Last night, the How To Academy hosted a special event with Patti Smith, who brought her book Year of the Monkey to life at the Central Hall in Westminster. With a little help from journalist, author and editor Erica Wagner, the artist went through some key points of her book, before delivering an intense and passionate six-song acoustic set.
The How To Academy has been known for organising events with inspiring personalities, from Nobel laureates to Pulitzer Prize winners, this organisation is all about people with big ideas. Offering inspiring masterclasses as well as a wide range of events with the biggest voices out there, the How To Academy puts these inspiring talks at the disposal of anyone who’s interested. Some of their past speakers include Emma Watson and Natalie Portman, but last night it was Patti Smith’s turn to be welcomed to London.
Year of the Monkey, which was published in September, is the latest memoir written by the American poet, finding the perfect balance between reverie and reality, but also between prose and poetry. Retracing a number of adventures and encounters Patti Smith experienced after a run of New Year’s gigs at San Francisco, this book pictures perfectly how she had to deal with what life gave her. From ageing to meeting one of her timeless mentors, from the loss of her close friends to observing a considerable change in America’s political landscape – it all happens during a picaresque journey across America.
While this book leaves us food for thought on numerous aspects of the singer’s life, it was with grand pleasure and infectious passion that Patti Smith spoke about her book Year of the Monkey.
After introducing and welcoming the artist on stage, Erica Wagner based her first question on the singer’s dreams, and how they blend into her life. This comes across in her latest book as both her imagination and reality are mixed together, leaving us wondering what was non-fictional and what was visionary.
The artist had only been sat down for less than five minutes and already the audience was laughing and hanging on her every word. Patti Smith has a great sense of humour and certainly knows how to capture everyone’s attention in a familiar setting. One moment that particularly amused everyone was when the journalist asked a specific question about a sentence in the book. That sentence is very poetic and artistic, however, when Smith was asked to tell us a bit more about it, her answer was wryly, “I don’t know, it’s one of those genius lines that you don’t know what it means.”
As the evening went on, Sam Shepard and Sandy Pearlman were mentioned multiple times, and Smith shared a couple more anecdotes about their precious friendships. While Wagner carried on with questions touching the topic of the singer’s love for libraries, and her contagious passion for writing, the artist soon brought ITV3 in the conversation. Yes, you read it right – ITV3.
Anyone who is a true fan of Patti Smith will know about her love for detective shows. Vera, Midsomer Murders, Endeavour – you name it, she’s watched it. Speaking of the famous detective Vera, the singer exclaimed “Whenever an episode of Vera ends, she does something like a wink or a smile, and I’m always thinking ‘Yes! Vera!’”
Coming back to the Year of the Monkey’s author’s writing career, she explained how her first, highly-acclaimed, non-fictional book – Just Kids – was a challenge for her. “I never would’ve written it, if Robert [Mapplethorpe] hadn’t asked me to,” started Smith. “I knew I was the only one who could write it because I was the only one who knew Robert so well. It took me ten year to write it. And once I’d finished it, I said to myself ‘Wow! This is very responsible!’ so I wanted Year of the Monkey to be as irresponsible as possible.”
Patti Smith shared her point of view on environmental and political issues as well as giving us words to live by about being optimistic. It was then time for her to welcome her friend Tony Shanahan to the stage to perform a set of acoustic songs.
Alternating between readings of her book and her tracks, she started off with Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. While the extracts from the book went perfectly with her chosen songs, the singer took a moment to explain what November 4th meant to her: “November 4th is a very special date for me. It’s Robert’s birthday, my grandson’s birthday but also the anniversary of my late husband’s passing. And this year, it will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of his passing.” And what better way to remember Fred “Sonic” Smith than to perform a song that has played a pivotal part in Patti’s career and that was written for him – ‘Because the Night’.
An hour and thirty minutes later the event ended leaving the audience smiling and delighted with the evening. Year of the Monkey is a must for any Patti Smith fan out there, but also for anyone who loves poetry, as this artist has a poetic flair that is remarkable, to say the least.