flying saucers rock 'n' roll

     by patti smith

[from Crawdaddy, June 1975]


The sheets were soaking. Wet pajama tops sticking to hot belly. I rolled over and jimmied my flashlight from its safety slot between the mattress and the boxspring. Ha! My belly was still a deep prickly pink, it burned my hand just to touch. I pressed the flashlight into my palm to make a red x-ray halo 'round my fingers. I leaned over the bed to fish for my tuning fork and my stethoscope but the sudden movement made me dizzy. I tried to get my thoughts moving in a cold stream so I could tell them everything when they got home. Logic was moving in a wave of blue glass balls. The bed was wet, my hair was damp, but my body was still hot. It meant I didn't sweat the fever out. It might mean a warm tea enema later on, that slick tube up my bottom. The atmosphere was falling apart. Amoeba shapes started rushing. Where was my raygun?

Someone was in my bedroom. It wasn't Mommy cause they were still at the hospital. It was something female, like the Amana refrigerator lady, only with the silky red face of a fox. Her big head rocked, no flash at all beamed from her glass eyes. She was offering up a tray of gleaming objects -- miniature diver's tools, luminous disks and a black plastic whistle the shape of a cigar. There were sharp hairy jewels and headphones connected with the source of the music -- the low fender whine -- but I went for that whistle. My mouth was all shiny and burny. I could barely puff 'cause I was crying so hard but I tried and tried 'til I did and the shine pulled me right out of the heat into cool grey, falling back into a sea of black curtain.

Stefanie died. They came home real late. Their eyes were red from crying but not as red as my belly. Like a true child I was sinister enough to interrupt their grief by discharging symptoms -- belly smeared with pin pricks, sickly sulphur ooze and the fear of littered space behind my eyes. The doctor said it was scarlet fever. I knew better. He quarantined me, and sister had to look at me thru a telescope.

Time warped. My dresses shrunk. It was 1957. Stefanie was dead, rock 'n' roll was rising and I had seen my first UFO. It was shaped like an eleven-year-old girl with colorless eyes.

They gave me her comic books and her iceskates but I wouldn't touch them. They had her yellow energy spread all over them. I just laid there sliding my fingers around my whistle. It had a real comforting texture like the back of a boy's neck. I laid there for years. The sheets developed the spinal eye they used to call my back. I laid there and listened for that future music, to lull me outta this separate limbo called childhood.


Mama said I was born old. I always had this absolute swagger about the future and a morbid foto-recall of the past. I could remember exactly how it felt in the womb. Snow was falling. Jimi Hendrix was singing: are you experienced? I was turning on a spit in a sea of vomit cleanser, a wall of sound intoxicating rhythm, and as close as my face, a breath, a session of hesitation, and the bells, the troops, the 21-gun salute, the push into promise and that first long animal cry of love like a fender whine.

Destiny plagued me. I never slept, I laid, and watched the night unravel like the future. Music crystallized like snowflakes; gradually the entire storm. Guitar necks sticking out of the ground like bayonets. The war between sounds. Alexander coming to conquer with a fender and a saucer. I knew it was coming and I wanted to be in on it. I knew it came and went and I wasn't in on it.

I was at this party. All I knew was James Brown and somebody put on "Third Stone from the Sun." Everybody was looking at me, so I pulled out my whistle, the one shaped like a cigar with black pick-ups. By the end of "Foxy Lady" it was pure amp damage. They were banging their pates into the plaster but I was laughing hysterically. The ones who ripped their wigs fascinated me the most, to watch these bald and slick comet shapes rushing the walls. It reminded me of something, but I was too giddy to get my mind shining. I wasn't in on it, wasn't in on it, I couldn't stand it. I wasn't born to be a spectator.

It was 1966 '67 '68. Every place I went it was somebody else. I could-not-live-today. Too plugged into sanguine rhythms past and the silver video we call future. Here I come future, coming to get ya. I see it all moving on an immense yellow highway. They come on like trumpets and violins -- cars, armies of cars that move off the ground, glowing cigar shapes, and the radio just pumps like a fist. Brick roads, turnpikes, they drive me insane 'cause I can see what's coming. ELP, ELO, nothing real 'cept UFO. Got to be royal rock warfare cause it's sitting in limbo. Not what was and not what will be. Rock got to move out of its stagnant moment. Pray for something bubbling under the sky's canopy to rip open and rush like gas.

I was the same old party. I put the whistle on the tray -- it went reeling. It was happening again. I was overcome but it didn't matter. I just did what the rest of my gggg-generation did -- didn't duck heads up and get creamed by the '60s. Everything that happened it was somebody else.

"This your wristwatch?"


"You an artist by any chance?"




No-no-no-no-monotonous bells long bong. I looked at Jimi Hendrix's hands. They were so immense they could push a face thru wax, etch and spear spinal stars in the noir crayola field we call sky. 'Scuse me! I tripped and dropped my hand in his. It la la la landed like an insect nest and all the red wire spiders jabbed in his flesh like g-strings. It was easy to transform everything into guitar strings -- hair, grass, fingers, illuminated calligraphy. Everything was something else. A sound was a room, a spongy layer of flesh, a trampoline of tissue, rubberish tissue, a laugh, a kiss . . .

I had to get out, I got to get out, I got out. Trunk up the used drapery, gonna be a new party. Children will go to the party, roll down a snowbank, eject a floodlight and the new experience will be totally ecstatic. Someone's destiny will be his diver's tool that makes the incision in his chest and relax his fist over the heart and pump it pump it thru the veins of space, the soul-ar radio breaking into snowflake light, hammering harmonics from the heart of a boy with colorless eyes whose neck is the texture of the back of a whistle.

Blow-blow -- the diaphragm is such-a-kinky machine. I got to get out of bed. The walls are damp and the masking tape is curling. Magazine pictures of stratacasters, telecasters, jazz masters and ariel views of saucer-shaped pits slide to the floor. Coffee. Cigarettes. The moves of mama early in the morning. I water the cactus. From my sixth floor window I can see another window, a boy is smiling and to my right no clouds, no sun, no stones, no nothing, just a host of black cigar shapes whining in the pink skin sky.

Copyright © Patti Smith 1975

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