"I'm a little bit nervous because I don't know what you're doing," she said before launching into a list of activities people might undertake while watching or listening to her when not scrunched together in a music hall or bookstore.
Throughout her engagement, which included numerous musical performances, and readings from her poetry and prose, she was keenly aware of an audience she could not see. More specifically, she was aware of the humanity of her audience: its sense of humor, what state of mind it might be in and the ways its mores have shifted since the advent of the pandemic that shut off her pipeline to people who like what she does.
Readers of this week's Boise Weekly may have learned that over the course of her extensive travels, Smith has never visited Boise; and the purpose of her virtual stop in the City of Trees was to promote the paperback release of her creative memoir, Year of the Monkey. The book flits between her dreaming and active lives that begins and ends at the famed Fillmore venue in San Francisco. In between is a lot of travel, unconscious rumination, food and, naturally, encounters with her friends old and new.
Smith's milieu is really impressive, and she referred to on a first-name-basis folks like her former lover, playwright and actor Sam Shepard; her old roomie, partner and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; and John Lennon, whose would-be 80th birthday was Friday, and to whose memory Smith dedicated an acoustic cover of his song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)." She is, unquestionably, one of the most culturally connected people of our time, and her stories are full of the kinds of asides, sub-anecdotes and tangents that seem to be endemic to such people.
"If you aren't into digressions—I don't know what to say," she said.
Her appearance had been pre-recorded, and included a guest musician (Tony Shanahan); a nameless, unseen, unheard engineer; and a third male, whose role was unknown. This reporter notes that this is the first time he has encountered a virtual event put on by a Boise organization that has included multiple camera angles and professional accompaniment, but Smith, who made a handful of slips of the tongue, was self-conscious about the level of polish.
"You have the rare privilege of being able to experience all flaws," she said.
Year of the Monkey's title is an allusion to the Chinese Zodiac. The last Year of the Monkey was 2016, and the upheaval of that year was a specter that looms over the book and her Cabin appearance. While that appearance was largely unpolitical, she ended her hour-long talk and performance with a plea that she summed up in a single word:
The Cabin will next host Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles and, most recently, Circe, on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Tickets are $25 and available online now.