This current New York magazine cover, of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, brought back memories of briefly knowing Patti many years ago. I met her at a nightclub (Banana-something?) on Bleecker Street, where I was singing backup with a band that included her then boyfriend, Ray, a drummer. I remember watching Patti from the stage just as we were finishing our set. She got up from her seat, turned around, and danced her way, long hair shaking, to the bar. I joined her there and we had what I remember as a fun conversation, though I have no idea what we talked about. Not long after that I went to see her with her own band at Kenny's Castaways, also on Bleecker Street. I liked her songs and still remember riffs from a couple of them—one about an aging waitress ("But you still look all right"), another about "Buffalo," a local musician who was in both her band and the one I sang with.
I also worked with a singer named Phyllis Whitehouse, who was friends with Patti's singing partner, Soozie Tyrell (now a frequent player with the E Street Band). The two of them, Phyllis told me, were buskers. She recounted a charming story about Patti and Soozie's once needing to take a cab but not having any money. They asked a cabbie if he would take him to their destination and let them pay by singing for him during the ride. He agreed. That generous taxi driver must've gotten a lot of mileage, so to speak, over the years with that story, assuming that he knows who his passengers were.
I called Patti shortly after her Kenny's gig to tell her how much I liked it. I remarked that her songwriting seemed to be going in a good direction, and she replied, "Yeah, I'm digging it." But the conversation as a whole was a little awkward, as one can be between near strangers, especially if they're not having a drink together. I loved Patti's first album, "Rumble Doll," from the early 90s, a well-crafted heart-stealer that pretty overtly dealt with her romance with Bruce, who was married at the time, while they were on tour together, obviously a highly emotional experience for both of them. (Suddenly I recall talking to an Asbury Park denizen, a muscular guy with black stand-up hair, in a bar shortly after the news of the affair had erupted—"Patti always loved Bruce," he said.) I wanted to interview Patti about her record for a new NYC tabloid and got in touch with her publicist, but nothing came of it because the publication went under very quickly.
And now Patti and Bruce have been together more than 25 years. I don't know how all that time has elapsed, but I'm happy that Patti's and my paths converged briefly when we were both young and hungry in New York City (okay, one of us is still kind of hungry!).