John Wassermans' 02/13/76 San Francisco Chronicle

Review of a Boarding House Concert.


[from The San Francisco Chronicle]

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From: "michael layne-heath"...
Subject: Patti, ahem, 'review' from 76 for the articles section
Date: Sun, 08 Feb 1998 15:06:40 PST

I recently came across the following in a collection of essays by a onetime local San Francisco newspaper 'columnist' named John Wasserman, called
PRAISE VILIFICATION AND SEXUAL INNUENDO: OR, HOW TO BE A CRITIC, published in 1993 by Chronicle Books OF San Francisco...Apparently Patti was not very well liked by the establishment press (read: old hippies) of San Francisco at this particular time,and I thot I'd send this along as a representative example of the stuff thrown her way...

Keep on keeping on...michael layne heath


Dear Lily, How are you? Well, enough about you.

No, just kidding, ha ha. Actually I am writing because I saw a very strange thing on Wednesday night and I though I'd better tell you about it. I don't know if you have copyrighted characters like Edith Anne and Ernestine, but if you have, I think you may have ground for a hefty lawsuit.

Have you ever heard of Patti Smith? Well, she is a new comedienne who opened at the Boarding House on Wednesday night. I know that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery', but I think this Patti Smith has gone too far. She is doing your act.

Not all of it, actually, but quite a lot. The backbone of her show is an imitation of your character Sister Boogie Woman (note: a Tomlin takeoff on hysterical black gospel preachers of the Baptist/Pentecostal variety). Oh, this Patti Smith does more conventional impressions - you know, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Richard Nixon, Tarzan - but they are 'real people'. Sister Boogie Woman is your invention.

Well, anyway, I'll tell you what happened on Wednesday night and you can judge for yourself. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw.

Some people have compared her to Brigitte Bardot, physical-wise, but she plays that down and immediately assumes the characteristics of Sister Boogie Woman: face contorted, stringy hair cut with pinking shears, angular and gangly, dressed in boots, dungarees, a T-shirt, an overblouse and a black leather jacket. Then she started throwing herself about and yelling, but I couldn't understand a word she said, partly because she is so unintelligible and partly because her backup band was so loud that I couldn't have understood her if she was Henry Higgins.

Sometimes she would throw her arms in the air, sometimes she would punch at flies buzzing around her head, sometimes she would swing herself around, as if her skivvies didn't fit, and all the time she was ranting and raving and carrying on as if she was possessed. Just like you-know-who.

Then she really started to 'get down'. She got down on her knees and started creeping toward one of the guitarists, who had also 'gotten down'. Then she 'got up' and went over to the electric piano, which she grabbed, and started pivoting her pelvis back and forth in a yoga exercise. The piano player was really surprised, but kept playing, even though she tried to get it away from him.

Then she went back to the microphone and started howling again and - get this - a lot of people in the audience howled right back at her. This was, as far as I could tell, traditional call-response of the evangelical church (again, Sister Boogie Woman).

Then she fell to the stage, placed one hand on the right side of her nose, one hand on the left side of her nose, bent very close to the floor and blew her nose. Lily, I was sitting all the way in the back of the room and I could hear that familiar refrain. Fortunately, the band had quieted down at that point.

Then she wiped her fingers on the floor, got up, wiped her hands on her T-shirt, shrieked again for a few moments and spit on the floor. Boy, night club stages sure take a beating.

Now, I know what you're thinking. This will never hold up in a court because Sister Boogie Woman never blows her nose on the floor. True enough, but on the other hand, Patti Smith never made me laugh, either. So it all balances out.

Frankly, I don't expect that you are going to file suit in this matter, even though you may agree that Patti Smith is a copycat. For it is clear that this is not a well person that we're dealing with. Candidly, Lily, it was the most pathetic thing that I've ever witnessed. Just pathetic.

Perhaps you will join me, however, as co-despondent in a suit I myself am going to file. Against the audience. For cultural genocide.

It's not Patti Smith's fault.

She was just following orders."

Copyright © San Francisco Chronicle 1976

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