Friday, February 28, 2020

Review: Year of the Monkey

Year of the Monkey: Stories
From Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith:

Open quote 

Coffee denied, I sat on the outside bench going over the edges of the night before. It was the last of three nights in a row performing at the Fillmore and I was pulling the strings off my Stratocaster when some guy with a greasy ponytail leaned over and puked on my boots. The last gasp of 2015, a spray of vomit ushering in the New Year. A good or bad sign?"

Serendipity brought this memoir by Patti Smith to me. Patti Smith is an accomplished poet, author, artist and punk rocker who, to my embarrassment, has escaped my knowledge up to now. My loss.

Grade: B+

"The Year of the Monkey" is the lunar year of 2016, the approximate period covered by Patti Smith's memoir. The year begins with her old friend and music producer Sandy Perlman suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. It ends roughly at the time of the 2017 presidential inauguration. It also includes Patti Smith's own 70th birthday. Let's just say the year sucked for Patti Smith.

Much of the book details Smith's travels from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to San Diego to Kentucky to Virginia Beach and her dreaming of going to Uluru in central Australia. "Going in circles. Going in circles." More than once for me, it evoked "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.

Smith herself evokes everyone from the Doors and Wagner and the Grateful Dead to Cerberus (the dog of Hades) to Roberto Bolaño (Smith searches for a Polaroid she took of the games in Bolaño's closet) to Maria Callas and Alan Hovhaness to the Cantos of Pound and the collected works of Rudolf Steiner to a thick volume on Euclidean geometry. Whew. For a punk rocker, she is a Renaissance woman.

Most of Smith's musings are simply that, something more akin to dreams than well-formed ideas. Her thoughts and dreams are filled with reflections on the passing of friends and family, and of forebodings of her own passing years. Still, while she lives, so too does optimism. "Yet still I keep thinking that something wonderful is about to happen. Maybe tomorrow."

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