Don't you play with his ding-a-ling
Inspired by our story of a John Lennon New York City encounter 40 years ago, a reader writes of his own brush with rock greatness in the big city:
One night in the autumn of 1979, my buddy Gerry and I went to the Ritz nightclub, then located somewhere just off Broadway between the Strand Bookstore and Union Square, to see Chuck Berry perform. Gerry and I were pretty reckless and canny punk era stage door Johnnies who did what we could to get backstage anywhere to encounter almost anybody. "No Fear" was pretty much the battle cry.
Anyway, the Ritz had an elevated horseshoe-shaped balcony with the dressing room doors at either end just above the stage. Second floor dressing rooms were an odd arrangement (they were typically below stage level) but it was a configuration that definitely made it easier for goofballs like Gerry and I to breach security, particularly since at the Ritz you only had to pass through one door and you were in. No gauntlet of black T-shirt heavies to run.
Just before the show started, Gerry and I were casing the balcony trying to figure the best way into the inner sanctum when we spotted Keith Richards and his girlfriend, "supermodel" Patti Hansen, sucking cocaine off a balcony table. Keith Richards on blow! In our world, it didn't get much better than than that and were on them like white on rice.
Now Keith is a guy with a sense of humor and he seemed amused by our pluck. Big smile, big handshake, but what really got my attention was Patti licking all around her lips and gums in that reflex that defined the cocaine era. As Gerry yucked it up with Keith, I asked Patti with the effrontery of which only a drunken 18 year old is capable, "Do you have a kiss for me, pretty girl?" Boy did she, with that sweet, numb tongue! And boy did Keith get a laugh out of that one! Gerry and I cut out before we got pesty, thinking that we had just reach the pinnacle of "near brushes." Little did we know what was in store.
The show came off beautifully, Chuck rocked the socks off the house, and Gerry and I made our play for backstage. Needless to say, we got through the door into an uncomfortably small room in which an obviously irritated Chuck Berry was standing against the back wall. Gerry and I couldn't tell what was up, but the vibe was uncool and we flattened ourselves against a side wall and kept our traps shut. After a couple of minutes the door opened again and, what do know, in walked our new buddies Keith and Patti, hand in hand, with his other one wrapped around the neck of a bottle of Old No.7. Chuck saw them right away and suddenly pushed aside the people standing in front of him, strode across the room with a look of stone fury on his face and COLD COCKED KEITH RICHARDS FOUR FEET IN FRONT OF ME!! I instantly knew the weightless rush of standing in the middle of history in the making, and knowing it.
Matters transpired quickly from there. Keith fell against the wall while the heavies surrounded Chuck and hustled him out of his own dressing room. With signature aplomb, Keith, who never lost his grip on Old Jack, shot a stupid grin around the room and announced to nobody in particular,"Well that was a right proper shot, wudn't it?"
In the thick tension that not even Keith could dispel, Gerry and I suddenly became very visible, and the heavies handled us with grievous dispatch. We staggered, stunned, back into the New York City night wondering just WTF had happened. Well, word got back through the groupie grapevine that about two weeks before Chuck's show in New York, a very drunken Keith had climbed on stage at a Chuck performance at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in LA and, in a glorious demonstration of indiscreet Oedipal one-up-manship, had upstaged his mentor. Chuck did not take kindly to the slight and had almost thrown Keith right off the stage. But apparently "it wasn't over" as Gerry and I witnessed in New York. Ah, Rock...and so in the Big Bad Apple did we roll.