My good friend Binky Philips writes a column for The Huffington Post which basically recounts what it was like being in a rock band in Manhattan during the 70s. It’s a lovely column that is full of telling details about the scene surrounding CBGB and Max’s at a time when we were all trying to form bands in an all-out assault on the musical status quo. Binky was in the middle of it, but somehow managed to stay sane enough to have a cleared-eyed take on the scene. Binky’s a fanboy with just enough cynicism to keep it real.
In this excerpt from his column, Binky writes about his first encounter with Patti Smith. You can read it in its entirety here.
One day, about a month into my tenure at Guitar Lab as their gopher the summer of 1970, Bruce, this hotheaded very not-politically-correct kid from Long Island working there, a master repair and modification man at age 22, walked into the back room and said, “Hey, Binky. Ya wanna see Keith Richards with tits?” Uh, yes! I do!
I walked out to the main customer area and there was this skinny pale black-haired ragamuffin chick (I never use that word, but this was a chick) holding a beat up Fender Duo-Sonic (at the time, a total loser/beginner’s guitar; I’m now a proud owner of a 1964 worth more than $2,000) and she was just about falling out of a really large, loose, and worn-out-to-paper-thin t-shirt with prominent and frankly fabulous breasts. She was frantically and inarticulately explaining over and over again that her Duo-Sonic was…
“Buzzin’! It sounds like shit. I mean, it’s buzzin’. It’s buzzin’ bad. You can fix buzzin’, right? God, this sucks, it’s bad buzzin’ alla time. Really buzzin’ bad, man. Why’s it buzzin’?”
Almost like she had Tourette’s.
And, as it turned out, Bruce’s description was utterly on the money. Her haircut was exactly Keef’s in Gimme Shelter. Her cheeks were gaunt, the black eye-liner was thick, the bone earring was in place, as was a skull ring, ditto old black ankle boots with rundown heels, (maybe more Dylan in the footwear department… what with the price of snakeskin, even then). No hips in ratty black skin-tight jeans. Even at the age of 17, I could see that she was so immersed in her dream that she was genuinely unaware of the effect she was having on five 1970 chauvinist pig guys who worked in a guitar shop. We were all smitten and totally in novelty lust with her. At least two Guitar Labbers kept her there talking for quite awhile. But, after a few minutes, I kinda drifted away and went back to opening cases of guitars left for repairs that I could drool over. I guess I was the least infatuated. I mean, I dug her. Her look was down so cold. I was jealous, even in my ultra-cool Granny Takes A Trip boots. But she seemed like she really was a total urban-hillbilly goofball. Actually, just not sexy at all.
Yeah, it was Patti Smith.”
Here’s a clip of The Patti Smith Group live in Spain in 1976. By this time Patti had come a long way in the six years since Binky had first encountered her. This is quite a stunning performance. Buzzin’ and all.