All right. In my last entry, I mentioned some musician friends on the scene who earned life experience credit at the alma mater of CBGB’s in the late ‘70’s (Chris and Tina of the Talking Heads, RISDEE grads), and Snooky Bellomo (NYU student).
At CBGB’s – the place I could usually be found on weekends away from SUNY Purchase in ’74 – ’76, I met Patti Smith and her manager, Jane Friedman, through James Wolcott, the hugest Patti fan ever (at least, at the time). Patti had the greatest way of being instantly intimate with people. I thought she might have been pulling my leg about a lot of stuff she made up about her past, but I do admire anybody who can make up a good myth.
She dubbed me “Our new Ninja” upon signing a copy of Seventh Heaven. I was taken aback when she told me I shouldn’t be going to school: “Go out with all the smart guys! Learn from them! Who needs college? It’s bullshit.”
While thinking in my heart how I had an unspoken promise with my father to graduate with a college degree and he had just died a month before I started, I blurted to Patti, “But I LIKE school! I LIKE learning!. . . “ and then, like Mother Superior, she absolved me and my sin of caring about something uncool. Fair enough.
Patti was really nice to my sister Carrie too, when I introduced them at My Father’s Place (a club) in Roslyn, Long Island, when the Patti Smith group played on a double bill with Television in ’75. I recall Patti borrowed a little corncob pipe from my sister for, um, you know. . .
People like Patti – and many other smart musicians I know – weren’t gung-ho for school but were still great learners and had a constant thirst for self-gathered knowledge. These autodidacts are definitely on the right path for them, but as for me, I like a little more structure and focus. I’m kind of all over the place, when left to my own devices. . . but of course, we all learn in life what we need to (and if you try sometimes, you get what you want, too?). There’s still some of that ceaseless autodidact in me, too. I just like having validation, a degree (or 2 or 3!).
Jane Friedman (Wartoke Concern, Patti’s manager) was a great person who treated me kindly and with immense respect. Somebody told me she was the girl Lou Reed wrote “Sweet Jane” about. When I visited Jane Friedman at her family’s in the Village that Yuletide (they were Jewish; what the hey), at a holiday open house, Jane took me aside and made a special effort to make me feel welcome by giving me a palm-sized round mirror backed with a myriad of tiny seashells, in a circle. Decades later, I still consider that little tchotchke one of my prized possessions.