BY LEGS MCNEIL
Artwork by Brian Walsby
The furious antics of punk didn’t get real until 1977, when Patti Smith fell off a stage in Tampa, Florida. Up until then, it had all been cartoon violence, like a Tom and Jerry episode. When Iggy Pop fell off stage, he always got up, showing off his bloody wounds like some grinning, battle-weary Viking cartoon—and kept going.
But those days were over. Now life was foreclosing on our accrued promises of endless possibility.
I had first met Patti when I was sent to interview her at the Record Plant while she was recording her new album, Radio Ethiopia, and I made the mistake of asking her, “Uh, is anybody from Aerosmith playing on your new record?”
It was a question that someone from the Punk magazine office told me to ask her, and since I was so drunk and unprepared when I showed up, Patti really laid into me for asking her such a stupid question.
Patti forgave my drunken interview, though, and a few weeks later sent me a note asking me to call her. When she fell off stage, she’d broken her collar bone, and was recuperating at home at One Fifth Avenue in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Allen Lanier, the rhythm guitarist in Blue Öyster Cult. Patti’s assistant, Andi Ostrowe, would spend the day taking care of her, since she was a lot more banged up then the press reported, and Andi would leave at around five. Most nights Patti needed someone to keep her company until Allen came home from his gig, and I was enlisted to help out her out, in exchange for a six-pack of beer.
I knew that some people had a hard time with Patti, claiming she was nothing more that a gold-digging bitch who had used her boyfriends to get where she was, but I wondered if that wasn’t some kind of blatant sexism.
Mick Jagger was quoted as saying, “I think she’s so awful. She’s full of rubbish; she’s full of words and crap. I mean, she’s a poseur of the worst kind, intellectual bullshit, trying to be a street girl when she doesn’t seem to me to be one—I mean, a useless guitar player, a bad singer, not attractive. She’s got her heart in the right place, but she’s such a POSEUR! She’s not really together musically. She’s… all right.”
Thanks, Sir Mick “I’m-Not-a-Fucking-Poseur-I-Just-Like-Hanging-Out-with-Royalty” Jagger. I mean, when a guy behaved the same way as Patti, he was called a stud. Accolades for the men, disparaging remarks for the women. It didn’t seem fair. Patti was truly a usurper in the male-dominated world of rock ‘n’ roll, and even though I was a pussy hound, I was smart enough to see the writing on the wall. Before Patti, women in rock were nothing more than disposable trinkets to be used and abused and never taken seriously. Yeah, there were a few—Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Tina Turner, and Marianne Faithfull were all undeniably talented—but they never changed the equation. They were just ear candy, no matter how rebellious they behaved.
Patti was the first female rock star that guys imagined being. I never understood how difficult it was for a woman to be replacing a man as the new rock god. I still don’t know—it just seemed to me that women could finally be whoever they dreamed—at least at CBGB—which was pretty much my entire universe.
I was naive.
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