Outrage over the weekend shutdown of Rockaway’s city beaches made the cover of the Daily News (excuse to put a bikinied hardbody on the front page, much?), but fans of Patti Smith and James Franco found more welcoming sands over at Fort Tilden during the kickoff of the “Rockaway!” art festival.
As the sun set yesterday evening, hundreds of beach creatures sat on the lawn in front of a mobile stage to hear the two read poems by Walt Whitman (lines from the poems were also engraved on granite blocks placed near the fort’s abandoned military buildings, which in turn housed a sound installation by Janet Cardiff, photographs and a sculptural installation by Smith, and more.)
There was laughter as MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, who helped orchestrate the exhibition and kick-off, introduced Smith by accidentally revealing the street where she keeps a bungalow. And still more when, later on, she lied that she actually lived on 86th Street. (Too late, Patti: after-party at your place!)
But the best reaction came when Franco, reading a line from Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” twice spoke the words “O my body,” drawing howls and whistles from the ladies. (Prof. Franco introduced the section, with its litany of body parts, by comparing it to “Dem Bones”; he introduced another section by saying, “Here’s a weird part, but I just kinda like it”).
After the readings, Franco donned a “Palo Alto” trucker hat and took a back seat while Smith brought up her guitarist Lenny Kaye and her daughter/keyboardist Jesse Paris Smith. They opened with “Wing,” just as Smith did last year at the PS1 Dome, another post-Sandy cultural initiative put on by Biesenbach.
Then came a rendition of “Redondo Beach,” a haunting cover of Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream,” and (below) a hair-raising performance of “Pissing in the River.”
For the closer, Smith recalled how Michael Stipe had donned a surgical mask to help out with post-Sandy cleanup in Rockaway. Then the former REM frontman (surprise guest!) helped out with a performance of “People Have the Power” that got everyone up off their beach blankets and onto their feet.
Here’s a couple of snippets. That’s Franco (in sunglasses and trucker hat) coolly leaning against the back wall, but rest assured even he ultimately got in on it.