Free People

Posted by Fe Bongolan


Fe Bongolan rang in the New Year with Patti Smith in concert at the Fillmore. The body of Smith’s 40-year body work loomed large, revealing a woman standing on her own, expressing a passionate individuality. Add in the context of when her music hit the scene, and Fe discovers a mandate of empowerment that is as true for 2016 as it was in the ’70s.

Even though 2016 marks the beginning of the political calendar in America, as the Republican Party winnows its nominees and steps up its game in Iowa and New Hampshire, this Fe-911 is going to take a side road into popular culture to start this new year.

As those of you who follow my Facebook posts know, I celebrated the incoming New Year at a Patti Smith concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco.

To say it was a flashback to all the Grateful Dead and Santana New Year’s Eve celebrations would only be partially correct. First of all, acting as designated driver for the evening, I was completely dry. Second, the tolerance threshold for my knees, standing up for five hours straight after a day of running errands and tidying things up at the office, was reaching its maximum limit.

But I found that after forty-odd years, my rock-and-roll soul was still intact. As were the rock-and-roll souls of the majority of grey beards and silver vixens in attendance. The Pluto in Leo generation is alive and living well, living hard, and living boldly. Particularly this chilly New Year’s night. Performing a day after her solar return, Capricorn Patti Smith was the ultimate Pluto-in-Leo queen: irrepressible, raucous, dramatically outspoken and free. She and her band reprised the entire album Horses.

Listening to her songs again after so many years, the timeless truth in her lyrics is as firmly etched as letters carved in stone. This was amplified by listening to her work again while Pluto traverses her natal Sun sign, making her work even more transformative now, in retrospect.

I never really was a Patti Smith fan when I was young, as she burst upon the music scene in the ’70s. I was fresh out of Catholic school and pretty naive and innocent of the world, though I did like to pretend I was politically progressive — at least as politically progressive as an 18-year-old can get living in Watsonville, California.

I remember enjoying “Because the Night” when it first came out, especially working late night in the studios at San Francisco State University, completing courses for my art degree. There was something about the drive in that song that made me feel the burgeoning of my own adult, independent and feminist individuality. I never bought any of her records back then. Patti’s was never the music we could play with parents in earshot, which we know now was part of her original appeal.

Observing her as a generational peer, her life’s work as an artist and activist is an inspiration. She’s sounded off on war, religion and government, and has been doing it for decades. “Jesus died for your sins, not mine”; the closing words of her version of “Gloria” rings true today in its defiance of oppressive religious convention, which even now attempts to contain us, especially women. God I love that line.

Watching and listening to her at the Fillmore the other night, the body of 40 years of her work loomed large. Poet, author, punk performance artist, collaborator with Springsteen, lover of Robert Mapplethorpe: the big picture of her life revealed a woman standing on her own, expressing a passionate individuality. The cumulative history of her art and activism became as clear and full as a Michelangelo sculpture.

If I seem like just a bandwagon fan because I saw her live for the first time this year, I need to clarify. I have a newfound appreciation for Patti Smith because hers is the voice of the castaway woman, the one whose presence makes you face your truths — dark and light. You can’t help but think of Eris when you listen to the emotional timber of her voice. It’s a voice that comes from somewhere deep, crying out for love and justice in a single breath, punctuated by her spitting on the stage.

Stage One of Vision Quest -- the written readings for all 12 signs -- have just been published! Order all 12 signs here, or individual signs here.

Stage One of Vision Quest — the written readings for all 12 signs — have just been published! Order all 12 signs here, or purchase individual signs here.

When we study artists, living or dead, it’s important to remember when and where their art comes from. In what context was it created? What was happening in the early ’70s that made us dark and angry, and how is it represented by Patti Smith’s music?

There still was war in Vietnam, spreading into Cambodia and Laos. Nixon was president, and discontent was the aftermath of the late Sixties. The changes we wanted were not coming fast enough, and those in power were interested in only one thing: keeping it. It was the birth of the new conservatism that evolved to what we see now as the metastasized Republican Party: Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump, et al. Some things don’t change easily.

The young ethos of Patti Smith’s rise and the punk rock music scene’s burgeoning is now mature with a wisdom that history and current events validate. Our culture generated this voice of loud dissent and fury, and it still has value today. So many of the same conditions that birthed it remain. We have a reason to be creatively furious enough to generate noise and make big energy. There is inertia to overcome.

As balloons cascaded down and confetti rained on us at the stroke of midnight, Patti reminded us on this New Year’s night that we should not listen to the assholes running for President, or to the government, or to religions.

We still have our own minds and hearts; and we are, each of us, free people. Remember that, for the year to come, wherever you are in the world — and as we in the United States enter the dog race for President, which begins in hyper-drive this month.

“People Have the Power.” Use it.

Posted in Columnist, Fe-911 on | 7 comments
Fe Bongolan

About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column, "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.

7 thoughts on “Free People

  1. aWord

    This Pluto-fresh-into Virgo Fish (it has now progressed back to Leo) was in art college in Greenwich Village when Patti Smith made it big. While I visited Bowery Punk clubs (and vividly remember the night Sid Vicious died a block from my apt) I never experienced Ms. Smith’s performance in person.
    Nonetheless, her rebellion filled streets, clubs and art schools of NYC at that time and I soaked up her music like a babe thirsty for mother’s milk. (I’m still not a “punk” and never was. That wasn’t the point, was it?)
    My brother had just avoided the draft and I still had MLKs IHaveADream speech pasted to my wall.
    What does that all mean now? Well, like you say Fe. it means ‘Use Your Power, People’.
    Wisely, preferred.
    Here’s to the New Year.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

      Thanks, aWord.

      With all her years of experience, Patti doesn’t seem the type to expend energy unwisely. I love the timing of this year of performances throughout the country and the world. She’s the Wise One exhorting the village to rise.

      Looking at her, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a local dancer who is Patti’s age and just as rebellious and outspoken. May we all grow in rambunctious old age and never give in.

  2. DivaCarla Sanders

    Wow, Patti Smith envy! I love and admire her as an artist and a human for all the reasons you say. I was in New York when she was starting out, and you could hear her on alternative radio. I did not see her live. I was in labor with my first baby when Sid killed Nancy, AWord. The only punk acts I could catch live were my neighbors playing out the window or on the roof.

    There’s a lot of writing out there now on being “creatively furious”, enraged and outraged and engaged — coming together to do something with it. I have written some myself.

    What song will get us off the computer and into the street?

  3. Amanda PainterAmanda Painter

    I so wish I could have been there with you, Fe! Patti’s passion and message sounds contagious.

    I look forward to seeing how you channel it in your future columns…

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author


      We would have had a ball at Patti Smith’s show. I swear I will never be able to hear or see a better version of “White Rabbit” than what I saw NYE.

      As for the rest — well, its an election year. The candidates are crazy and there’s no holds barred anywhere. So I say, WTF??? Let’s ROLL!

  4. Barbara Koehler

    I love it that you had a great time Fe, not familiar enough with Patti’s music to relate to your inspiration, but can relate to the Pluto in Leo enthusiasm you witnessed. Some things never die. Perhaps transiting Saturn in Sagittarius has something to do with the revival of that energy; wouldn’t be surprised to see our generation dancing in the streets for some worthy cause reborn. However, my legs are less dependable than yours so anything more than an hour or so will retire me from the action, but not the fire-in-the-belly support for the cause.

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