Birthday on the bus
Wednesday, December 13, New York City and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

I've hit rock bottom. Not only am I not finishing my Mexican novel with Patti this week, but I'm feeling a bit outcast on this tour. Raymond told me yesterday I won't be on the tour bus to Pennsylvania tonight. He said folks were coming down with the flu and things were getting too crazy, so I'll be driving instead of traveling with my new pals.

But at 10 a.m., my world changes again. The phone rings. It's Raymond "Don't Call Me Before Noon" Foye.

"Just to show you how confused things can get on this tour," he says, "it turns out that Patti wants you on the bus today. She asked me, `Is he okay? I haven't been able to talk to him much.' I told her, `Al is fine.' Anyway, yer on the bus. Meet us at three, and don't be late."

YES! I do a little dance, and at 2 p.m. I'm a block away from the rendezvous point for the tour bus. I won't be late today. I'm buzzed on industrial-strength coffee from a greasy-spoon diner, shivering, waiting to use the men's room, which is occupied. "Use the lady's room, hon," a waitress winks. I love New York.

Today is Tom Verlaine's 46th birthday. I bring him fresh almonds, Export A cigarettes, a double espresso, and little Italian chocolate cookies. Lenny Kaye brings him aDick DaleCD.

Tom Verlaine's 46th birthday, celebrated on the tour bus. (Photo by Patti Hudson)
"Well, ahhhhhhh," says Tom, in that Rhett Butler gentlemanly Delaware accent of his. "I guess I'll have to do a Dick Dale lick tonight during `Not Fade Away.' "

Tony Shanahan pops theElvis PresleySun Studio sessions into the stereo on the tour bus, and sings along with all the crooning ballads. You can definitely hear the Elvis and Roy Orbison influences in Tony's work.

Patti boards the bus 45 minutes late. And three members of the band forget their backstage laminates. "The Dylan people are upset that we've used so many laminates," announces Mark Edwards. "The general rule of thumb for an opening act is one extra for every band member, so with five band members we should properly have only 10 laminates. We've had 21."

(Well, at least that's a plausible explanation for why I don't have a laminate, I decide.)

"Happy birthday, Tom," Patti exclaims, offering him the Jazzmaster he's been playing throughout the tour as a gift. "I actually bought this for you in the '70s, but we fell out of touch." She tugs at the peach-and-wine-colored T-shirt she's wearing: "And I'm wearin' this shirt you gave me 20 years ago."

Verlaine was Patti's boyfriend when she was writing the songs for Horses, her first album. "Have you talked to Vic and Lil yet?" she asks, referring to Tom's parents. "I still have that picture of you as a boy with your little powder horn. It's soooooo cute, little Tommy."

"You have that photo?" he asks. "I used to put baking soda in that horn as gunpowder. That horn reminds me of when, as a young lad in New Jersey, I saw this black woman and cried out, `Aunt Jemima!' "

"Oh, that's SO cute," Patti exclaims.

"She said, `My son, that ain't exactly my name, but it'll do.' "

"Have you talked with Johnny?" Patti asks. Later I learn that Johnny -- Tom's twin -- died years ago, something to do with heroin. But for Patti, death is no reason to stop talking to a friend. Everyone is pretty crashed-out still. Lenny is asleep in his chair. Patti Hudson is napping in the bunk-bed area. But there's a sudden commotion when the boys notice the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile parked by the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, as we're heading out of New York. Oliver races to the back of the bus to get Patti's Polaroid. Everyone's shouting, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" You would think they'd just seen an apparition of the Virgin Mother.

The bus turns into the tunnel, right alongside the huge metal hot dog on wheels. Oliver snaps an absolutely stellar Polaroid of it. Maybe he's more of a Mapplethorpe-in-training than a budding guitar hero. Raymond later says to me, "Why don't you publish some of Oliver's photos in the Phoenix?"

"I'll ask him," I say. But Oliver mainly ignores me on this tour, giving his attention solely to Patti and the famous among us, Stipe and Verlaine. (Tom is ignoring him, though, which is kind of gratifying to watch.) Later, at the Stabler Arena at Lehigh University, Oliver walks into the room where I'm seated. "Hey Oliver," I say. "Wanna publish your photos in the Phoenix?"

"For $1000 apiece," he says.

"We'll pay you what we pay everyone else, which is pretty fair wages," I reply. Yikes. Would Patti please tell her pup about that thing that young artists have to do? That thing called paying one's dues?

Lenny Kaye goes to the urinal to relieve himself. Oliver jumps on top of the porcelain and snaps a photo of Lenny's dick. Aha! Robert is indeed with us tonight!

Mark Edwards comes in at almost eight o'clock. "All set?" he asks. Patti has to pee. Tom smokes his cig. Everyone dawdles. This is the most relaxed set of the tour. Lenny keeps fingering his Strat (a tobacco sunburst model, the same one Buddy Holly used to play).

Patti takes the stage for the 2000 or fewer fans in this 5500-seat sports arena. This is the only show of the tour that isn't sold out. "My grandfather, Walter Smith, was a foreman at the Bethlehem Steel works," she grins with pride. "More importantly, my father, Grant Harrison Smith, was born on July 29, 1916, here in Bethlehem." The crowd is quiet, as if they've never even heard of Patti Smith.

"What's the drummer's name?" shouts one fan.

"He's the only drummer I ever had," Patti says. "His name is Jay Dee Daugherty. I can only forgive you for not knowin' if you've been a monk in a cave the last 20 years." Then, "You can hear a pin drop here. I expect Candice Bergen to come by givin' out those little Sprint cards."

Later she says, "In case I seem antagonistic tonight, I am! Out of tune! Shit, this guitar is big." The crowd is a combination of sleepy Dylan hippies from the hills and Lehigh University students for whom Dylan is some kind of artifact.

After the set, we're backstage again. Patti announces she's in a foul mood. "I wish one of those Quaalude blondes would show up so I could take her head off," she says. "Do you know that three different blondes have come up to me on this tour and introduced themselves as Bob's girlfriend? I told them, `Oh, you didn't know? Bob's betrothed.' "

I sneak behind the stage with Verlaine to watch Patti sing "Dark Eyes" with Dylan. I can see from behind them that she is touching his back with those long spider fingers of hers. After she sings, Patti is led back off stage with a flashlight, and makes straight for Verlaine, giving him a big hug. After all, he knew her when.

Back on the bus, Tom and I resume our seats across the table from one another. I really, really like this guy. He's got a savage sense of humor, and great insights. Hudson comes up from the back of the bus and says, "Tom, Patti wants to see you."

As Verlaine begins to stand, the bus lights up from the flickering candles on a birthday cake that Patti is bringing out to him. We sing "Happy Birthday." Jay Dee replaces the disc in the CD deck. It's a movie soundtrack -- Tom's favorite genre -- to the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

"It's by Bernard Herrman," Tom exclaims. "He's best known forHitchcock's Psycho, actually. This is the eeriest music I've ever heard."

We munch on mocha cake, listening to this suspense music, and watching a video -- without sound -- of theRolling Stones. A multimedia feast for the eyes and ears. "I love this bus," says Patti. "I always want to be on the bus, with my boys."

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