Coffee and hypothermia
Monday, December 11, New York City.

This is a mess, this scene outside Broadway's Beacon Theater. The freezing Manhattan wind ricochets off buildings. The short notice for this show means that all 3000 ticketholders are picking up their booty at the box office. The line stretches around the block. Folks are frozen and grumpy, even for New York.

By quarter of eight, I'm in the door, but the theater is still three-quarters empty. I'm shivering with hypothermia and espresso. My hands are shaking, my words jagged on the spiral notebook.

Patti comes on stage at eight o'clock sharp and reads one of her earliest poems, "Piss Factory," about leaving a Jersey sweatshop to head for New York City and become a star. "Watch me now," she ends it. "Hello, New York."

Patti has a cold tonight, but says, "All it does is bring out the New Jersey nasal twang in me." For this show, Verlaine's lead guitar is finally turned up loud enough, and Patti compliments him: "He's floatin' just as high as anyone can go, but all the angels come by and steal the sounds that he makes and bring them back to heaven." Her "Not Fade Away" rap becomes a tribute to Verlaine. She babels:

Well, where should we go from here?/where would you like to go?/when you, like, cross your bed/when you can't sleep/dawn and its little fingers are coming through the blinds/Oh, man, if I could just fall/if they would just cover me/tiny feathers of dawn/I'll be like a little feather/I'll open up that window and stretch out those wings/I saw a starry sky/I'll just go around there and see/gotta find me a lean, prostrate angel lyin' there/waitin' to be unmasked/lemme go look . . .

She walks over to Verlaine, seated in the corner, wailing away on his ax. She backs into him, striptease style, until she is about to collide with his guitar. Verlaine stands up for the first time this tour, and Patti seems caught by surprise, looking both ways, as if in traffic. The tempo speeds up to crescendo. This is good enough to wow New York: the audience rises, clamoring in approval.

Gregory Corso hugs Patti Smith while Michael
Stipe inspects the plumbing. (Photo by Patti Hudson)

During Dylan's set, I see the poet-madman Gregory Corso in the lobby. He squints at me: "Are youBill Gates? You look like Bill Gates."

"Would you like me to buy this theater for you?" I reply. "I'll fire all these security goons. Name's Al Giordano, from Boston."

"A paesan!" Corso exclaims. "From the north, right?"

"No, a Napolitano rogue."

"Oh, a southerner," Corso returns, suddenly changing the subject. "Anybody can be a rock-and-roll singer. I could do that." He then sings some ancient number that he identifies as the song Nero sang while Rome burned.

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