Who loves coffee, writes lyrical poems about feeding cats, and kicked off the 32nd Miami Book Fair with a tremendous bang? Why, that could be none-other than National Book Award winner and living rock music icon, Patti Smith.
The 68-year-old celebrates the 40-year anniversary of her seminal album Horses and the release of her latest memoir M Train, the latter of which was gifted to ticket holders at Sunday's event. Unlike it's predecessor, the award-winning Just Kids, M Train follows no direct chronology, carries no weighty subject matter beyond Smith's own wayward creative life, and filters that tale through the lens of coffee shops, delis, corner tables, and all the hangs wherein she made the magic of her words.
She regaled us with excerpts from M Train, some short and enjoyable poetic tales of avoiding Christmas in movie theaters and wishing ill upon a hoity bitch who stole “her table.” She entertained us with her dry wit and kept us on her toes with her impatience for tomfoolery. Early in her readings, she teased a photographer to hurry up and “get our shot.” Later, she'd pause to inquire as to what some noisy organizers backstage were “talkin' about?”
“I'm sorry, I just get distracted,” she said to the crowd's applause, “and as I'm a notorious digresser, you don't want to do that.”
By the sounds of her rhythmic drawl, M Train will be as beautiful a read as Just Kids, though perhaps not as heavy in content. When one man asked during the following Q&A session if this lighter tone was intentional, she replied, “it's just a different book.”
“I wrote Just Kids because Robert Mapplethorpe asked me to write it the day before he died,” she said. “I'd never written a work of nonfiction before, so I had to really work very hard, write and rewrite. I had a lot of responsibility to chronology and to all of the people in the book, to New York City at that time, to Robert's voice, and to our relationship. It was, as I said, a lot of responsibility, so I really wanted to write a completely irresponsible book.”
M Train and Just Kids do however share in that glorious detail-rich tone and passionate voice of Smith has been honored for. Her writing is so lush and intricate, it not only paints a picture in one's mind but transports the reader to each narrative nook and cranny. When asked how she recalls all those moments and conversations, Smith admitted to being a lifelong journaler.
“I have two different kinds, some that is more writerly, where I'm really writing to try to develop something, and sometimes notes,” she said. “When I was writing Just Kids, I had a little diary that my mother gave me, one of these little tiny diaries, so you only have a little entry every day, but 1970 I had every day. It was like “cut Robert's hair like rockabilly star,” “met Janis Joplin,” and each one triggered a memory – but if I don't have a grasp on something, that it's almost cinematic, then I don't write about it.”
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When one woman asked about Smith's relationship with Mapplethorpe, referencing all the times she sacrificed and provided for the photographer ahead of her own creative endeavors, Smith cut the question off and defended her choices.
“He really believed not only that he had a calling, but that he actually could match that with great work,” she said. “I had lots of doubt, and Robert's confidence became part of who I was. He gave me that. He believed in me unconditionally. He was kind supportive, and the things that I did for him were just natural for me. Robert had a more delicate constitution and, as it turned out, a lot less time on the planet. He only lived untill he was 42 years old. I'm 68 years old. I'm really glad I spent a lot of my time helping him not waste his time at some shitty job and let him work and develop his work – and we were happy. Being young, I just thought artists were supposed to suffer, starve and sacrifice. I was thrilled.”
She answered a few more questions and seemed ready to call the night when the line came to an end, although one last straggler had not a question, but an actual cherry pie for the authoress, a reference to a joke she made in her opening statements.
She gave an a Capella rendition of her song “Wing” in memory of the young people who lost their lives in Paris, a city very near and dear to Smith's heart, before bowing her head, thanking the crowd and walking off backstage. She promised she'd be back to sign all of our books before making her final exit, adding wryly, “not with the pie.”