Grabbing the torch
Saturday, December 9, Boston.
Noonish. It wasn't until I checked my e-mail late last night that I learned of yesterday afternoon's announcement, byGrateful Deadspokesman Dennis McNally, that the band was officially retiring its name. Wow. The very day that Jehovah's Favorite Choir drops the improv torch, Patti picks it up, and "walks . . . out . . . into . . . the . . . world." If this tour weren't happening, I'd be sitting at home right now, cursing the surviving members of the Grateful Dead for not having the courage to truck on. But one band gathers what another band spills.
I'm still trying to get my photographer into tonight's show, downtown at the Orpheum. Heck, I may be trying to get myself in, too. Although Patti has repeatedly told Mark Edwards to take care of me for the whole tour, last night he was asking me, "Are you going to every show?" Then he said, "We'll see if we can get you tickets."
All my worry will prove for naught. I'm sure I'll attend every show. But I am stark raving neurotic sometimes, especially when I'm not used to caffeine withdrawal. (Did I mention this tour already has me guzzling my first caffeine in years? It was that damn Verlaine, telling me the key to becoming a better guitar player: "Drink a lot of coffee.")
Meanwhile, on Day Three of the tour, the Pope has yet to even hold his ring out to our girl: Dylan and Patti haven't spoken yet. Imagine that. So she's wandering around with her hood on, singing her heart out on his "Wicked Messenger" every night, stepping out onto Jim Morrison's turf for the first time in almost two decades, and Mr. Tambourine Man has done little but lurk in the shadows, watching her sets from beneath his hood.
Allen Ginsbergand Elsa Dorfman are standingin line outside the Orpheum, and both are discreetly carrying their cameras into the show.
Tonight, while Patti is on stage, and Verlaine is sitting over there in the corner, folks are yelling from the audience, "Who's the guitar player?" and "Turn Tom up!"
Patti replies from the stage, "Tom has a bum leg, and I'm sure the sound man will turn him up." In fact, Tom's leg is fine -- he's sitting back in the shadows of the stage by his own choice, as if to say, "Pay attention to the art, not the artist." But the sound technicians still aren't turning those knobs far enough to the right.
A half-hour into her 45-minute set, Patti is singing "Rock N Roll Nigger." Lenny jumps in with the power chord, and Patti, in bare feet, dances around that stage with as much abandon as ever. She knocks over a full bottle of spring water, and I'm fearful about the combination of water, electricity, and bare feet. Patti grabs a kerchief and drops to her hands and knees, furiously mopping and scrubbing the floor that Dylan's crew has laid on the stage. All this to the driving rhythm of "Rock N Roll Nigger."
Patti's mom was right: you can clean to it!
She rises after the song and proclaims, "I apologize to Bob for getting his floor wet. And I don't mind gettin' on my hands and knees to wipe Bob's floor."
Then, during "Not Fade Away," dedicated to Jerry Garcia, she takes her glossolalia to new heights. She babels:
well I went walkin' out/well went walking/and I saw a/I saw a little pea-green boat/with a little oar/and a little paddle/restin' against a lily pad/and I just couldn't resist gettin' deep into that little boat/yeah, smuggle myself into the/into the cradlin' arms of that little boat/I fell asleep/the sea just lulled me to sleep/and I/I was so content/to sleep . . . I opened my eyes/and I looked up/and instead of a sky/I saw/Instead of a sky I saw/a sea/the sea was above me/the sea was above me/and all the little ships/all the little ships/were sailing upside down/and all the little treasures of the ships/were fallin'/fallin'/and they fell into my little boat/little braids of gold/little golden pears/little candy jewels/showering my little boat/and I got so filled with pleasure/with all that treasure/that I, I, I, I. . . .
Patti blows her harmonica as the band and the clapping crowd bring the volume up. After a few bars she gives up on her harp:
Uhhhh/but I was too tired to blow/I was too tired to blow the sail of my little boat/and the treasure started draggin' me down/I started gettin', ah, the treasure was pullin' me down/and I thought, shit, I can't swim/but then I took note/if the sea was above me/then I must be floatin' in the sky/and I, bein' the experienced cloud walker/had no fear/ I got up out of my little boat and gaily walked/on those soft little clouds/I felt the wind beneath my feet/Oh, I felt the rain in my feet !
"So, that's tonight's tale," she says to wild applause. "Come see me again sometime and I'll tell you another. C'mon boys!" She sings, "I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be," and then belts, "You're gonna give your LOVE to ME!"
Two months ago, it was unthinkable that this widowed mom, living in the suburbs of Detroit, would be doing 10 rock shows in 11 nights by December. Even two nights ago there was some question as to whether she could still take the roof off a joint after 16 years of self-imposed exile. But with the devoted talents of her boys behind her, she's not only rockin', she's making something new again. She's begun reconstruction on the Tower of Babel -- a ladder to heaven, forged of word.
During tonight's sound check, Patti finally encountered Dylan. She did not fall on her knees, my sources report. She asked for, and was granted, more time for her nightly sound check, and she asked that Bob say hello to her son, Jackson, when he joins us in Philadelphia. But there's no word on what else they talked about. She had told me last week that the song she really wants to sing with him is "Dark Eyes," an obscure number from his Empire Burlesque album, which she has performed acoustically a few times this year. We'll see.
During Dylan's set, Lenny Kaye is dancing in the aisles with a bunch of wild rock-and-rollers from Boston. Patti is by the side of the stage, no doubt projecting her womanly charms. Allen Ginsberg is in front of the stage, snapping pictures, and Elsa Dorfman is shooting photos of Ginsberg shooting photos. Dylan's security gang can't tell him to stop.