Lessons Learned: Patti Smith’s “M Train” Live at the Orpheum

By Sophie He
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Patti Smith has described her latest book, M Train, as a “roadmap to my life.” Through a nebulous and non-linear narrative structure, she honors her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, pays homage to her muses (Jean Genet, Frida Kahlo, Haruki Murakami, to name a few), and paints a picture of her life as it is now, measured coffee cup by coffee cup, Prufrock-style. In M Train, Patti also flexes her prose. She writes lyrically and solemnly, employing a distinct voice familiar to anyone who’s ever read her now-seminal coming-of-age memoir, Just Kids.

Earlier this week, Patti brought her past-and-present musings to the stage at the The Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ sold-out ALOUD book event at the historic Orpheum Theater, where she sat down with novelist Jonathan Lethem, answered a select number of questions from the audience, and played a short acoustic set alongside former bandmate Tony Shanahan.


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It was one of those special book readings that brought together a diverse crowd of all ages. Cheers erupted when Patti proudly showed off her Aqua Teen Hunger Force Meatwad watch. Murmurs of nostalgia filled the room at the mention of the Whiskey a Go Go in its ‘70s heyday. Patti’s very presence alone managed to captivate, even when she would veer off course from Lethem’s questions to ramble and just shoot the shit. Some highlights include:

  1. It was 1974 when Patti first visited LA, where she played a pre-Horses show at the Whiskey a Go Go. She stayed at The Tropicana Motel and had drinks at Duke’s Coffee, where she met a regular– a morose man named Tom Waits.
  2. She read Moby Dick when she was 13 years old, although she skipped most of the whaling chapters. She also apologized in advance if there’s a passage or two in M Train that feels whaling chapter-ish.
  3. This quote: “Everyone thinks I’m just this punk rocker who’s gonna poop on the stage.”
  4. While she was making a name for herself in the ‘70s, Patti held a steady job at the iconic Scribner’s bookstore for much of her 20’s, crediting Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face as her inspiration.
  5. She doesn’t consider herself a photographer, but her camera of choice is the Polaroid Land 250 for its ease of use and instant results.
  6. She learned how to grow potatoes from Fred Smith’s 90-something year-old aunt, Spicy (!!)
  7. Before her acoustic set, Patti stood up and announced to the audience, “Yesterday, I saw Spectre, and it was awesome.”

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For her acoustic set, Patti played “Dancing Barefoot,” “Wing,” and the Springsteen-penned “Because the Night,” which received a standing ovation. No signs of slowing down yet.

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