In 1975, the building at 158 Bleecker street at Thompson was known as The Village Gate. One of many nightclubs and concert venues in Greenwich Village. The basement was known as The Village Gate Theater, a space for cabaret, and more experimental theater performances. It was on this stage in 1975 that Patti Smith premiered a poem entitled “Amelia Earhart.”
Forty years later, Patti Smith stood on that same stage and began her performance by reading that very poem. A few things have changed in those forty years. In 1975 it’s likely the poem was scribbled in a notebook full of unfinished ideas, lyrics, rants, maybe doodles. In 2015 she read the poem from her published collection appropriately entitled “Early Works.” and The Village Gate Theater is now known as le poisson rouge. It was all a bit surreal to witness.
I won’t even begin to describe the impact Patti Smith’s work has had on the punk movement, female musicians, mainstream media, etc. Several writers have done so far more eloquently than I ever could, and at this point, it’s ubiquitous.
What I will say, however is that this night was incredibly special for me If this was the only show I experienced during my time in New York I would be completely fulfilled. The Patti Smith Group, along with the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Blondie and The Ramones helped created the New York City that I fell in love with through sound and imagery. One that I knew I could never experience. A New York City that is lost and has been eulogized a thousand times over. “I Miss Old New York” bumper stickers are found in my favourite dives across this town. Change is inevitable. But for one night I felt like I was transported to a time and place I only ever read about and listened to. In a dark basement in Greenwich Village, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye stood a few feet from me and sang “Land”, “Gloria”, “Because The Night”, “People Have The Power”, and “Run Run Run”, a beautiful tribute to the late Lou Reed, among many, many others.
The night was put together by Patti and her daughter Jesse, who are both supporters of Dr. Ken Kobayashi a doctor of alternative medicine. All proceeds and donations went to wards Dr. Kobayashi’s beautiful healing retreat called Honzo Haven in upstate New York.
The night opened with Jesse and Tibetan vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tenzin Choegyal. She sheepishly introduced their first set as “very different from the second one you will see tonight” and indeed it was. A combination of Jesse’s beautiful piano, soft spoken word and Tenzin’s dranyen (Tibetan lute) and lingbu (transverse bamboo flute) and his impressive Tibetan throat singing.
The crowd of aging punks up front stood attentively, and duly applauded after each performance. After Jesse and Tenzin a promotional video for Honzo Haven was shown followed by a brief Q& A with Dr. Kobayashi.
Finally, Patti took the stage with the great Lenny Kaye and the room was just electric. She began the night with a reading of the aforementioned “Amelia Earhart” and then improvised a little song about receiving her first acupuncture treatment from Dr. Kobayashi in which she confessed her fear of needles and the laughable irony of that statement.
Short of “reviewing” the show, which i don’t feel qualified to do, nor required to, I will say that it was a sweet, family affair. Mother and daughter argued in between songs, apologized for lack of rehearsal and Jesse reminded her mom that she once bought her a toaster…it was charming. Patti was in a great mood, smiling and chatting with the crowd but it wasn’t until the performance of “Horses” that she was transformed. Her expression grew fierce, her eyes closed tight and she began to grip those imaginary reigns and her passion of that original composition came bursting off that stage. It was absolutely magical to witness the transformation.
Jesse Smith and Tenzin Choegyal
Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye and Jesse Smith