I went to see the famous, the iconoclastic, the self-depracatingly funny Patti Smith the other night. And I want to be like her when I am sixty, thank you very much. Not the famous rock star part (I would have to quickly change careers right now, not to mention learn to play an instrument decently- forget about singing) but the part where she refuses to be anything less or more than she is.
The show took place in the battered old theatre of the Ukrainian federation on Hutchinson street , an old community centre in the middle of Mile End , Montreal. It was a last minute decision to play this concert accompanied by Montreal’s own Silver Mount Zion.
Okay. Now I am backing up a bit and rewinding to a couple of hours before. Work finishes at exactly 5:00 pm. I gather my things together as if some internal evacuation alarm had gone off inside my head and rush out the door in order to pick up the kids. Why do I rush? Well, first of all, because I miss them. Secondly, because I find that 8:00 to 5:30 is a mighty long work day for an 8 and 6 year old and I don’t want to prolong it anymore than I have to. Thirdly, because it takes about an hour to get home from the time I leave my building to the time I arrive on our front steps and I have things to do. I pick up the kids, who, don’t actually want to leave because their after school care is that good and I hurry them at an uncivilised pace the fifteen minutes to the bus stop. We take the 80 north, jammed like unhappy and grumpy sardines until most of the Mile End people filter out, and arrive at our stop. Inevitably, someone needs to go to the bathroom, so I end up looking like a pack mule with three packsacks, two lunch boxes and a purse slung over my shoulders as two little bodies make a mad dash to the bathroom, fighting about who has to go worse. At home, J and T are in our prototype of a kitchen banging in the wood floors. They have to get it done tonight, because J has to bring the machine back in the morning. Burgers are planned for the evening and T’s significant other is called to partake in a semi late feast. But first of all, homework. An hour later and burgers are cooked, homework is done (sort of), and the floor is put in. We all sit down exhausted for the twenty minutes it takes to eat. Then, shower and bed for the kids. A good night kiss on the forehead and we are out the door to see Patti Smith!
Except that I am exhausted. Rock icon or I not, I am about to forego the whole show for the promise of a few extra zees. I keep this to myself however, knowing that J would never let me (which is a good thing). As well, the thought of arriving somewhere packed with fresh faced, intimidatingly stylish Mile End girls in my brown work skirt and stained black t-shirt makes me feel, welll let’s just say less than self confident..
Still, arrive we do, and luckily for us we know someone in the band who put us on the list ( I know. I am just way to cool for school. Actually, I think he pities us and our sleep deprived, people infested chaos and this is his way to make us leave it for a minute. Not that I am complaining- I will take pity tickets any day.) Just enough time for a just in case pee (I have a mommy bladder unfortunately) and we climb the steps to the balcony just in time to see two people we know before the lights go out and a tall, awkward woman with dish soap coloured lanky hair walks on stage with a clarinet and a book of poetry. And I know it is going to be a good evening.
They played for about two hours, the grandiose sound of Silver Mount Zion punctuated by Patti Smith’s voice, a voice that seems to have been raised in the depths of a well and somehow found its way out to discover that the world above was nowhere near a voice like it deserves. Sometimes she would read poetry, a poetry from an earlier day that relied on beat and narrative to get its point across, a poetry that walks the razor’s edge between verse and lyric. Sometimes she would pick up her clarinet and this is where you could see the limitless musical horizon still stretched before her. It was the first time I ever attended a rock show where I could say that the mood that night was reverent. You could hear a pin drop when she began talking.
And then I fell asleep. Not really , but almost. So if I wanna be like Patti Smith when I grow up, I am going to have to build up my stamina and hone my punk rock endurance a little more because she kicked my ass that night and I am glad for it, ’cause now ageing doesn’t seem so much of a defeat as a beautiful, laughable triumph.