Year of the Monkey: Patti Smith in Discussion with the Los Angeles Times "I live in my head a lot and I'm constantly living in the present and engaging in the world"- Patti Smith
LOS ANGELES, CA-
“It was the Year of the Monkey and I had beamed down into a new territory, on a road without shadow beneath the molecular sun.” – Patti Smith, Year of the Monkey
Loss. Grief. Despair. Confusion. In her newest book, spanning the grey area between memoir and novel, punk priestess, Patti Smith, poetic purveyor of art and words, finds herself in a period of contemplation and transition and enters a year of wandering. Facing the imminent deaths of two of her oldest friends, Year of the Monkey is a dreamlike exploration in which reality blurs into surreality, answers turn into questions and each step is as certain as walking on quicksand. Taking place in 2016 with the darkness of the presidential election looming on the horizon, the book is an exercise in magical realism, where fact and fiction seamlessly blend.
To bring additional insight to this exceptional work, the Los Angeles Times organized The Real Patti Smith, Up Close and Personal, an Ideas Exchange event with Patti in conversation with Times critic Lorraine Ali on Wednesday, October 9th at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale. It was a sold-out house, with audience members each receiving a copy of the book in addition to the unique opportunity to hear 45 minutes of discussion and another half hour of readings and songs. Patti, wry, witty and often self-deprecating, kept the crowd laughing and engaged while elaborating on her writing methods, motivation, and inspiration for this latest work.
“I write on napkins. I write on the inside of other people’s books. I carry a notebook, but if it gets filled up what’s next? National Geographic, on the margins.”– Patti Smith
Interspersed with polaroid photos captured by Patti, the book is almost journal-like, following a year of Patti’s life in a straight arrow through time, but often takes a sharp left turn into imagination with no advance warning. “I live in my head a lot and I’m constantly living in the present and engaging in the world,” Patti tells the audience, “But my mind is always making up other scenarios… stories come into my head.”
The book begins with Patti’s 69th birthday, a San Francisco New Year’s Eve concert and the news that one of her best friends of 45 years, Sandy Pearlman, writer, producer, and creator of the phrase Heavy Metal, had suffered a brain aneurysm on his way to her show. While Sandy lay in a coma, Patti proceeds with the road trip the two had planned to Santa Cruz, ending up at the Dream Inn, where her dreams and waking moments begin to merge. “So New Year’s Day, instead of being with Sandy, I was alone,” Patti explains, “And I just started writing, mainly to keep myself company.”
As Patti tries to process her friend’s coma, she is also dealing with the fact that her onetime romantic partner, playwright Sam Shepard, is entering his final stage in his battle with ALS. Throughout the year Patti visits Sam, helping with transcription of his last book, watching his slow degradation and worrying as a certain reality show star/businessman (“I couldn’t bear to put his name in my book”) begins weaving his own form of fiction to stir up fear and hate while running in the American presidential election.
“And so it continued. No matter which way I stepped or whatever plane I was on, it was still the Year of the Monkey. I was moving within an atmosphere of artificial brightness with corrosive edges, the hyperreality of the polarizing pre-election mudslide, an avalanche of toxicity infiltrating every outpost. I wiped the shit from my shoes again and again, still going about my business, that of being alive, the best I could.” -Patti Smith, Year of the Monkey
Somewhat fittingly, Patti’s book conversation fell on what would have been John Lennon’s 79th birthday. She was able to pay tribute to Lennon, one of her many heroes, by leading the audience in a Happy Birthday song to John.
After a final Q&A period, Patti stood to read passages from Year of the Monkey, alternating with four songs that evoked the aura and emotions explored throughout the book. Beginning with a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush,” she performed her own songs “Wing,” “My Blakean Year,” and finally the poignant “Pissing In a River.”
You can purchase Year Of The Monkey HERE.
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