Beatific

It’s not every book reading that a rock goddess interrupts to sing an unadorned version of her ode to passion.  But, I suppose, it’s the rare  book reading presided over by Her Beatness, the great Patti Smith. Just Kids, her newish book about life and love with Robert Mapplethorpe, is nothing if not delicious.  (Who doesn’t want to hear about a benevolent Allen Ginsburg sporting her lunch at an automat because he mistakes her for a “very pretty boy?”)  Don’t bother with gratuitous name-dropping unless you know what you’re doing… even if you do, you still might take a tip or two from Patti.  She’s got a good way with a story, but she’s also got a nice collection of characters to drop into her yarns:  all your favorite celebrities from just this side of the fringes.

Charmingly vagabond as her life may be, her reading was fairly polite.  She stood at her podium and read well-chosen selections, adding occasional embellishments and further impressions.  As the evening was getting near over, but not quite there, she took center stage and announced that she was going to try an experiment.  And she started singing her first big hit.  What else but “Because the Night”?  She invited the audience to join in, but, before they did, it was nothing short of revelatory to hear her voice so exposed.  I don’t think I’ve ever really heard her voice before.  I love her records, but they’re all bravado and swagger to my ears.  Hell, her first record opens with the taunt that “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”  I never found the person behind the shrieks and guitars and exquisite punkability.  Turns out the voice is not only remarkable, but startlingly raw.  Even in the basement of a public library she summoned all the spirit of this powerfully erotic song.  Throwing back her head, throwing down the song, I couldn’t help blushing.  She was channeling her greatest pleasure and there was nothing to hide behind.  No instruments, no drums, no bored recitations of the well-traveled lyrics—just Patti and her voice and enormous grin. In those moments, the library might have been a little bit sullied. But, let me tell you, the library loved it.

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