BY NAOMI TODD AND TALIA ZITNER, CONTRIBUTORS
If you’ve ever listened to Florence + The Machine, Ex-Hex, or Sleater/Kinney, you owe a debt to Patti Smith and don’t even know it. She is the original female punk. Smith is an acclaimed musician, poet, author, and visual artist who rose to fame in the mid-1970s with her debut album “Horses.” A member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, she was an influential figure in New York City’s punk rock movement.
On Friday night we don our jean jackets, pull up our patterned socks, grab our copies of her latest book “M Train,” and head to the GW Lisner Auditorium, which is packed. We are part of a very small group of teens. The rest of the audience includes grey-haired moms and the occasional rising musician. In our seats, we start talking to the people sitting around us: an older woman who believes our band will become famous and takes our picture, and a teenager who drove over an hour just to be here. So many people have come together for the collective purpose of seeing Patti Smith talk about her new book, discuss her life, and possibly even sing.
All of us in the audience are buzzing with excitement, waiting for the familiar iron-haired woman to walk onto the stage and grace us with a smile. When she finally does, a collective cheer rises from the crowd, and applause follows. She is wearing black combat boots, a drapey cardigan and several long necklaces. This is her signature look, and it’s mirrored by more than a few faithful fans in the crowd tonight.
In the hour and a half that follows, Smith begins to talk about her latest memoir, written several years after her first autobiography, “Just Kids,” which has been nationally recognized with multiple awards, including the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Fellow author Maureen Corrigan coaxes answers out of her, touching on subjects of loss, love, and coping with both.
At the end of the reading, a microphone is brought out and Smith enchants the audience with a song dedicated to John Lennon on what would have been his 75th birthday, and a beautiful a capella rendition of her most widely known song, “Because The Night,” which was a collaboration with fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen.
“M Train” opens with the line, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” It has no plotline, no timeline, and no sense of direction, but the entire audience was captivated by Smith’s way with words and ease in delivering her message through sweet nothings. The book is truly a story of love, friendship, and travel, and takes the reader to places Smith has visited and people she has loved.
Her late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, guitarist of the MC5, is an important part of the book. Smith recounts the difficulty of losing her husband and best friend. Also included in the book are 55 Polaroid pictures. Even though seemingly a little random, these pictures are small snapshots of her life and explorations of the world. “M Train” continually shifts between dreams and reality, taking the reader on a journey from Smith’s seaside cottage on a New York City beach to Casa Azul, the past home of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Both of us have read the new memoir, and we would highly suggest giving it a read. While it is not as entertaining as “Just Kids,” it is interesting to read about Smith’s life in the present day, since she is usually associated with 1970’s America. “M Train” is a slightly heavier and denser read, but Smith always manages to draw the reader in. Her book will leave you with a sense of nostalgia, reflecting on your own relationships and personal journeys.
If you haven’t, be sure to check it out, along with Smith’s other writings and music.