Image: Left: Joanne Triolo, Right: Roxanne Fontana
Excerpt from Chapter 4
“Ain’t this baby great, and ain’t that guy beautiful?” – Iggy Pop
It would be years before I’d be keen into astrology and all other sorts of divination, but nevertheless, there was something very fateful about that day in early July of 1976 when Josephine and I set out for New York City from Elmont.
I thought our mutual buzz was more about ‘going to the city’ than to see this seemingly strange woman named Patti Smith, perform. We both had no idea what to expect musically didn’t even talk about it. All we knew was what we had learned from Rock Scene magazine, that she was some sort of queen of a ‘scene’ that we never heard or read about anywhere except in that solitary publication. It almost seemed as if it was fictitious, this scene reported on with much excitement. The only reference points ever given to anything in the ‘real world’ was the occasional mention of the Stones, so of course, that was enough to get me and Jo interested, and it was enough for me to keep track of things. Plus, Rock Scene magazine was nice enough to pay attention to little me in Elmont by advertising my Brian Jones fan club. The first sign for me of this scene starting to take shape was when I saw a small mention in the daily newspaper about Central Park concerts and therein listed was the ‘Patti Smith’ show, so off we went.
It was to be the last ‘date’ in our friendship, which I hadn’t anticipated at the time; but I guess she did. She wore that open-mouthed Gemini smile I’ve learned a lot about since then ― which, although sincere, was completely detached. I don’t know whether or not Josephine really knew what she was doing, but basically, she was dropping me off and giving me away to this scene ― and a new life ― now have fun.
It was a beautiful day, and as we filed into Central Park we were excited to see that there were so many people to see Patti Smith. We wondered who they all were and if they’d seen her before; in short, how much did they know about this scene? We were pretty far back in the audience, and then the show began. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. It was rock ‘n’ roll alright; but not exactly like the Stones; not like the 60s or 50s, and thank the good Lord, nothing at all like the day’s current sounds. Besides rocking, it was also highly emotional ― almost ‘sick’; you know, ‘mental case’ – like. I would learn in the coming months that it was ‘art’ (or art/rat).
From the moment the band got on the stage though, I was very much fixated on the guitarist on the left side. The energy I was feeling from him was unbelievable. I couldn’t see his face and had no idea what his name was. All I knew was that he had skinny legs and a big red Stones tongue on the back of his white and green windbreaker. His hair was fair and he played the hell out of that Gibson guitar. His energy seemed as sunny as the day; nothing dark about it, In fact, it was a perfect juxtaposition to Patti and her more sullen energy, voice, and lyrics, as well as to the guitarist on the right and the keyboardist―all of whom projected a distinctly moody tone.
One had the feeling though that the majority of the musical talent as well as the ‘fuck’ energy causing everybody in the place to rock ― including the band ― was all coming from this sunny guy with the dirty blond hair. I discovered this observation was truly correct as I later learned he was the Venus ruled one (Taurus) and the others, Saturn (Capricorn). Josephine and I didn’t confer that much at all; we were under the spell of the performance ― standing the entire show with the whole audience and dancing in our spots. We’d never heard a single song before except “Land of a Thousand Dances,” which Patti broke into during one of the original numbers.
It was such a cool moment for us; we couldn’t even say or scream it ― we just were part of it. Josephine, though, was really excited about the few things I did say to her like, “Who is that guy?!?!?!? Who is he?!?!?!?!” She was laughing away and then leaned back and asked some guy to borrow his binoculars. She looked through them and said, “He’s cute ― look.” I took them from her and that was it. The music blasted around us and I could hear her laughing as I was falling in love through the binoculars. His jaw and high cheekbones were his prominent feature, and he was as pretty as a prince from another age, adorned with modern rock dress and a guitar. All I knew was that I had to meet him.
Toward the end of the concert, another guitar player named Tom Verlaine was introduced on the stage. The whole audience seemed to know who he was and gave him a big hand. His name was familiar to me from Rock Scene magazine; that make believe the world was all of a sudden becoming real for me. The band did a wildly emotional song, “Break It Up,” and even though it was the first time I had ever heard it, I felt as though something was happening to me inside my heart and making me want to cry ― even though I was as happy as a lark.
Our ride home was pretty quiet. In fact, it took blocks for us to even say, “That was great, wasn’t it?” My mind was spinning around with plans about locating their album and finding out everything I could about that guitar player. But I wouldn’t have Jo to share all this with, because even though she had a great time, she apparently thought it was time to break away from our friendship and try something new―discover life on her own―with neither regrets nor our once-a-year get-togethers. Our friendship was just over―Gemini-style.
Had I not had a new obsession, this probably would have really hurt me deeply. After all, my father had constantly said ― and still, does ― that Josephine “ruined me.” Whatever that means. He was referring to our mutual and intense Rolling Stones obsession, of course.
I soon bought the Patti Smith Horses album and loved every minute of it. I got ‘possessed’ by all the spirits therein, found out that the gorgeous guy’s name was Ivan Kral and thought that I wanted to dress like Patti on the cover of the album―at least as far as my senior year back-to-school wardrobe was concerned. I didn’t think it would be too hard to pull together.
I found out in the latest Rock Scene magazine that CBGB had their own recording label, and an album out as well. I thought that it would be wonderful if I were to go there late one Saturday afternoon, buy the club’s album and check out the place when it would be empty. And I knew just who my accomplice would be.
The thing I liked about Margaret’s friend Joanne, who lived across the circle from her, was that she was quiet but upbeat and liked to laugh. And even though she wasn’t much of a conversationalist, she was lively and seemed like she was into doing new things, like going into the city ― the Village ― Avec moi, Roseann Fontana! I nervously called CBGB one day at about 4 p.m. and asked them if I could come by on Saturday around that time to buy the album, and they said “Sure!”
Joanne had learned all about my magical experience at Central Park, and she was a great audience for me. She was going to be a very good friend, I thought. Lisa Uterano was really my best friend by that time; but her dad, Mr. Record Company Big Shot, had obviously seen too much rock ‘n’ roll nightlife ― 70s style ― to let Lisa explore it; especially at fifteen years old! Lisa wasn’t as rebellious in her fashion as I was ― unfortunately for her! But I didn’t have to worry about Joanne disapproving of me, or not thinking I was cool; everything I did was A-OK with Joanne. In fact, she actually somewhat idolized me.
She was beautiful ― a beautiful Italian girl with very black straight hair parted down the middle. She looked half goth, and half hippie really, and she was into all of that. She had pretty eyes and white, white porcelain skin ― very odd for an Italian, I thought. I guessed she might be of Northern Italian descent. She was only 5 feet tall and had a decent figure, but you never were allowed to notice it. She seemed to be a bit hung up about her body and her sexuality, and so she draped herself in baggy clothes of beautiful fabrics. All of her life-force was seemingly concentrated on her face. She was a fantastic listener and would let me talk and talk and talk. She didn’t ever want to contribute much it seemed, and that was fine with me. In this sense, there were times during our friendship when I felt like a bit of a vampire ― that I was draining her completely and leaving her for dead.
She was Aquarius as Lisa was; but Lisa had an incredible personality, even though she also had that Aquarian trait of not letting on too much about themselves. Curiously, Joanne and Lisa didn’t like each other at all, even though they really didn’t know each other. I thought it was an instinctive thing. Or, maybe they were just fighting over my attentions, which was probably the case. Despite all of Lisa’s affected, regretful declinations to my city invitations, she insisted on knowing every last detail of every adventure I went on… She would beam at me ― all wide-eyed ― while smoothing down her short blonde curls.
Yet for all her feminine looks, she was oddly masculine; chain-smoking as her beloved Leon Russell records blasted from her bedroom in her family’s upscale home.
Joanne and I entered the sweet-looking record shop Bleecker Bob’s on MacDougal Street. Behind the counter stood Bob, who I noticed had home-made magazines hanging behind him on a wall. I immediately introduced myself as the President of the Brian Jones Memorial Fan Club and asked him if he’d sell my fanzines. He didn’t hesitate to say yes and got into a conversation with me about Brian. He told me that at the Monterey Pop Festival, Brian and Jimi Hendrix ingested the DMT drug by putting it under their eyelids. This revelation freaked me out a little.
I then noticed hanging behind Bob a large-size newspaper called New York Rocker, with that Blondie girl on the cover. Next to her body were the words Ivan Kral. I cut Bob’s ramblings short and asked to immediately have the newspaper. I bought it and as we walked out in the direction of CBGB, we had the paper open, looking at the pictures and skimming the article. “I knew he couldn’t be an American!” I exclaimed, as I read he was from Czechoslovakia. I didn’t even know where the fuck Czechoslovakia was. I also learned from the article that it was a communist country. All this was absolute food for my romantic head. A communist! Is that why he’s beautiful? Is that what communists look like? When Joanne and I got to CBGB, we were both nervous.
When we entered, we found it looked even more dank and dingy than in the black and white pictures in the magazine. It was, for God’s sake, just a bar of an odd shape. In the middle of the place, sitting on a bench was Hilly, the owner and a girl with an acoustic guitar. He was teaching her how to play “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” I was touched by this and tried not to interrupt. My mother had gotten me a cheap acoustic guitar when I was twelve and I even took a few lessons myself. I was a dabbler and found it enjoyable; I had even written a song.
When Hilly stopped and looked up, I stepped forward and announced that I was there to buy the album―trying to sound as cool as possible. He got up with a stretch and walked slowly back to the front with a wave of his arm. In those days he was so very nice and open; he was almost too nice to be ‘cool’, but I would eventually learn that most of the CBGB scene was like that ― very nice people and very similar to the Max’s Kansas City scene; well, almost.
“Do the groups Television and Patti Smith really hang out here besides just playing?” I asked, taking advantage of his kindness.
“Does Ivan Kral hang out here?”
“Yeah, they all hang out here!”
“I would love to come here but I just turned seventeen; I have to wait.”
“Oh no, we’ll let you in. Don’t worry, come on down, just don’t drink.”
In those days you could do that sort of thing. I guess. I mean, it was still illegal of course; but such policies got very strict in the post-punk era when there was a lot of rowdiness with the hard-core post-punk scene and CBGB had to start staging matinees to keep everyone happy. When we walked out of there, with me holding my CBGB album containing music of more bands that I’d never heard of at all, Joanne and I were over the moon. Life was getting good, I thought.