The year is 1991, and the Second Chance, a beloved rock ’n’ roll club in Ann Arbor, Mich., announces that it is closing and on its very last night will feature a benefit performance by none other than the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and his wife, who of course just happened to be the musician and poet Patti Smith.

The two had set up residence in Michigan at the end of the ’70s, but to the despair of local rock ’n’ roll fans and punk aficionados, the pair were not out tearing it up in the local scene but were instead installed cozily at home, doing yard work and having babies. This appearance in 1991 was unprecedented and rare, so the faithful came running from everywhere. Listening to recordings of that night, you can feel the excitement and the anticipation, but you can also detect something far more feral: There are dudes in the audience howling—literally howling—for Fred Smith.

Reporting on the show for The Detroit News was Susan Whitall, former CREEM writer and editor; the MC5 were always a favorite at CREEM, one of the first publications to publish Patti Smith’s poetry (as well as some of her record reviews). Not surprisingly, Whitall’s account was the most insightful report of the event.

Excerpted from Why Patti Smith Matters by Caryn Rose, © 2022, published with permission from the University of Texas Press.


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