Singer-songwriter and artist Patti Smith’s follows her critically acclaimed memoir “Just Kids” with “M Train,” which charts many of her life’s journeys.
“It’s not so easy writing about nothing,” a cowpoke tells her in a dream. Yet Smith is able to weave a vivid tapestry of her life’s little moments into a moving and deeply felt narrative.
A modern day flaneur, Smith spends time in her favorite Greenwich Village cafés, writing, reflecting, and observing the passing scene. She’s a time traveling tour guide, nimbly pulling the reader into her dreams, her memories, her past, and her present.
She travels around the world as a pilgrim, visiting shrines – often graves – of artists and poets from Frida Kahlo to Jean Genet who have inspired her. She shares her memories of singing Buddy Holly songs with chess player Bobby Fischer to delivering a talk to the Continental Drift Club, an obscure international society dedicated to “the perpetuation of remembrance of explorer Alfred Wegener, who pioneered the theory of continental drift.”
Smith recalls her happy marriage to guitarists Fred Sonic Smith, whose premature death she mourns in her own “perpetuation of remembrance.” This is a book about losses large and small: the loss of a beloved husband; the loss of a favorite, much-worn coat; the near loss of a seaside bungalow in Rockaway Beach to Superstorm Sandy. “Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don’t go. Don’t grow.”
It takes a little while – though this is a short book – to fall into the rhythm of the “M Train.’ But once on board, Smith is such a brilliant conductor, you don’t want the journey to end. Smith’s Polaroid photographs, which are sprinkled throughout the book, document her travels and memories and provide a worthy counterpoint to her poetic prose.
“I have lived in my own book,” she writes. “One I never planned to write, recording time backwards and forwards. I have watched the snow fall onto the sea and traced the steps of a traveler long gone. I have relieved moments that were perfect in their certainty. Fred buttoning the khaki shirt he wore for his flying lessons. Doves return to rest on our balcony. Our daughter, Jesse, standing before me stretching out her arms.
“—Oh, Mama, sometimes I feel like a new tree.”
Smith’s genius is to find the joy in all the station stops of a life well-lived and well-traveled.
“M Train” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.