Photo by Casey Amaral
Photo by Casey Amaral

“I know I’m really messy,” Patti Smith told a sold-out crowd at the Rio Theatre Tuesday night. “But I’m not going to apologize.”

Patti Smith, the multi-faceted artist who is best known for her influence on the New York City punk rock scene and her 1975 album “Horses,” shared a few hours of vulnerability and honesty during a reading of her latest book “M Train” this past Tuesday.

“[‘M Train’] is a poetic musing on being an artist and trying to find her style, find her voice, all these different experiences,” said Julia Sinn, Bookshop Santa Cruz’s events coordinator. “She’s an amazing writer, if she hadn’t become a musician, definitely she could have just become a poet or a writer.”

Five years after publishing her first autobiography “Just Kids,” which depicted a few of Smith’s closest relationships, her new work “M Train” portrays Smith as the woman she truly is — an artist and writer who spends the majority of her time scribbling ideas on the corners of napkins and drinking black coffee. She owns cats and books and has a deep appreciation for detective shows, and covets her usual table in a small New York cafe, just blocks from her house.

“I found that I put it down a lot more than ‘Just Kids,’” said Sarah Wilson-Black, a student from the United Kingdom studying at UC Santa Cruz, who attended the book reading after being a fan of Smith for years. “I put it down and then came back a couple of days later, reread parts and then continued reading. It’s a lot more sad. It’s about loss and overcoming grief, but the way she writes is always kind of poetic.”

Wilson-Black was one of the younger members of the crowd. The majority of the audience was older and connected with Smith’s tales of loss and aging.

“One of the things that compels me to write memoirs — even though I never wanted to —is so many of the people whom I have known and loved died so young, and I feel that I am the harbor of a lot of these people,” Smith said. “So many people I admired and love, so I feel that I contain a lot of their memory — the memory of them and who they were — and I know I can give them to the people, so I still have some responsibility.”

A bout of bronchitis prevented Smith from signing books as planned, so instead she sang a few songs, including one dedicated to the victims of the recent attacks in Paris.

“I thought it was better that she was sick,” said an audience member as she was leaving the theater. “She was so disheveled. I love it!”

The crowd was supportive of Smith’s announcement and yelled out, “It’s okay, Patti!” to which she replied, “I knew you would understand.”

Smith went on to express her love for Santa Cruz and the Rio Theatre, where she will be returning in January.

Even though Smith is not from Santa Cruz, she said the fit felt natural and, before singing, she took a moment to read a message encouraging the community to save the Beach Flats garden.

“Let’s save our gardens!” Smith shouted. “We don’t need any more fucking buildings, save our gardens!”

Although Smith didn’t sign a single book, the crowd mirrored her compassionate energy and was still elated to see the woman it felt it knew through years of music and literature.

“Life is so wonderful,” Smith said. “Everything is so wonderful. I get excited when I eat a great taco.”