It felt like church. Sure, more of a nondenominational, Unitarian-Wiccan gathering rather than a holyroller revival. After all, we were gathered in the Brooklyn Museum Beaux-Arts court — with its dramatic skylight and brass chandelier — on a gorgeous March afternoon that felt like spring. That felt like hope.
When Patti Smith and Tony Shanahan entered the space, applause from the 40-plus in attendance echoed throughout the atrium. As she explained, March 9th marked three “anniversaries” for her: the passing of Robert Mapplethorpe (who died on March 9th, 1989); the day she met her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith; and it also marked the last “job we performed live”: at Fillmore West in San Francisco last year. “So a very special day,” she said.
Smith performed the hour-long mini-concert — which included poetry, readings from her books, and music — as part of the ongoing statewide NY PopsUp festival, which is currently taking place all over New York State. As she explained, she chose to do this special event in Brooklyn because it’s where she first met Mapplethorpe. Then she read a section from Just Kids before launching into song.
As I stood in the back, socially distanced from the other people seated around the space, it began to feel overwhelming. It had been nearly a year since the last event where I’d gathered in an enclosed space to experience live music. That had been March 11th, when I was attending the Broadway production of Six (a slick pop musical about the wives of Henry VIII that felt like a Spice Girls concert). The following day, we learned that Broadway would go on hiatus; Six never opened. We paused our experiential lives as live events around the country, and the globe, went quiet. I’ve tuned into plenty livestreamed concerts and virtual events, but none of them have been the same.
So when Patti started singing “Dancing Barefoot,” I got chills. Tears welled up. I sang behind my black KN95 mask, gasping for breath as I tapped my hand against my hip as if I had a tambourine. I wanted to dance; we need to celebrate. But most everyone sat there, slouching in their chairs, safely distant from her. You could see that our rock & roll witch yearned for us to join her as she whooped and crooned. But we’ve forgotten how to have a good time with each other. It’s going to take time to figure out what makes sense for each individual, how to enjoy being alive together again. But this was a start.