Things to Do in Miami: Patti Smith at the Adrienne Arsht Center, December 17, 2019
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Have you ever turned down a strange street and swore you’ve been there before? Have you ever met a stranger who sounds so familiar, heard a new song that rings in your bones with appreciation, or tried a dish that reminds you of home?
The more of this life we experience, the more the corners bleed together in sunset colors. After all, life is only a dream; A strange dream, sometimes a nightmare. You can’t stop the shock, but you can search for the beauty and hope.
This is the poetic reminder of Patti Smith’s latest memoir, Year of the Monkey, which she brings to the Arsht Center on Tuesday, December 17th. The book tells of a turbulent time in the life of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame candidates. It starts on the first day of 2016 and runs through a lunar calendar of loss, death, aging, climate change and political upheaval that shrouds all these deadly worries in a thoughtful and bizarre haze in which the line between dream and waking life fades from visibility .
“Nothing is ever resolved,” writes Smith. “Solving is an illusion. There are moments of spontaneous brightness when the mind appears emancipated, but that’s just revelation. “
While the Arsht Center event undoubtedly gives fans a chance to learn more about their process, and perhaps even ask their burning questions, all that is left to do is jump into the Year of the Monkey to feel a little closer to Smith. It reads like a diary because it’s effective: Taken from your daily diary entries, it’s full of references to movies, books, and many, many songs. Her coffee budget must be wild as she always sits down for a cup or two and a modest meal.
“It’s a book that invites the reader to rest, take a walk, and be with me for a while,” Smith told the Miami New Times over the phone. “Whether it is about loss or migration, a sardine bread or looking at the Ghent Altarpiece, we can all be together, so to speak.”
Smith’s writing was always personal. In 2010 she won the National Book Award for Just Kids, which described her life and relationship with famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Her 2015 follow-up, M Train, explores the profound losses of her husband Fred and brother Todd. Still, she calls the Year of the Monkey “particularly poignant” in part because she never intended to write it at all.
“I was traveling,” she says. “One of my dear friends had a brain aneurysm and I was supposed to travel with him. I spent a lot of time with Sam Shepard towards the end of his life, and then it was election year … Writing every day was a stabilizing aspect of my life. I would wake up in the morning, have my coffee, and write for a few hours. “
After Smith decided to publish and share the work, she delved deep into her multitude of magazines to unfold an imaginative narrative that contains more Lewis Carol than journalistic truth.
“Sometimes I have three or four diaries,” she says. “And I’ll start a story in Diary A and it will turn out that Diary C has the rest of the story. I have to go through all of my diaries to see where the second part of something is. I am not very organized. I’m organized so that I write every day and have all of my diaries, but in terms of where things are, you have to be a bit of a detective to find the ongoing narrative. “
Smith writes by hand and transcribes the entries into a computer. She even spends 10 minutes a day writing with her non-dominant left hand, “just in case”. Her passion for form extends to helping others too; Year of the Monkey describes how one of Smith’s co-scribes friends lost his ability to type at his age and relied on her to help put together his final works.
The Year of the Monkey is a beautiful meditation on time and meaning, a bittersweet adventure that doesn’t attempt to solve the questions of creeping mortality, the rise of populism, or ever-invading sea levels. It just takes the moment to look around, shake your head, wonder about everything, and think about being further.
“I’m happy with it,” she says. “We live in the time – in which, in relation to the things we are confronted with, we of course primarily concerned ourselves with climate change. We must make a global decision to unite and work together or suffer the dire consequences. So some of those thoughts are in this book and move on to the next. “
She tells the New Times that she’s already deep into her next offering, a kind of parallel to Just Kids, who is more focused on her own development as an artist and performer and constantly writes diaries, writes poetry and dares to dream during the day. Until then, long-time fans can look forward to the Year of the Monkey and their visit to Miami.
An evening with Patti Smith. Tuesday, December 17, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets are $ 37.
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Kat Bein is a freelance writer and has been named the Senior Millennial Correspondent for this publication. She has an impressive, if unhealthy, knowledge of all things pop culture.