I knew Linda Stein by reputation — she was married to (and later acrimoniously divorced from) Sire Records founder Seymour Stein. As an early adapter of all things punk — the music, of course, but also Punk Magazine, NY Rocker, Trouser Press, Soho Weekly News, fanzines like Vintage Violence et al — I'd heard and read about her inolvement with the Ramones, and I owned every piece of vinyl put out by Sire.
And I believe I had a sweet, serendipitous encounter with her in 1977, when I saw Patti Smith perform at CBGB's. Patti was in the midst of a weeklong stint at CBGB's; I'd first seen her a few years earlier and was a huge fan. I was home from college, in Pound Ridge for the summer, when my former boyfriend John turned up unexpectedly from DC in his VW Bug. He'd neer been to New York and had driven up on a lark: was there anything I wanted to do? I showed him the Village Voice ad for CBGB's, we hopped into his car and headed down to Manhattan. I didn't drive, he had no clue where we were going, and at one point we did a U-Turn in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge to get back to the Bowery. We found a place to park, and I think went to McSorley's to drink, and then to Bleeker Bob's, where I bought a vinyl 12-inch EP of "Marquee Moon." Then on to the CB's. We had no tickets but somehow ended inside, crushed against the wall. The show sounded great, but I could hardly see. There was a handful of tiny tables right in front of the stage, anomalous for the place but I assumed they'd been given over to some industry hotshots or journalists.
John kept picking me up and holding me so I could see over the crowd. I was ecstatic, poor sightlines or not – the whole adventure was so sudden and unexpected. I was exhilirated and must have looked it, because suddenly a petite, dark-haired woman at one of the tables in front stood and pointed at me, then yelled in this impeccable New Yawk accent to beckon me over. John and I were taken aback, but I went. She pointed at the floor between the tables and said, "Here, you can watch with us."
So I did. I sat in front of the stage, feeling rapt and rather otherworldly — I caught snatches of the conversation at the tables around me and yeah, I was right, they were industry people. They smiled at me but didn't say anything, but I didn't care. The show was great, though mostly I just remember the weird sense of having been plucked from nowhere to have, briefly, a ringside seat to watch my idol. For years I wondered about that unknown woman, why she'd shown a small, unexpected kindness to a twenty-year-old stranger in a packed club.
Cut to 2005, when I'm at home with my teenage son, watching the DVD of End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones. And there was Linda Stein being interviewed.
"Hey!" I shouted at Tristan. "I know her — that's the lady from CBGB's!"
I played the scene back a few times and yeah, I was pretty sure it was her. Now, sadly, I'll never know for sure.