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Brooklyn Voices Presents Patti Smith

by Michelle Darris '18

BK Voices Patti Smith

On October 8, many made their way to Clinton Hill on the chilly Thursday evening to see Patti Smith in the second installation of St. Joseph’s College’s Brooklyn Voices series. In her event that sold out quickly, Patti Smith discussed her newest novel, M Train. The enthused audience filled the auditorium in Tuohy Hall and, as the lights dimmed, the co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore welcomed famous musician and author, Patti Smith.

Greeted by the audience’s excited applause, Patti Smith took the stage to introduce her new novel. She explained that for her, the title M Train represents a mental or a mind train. She playfully warned the audience of her lack of schedule, joking that her comedic movie would be titled “The Wedding Unplanner,” and promised to take questions from the audience after reading aloud from her novel.  M Train is divided into “stations” rather than chapters — as Patti Smith read her selected passages, she was careful to avoid the stations that mention all three of her cats, one of which has passed. Her delivery was both rhythmic and steady, adding a certain flavor to her writing and alluding to a lifetime of expertise in the mastery of words. After reading from her novel — and at one point pausing to give a quick rant on how we were able to find water on Mars but still have yet to make a reliable channel changer — she invites questions from the audience.

Opening the floor, Patti Smith initiated an audience-based discussion which covered inquiries ranging from her favorite blockbuster movie to her life regrets. In the first question, an audience member mentions her prose and in response to whether or not her rhythm was intentional, Patti recalled poetry being a prominent part of her childhood. Her love of poetry evolved into her rock and roll lyrics of the 70s, and her innate meter is translated to her contemporary writings. Much of M Train takes place in cafe-type settings so when asked if she prefers to write in public or in private, Patti reveals that although her preference for poetry is to write it in solitude, she enjoyed a particular booth in the back of her favorite cafe because it offered a semblance of seclusion while still being in the midst of action. Her novel alludes to many classic authors and artists, and Patti’s response to what literary tradition means to her? “I don’t know,” she laughs. “I just love books.”

Another audience member asked Patti Smith what her favorite film is and, after pausing for a moment to contemplate, she decided on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. In the movie, Alice mentions thinking of six impossible things before breakfast and when Patti knows that she has a rough day ahead of her, she thinks back in this for inspiration.

When prompted to reflect on her life, there is one thing that Patti would have done differently — she would have listened to her mother more. She feels a sense of guilt for always having been “off here, and off there” and said that if she could go back and re-do things, she would have spent less time traveling and more time listening to her mother’s stories. She also feels nostalgic for Brooklyn; although New York City is the greatest city in the world, she feels that the streets of Brooklyn have more meaning to her than the city. She started visiting her Brooklyn friends in 1965, and said that she can still envision her 17-year-old self walking these very same streets.

In regards to Patti Smith’s advice for anyone and everyone, it is simple: “Work hard, and work diligently,” she said. Whether writing a poem, training for a marathon or gardening, she believes that it is important to know beforehand that it will be hard, but that it will also be beautiful. A person must be willing to sacrifice and to work, but Patti trusts that the wonderful feeling of accomplishment will make it well worth it.

“How much time is left?” Patti Smith asked and before one of the coordinators of the event was able to respond, there was a voice from the audience: “Time enough for another passage!” She chuckled and agreed, saying mysteriously that she had “something else” planned after she was finished reading.

After reading one final passage from M Train, Patti Smith surprised the audience with a special performance of her hit songs. She welcomed her musical partner Lenny Kaye onstage, joking that he got a louder response from the audience than she. He began to strum his guitar and as the crowd fell silent, Patti Smith sang Dancing Barefoot. By the time she moved on to Because the Night, the audience, undoubtedly touched by sharing this intimate acoustic moment with Patti Smith, was singing along to the chorus.

Before concluding the second event of Brooklyn Voices with a book signing, Patti Smith took a moment to thank the audience. “Laughter is the best medicine,” she said, happy to hear the audience’s warm laughter throughout the night.

Our next Brooklyn Voices presentation takes place on October 15, when Ta-Nehisi Coates presents Between the World and Me.

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