What a fan club
Friday, December 15, New York City, South Jersey, and Philadelphia.
Patti Hudson and I drive through the Holland Tunnel, across the Meadowlands, a couple hours south to the little cyclone-fence-surrounded home of Grant and Beverly Smith. Grant is in the front yard with their boxer pup, Sheba. He greets me with a firm handshake. Bev serves us homemade potato soup and coffee.
We turn onWXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station, which, coincidentally, is airing a one-hour interview that Patti taped the last time she was in town. Grant listens to his daughter's singing voice, and cracks, "Gee, she never indicated that kind of talent as a child." He chastises me for my smoking, and then recalls the time, in the '70s, when he was backstage at a show and tried some of Lenny Kaye's marijuana. "I think he was just trying to be welcoming to me. I didn't feel anything from it, though."
"I remember that," says Beverly. "I walked in and said, `What are you doin'?' "
Patti's voice is on the radio: "A lot of my earliest cultural revelations came in Philadelphia," she explains to the interviewer. "I was 10 or 11 years old when my father took us to the Philadelphia art museum. It really changed my life. The idea that a human being could express himself in this mode was so enlightening to me that, more than anything else, that was what I wanted in my life."
I say to Grant, "Patti says you introduced her to the concept of `craft' at that museum. You used to tell her, `See,Dalíis a craftsman.' I think that's where she gets her focus on craft."
"Well," Grant says, pleasantly self-effacing, "she probably remembers it more clearly than I do."
The radio station plays Patti's 1988 tune, "People Have the Power," a political-spiritual anthem. "That's my favorite," says Bev. "I especially like that part about `wrestlin' the earth from fools.' "
I encounter Beverly again a few hours later at the Electric Factory in Philly, where the last three gigs of the tour are about to happen. It's a cavernous old warehouse, barely remodeled, with a 50-foot Les Paul-type guitar overhead, and a video screen over the stage. There are no seats except in the balcony section that holds the bar. Up there, a half-hour before the show, there's already a hard-drinking crowd. The diehard Smith fans crowd in front of the stage downstairs.
Beverly goes backstage before the show, and Patti's boys fall all over her. "It's been a long time," says Tom Verlaine, giving her a big hug. "The last time I saw you was after Patti fell off the stage, in '78."
Michael Stipe comes up to Beverly, who has headed the Patti Smith Fan Club for 20 years. "I wrote you a fan letter when I was 16 years old, and you answered it," he says.
"That just goes to prove, you never know who's gonna become famous." Beverly says to me. She adds, "I get a lot of mail sayin', `You have no idea, Mrs. Smith, what she has meant to me and my life.' "