of eye contact with me and curtly declared, “It’s not me.”
Okay, so yeah, I knew there was a good chance she’d react along those lines, but it stung that she was so dismissive. She could have gently said, “Sorry, I get your pathetic little joke and I will not be a party to it.” Or maybe she could have ripped the picture to shreds and spat on me in real punk-rock fashion. But instead her attention was now with Nice Lady with the guitar.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said a handler, “she doesn’t sign instruments.” Nice Lady nodded in a mannerly fashion and took her guitar home.