I will admit, I have owned Patti Smith’s book “M Train” for a few years. It was one of those books that I couldn’t seem to commit to finishing. I restarted it at least three times. Looking back, maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace to immerse myself in these precious recorded moments of Smith’s life. I was too deeply submerged in undergrad, too caught up in my own life to value the message of loss, exploration, and simplicity she offered me. But this year, when I picked it up for the third time, I found myself whisked away.
More than a memoir, “M Train” by Patti Smith normalizes the life of the creative. In this book, Smith unites her world with the reader’s through loss, and offers a hope for those who are moving on. I believe that it is her prerogative, as an artist, writer, and rocker to share the beauty of human moments, and unite the world through struggle, success, beauty and loss.
The memoir is a beautifully poetic blend of the past and present experience of Patti Smith’s life, dissected in crisp vignettes. Smith’s writing of her daily trips to the Café Ino for bread and black coffee, and her outrage when someone sat in “her” table called forth the part of me that longs to be a regular somewhere. There is a certain reverence for the moment, and for the poet, in Smith’s work I particularly admire. In her detail-oriented, simple-worded, blissful capturing of the day to day, Smith’s writing breathes gratuitude.
It wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I understood why she chose to bring the collection of stories together that she did. On the mysterious disappearance of her “ill-fitting, unlined, Comme des Garcons overcoat,” a 57th birthday present from a poet-friend she said “I loved my coat and the cafe and my morning routine. It was the clearest and simplest expression of my solitary identity.” Yet her coffee shop too, closed down. Her beloved ink-stained copy of “The Wind Up Bird” and her smooth white stone taken from a mountain were left in the airport bathroom for someone else to find. Her husband, dead. Her polaroid collection of pictures of famous people’s graves, misplaced. All stories of loss. But each time, Smith finds an explanation for these moments, and treats them as an opportunity to form new memories — take more polaroids, mark up another book, settle for another, less worn jacket, and continue to live and find life after the death of her husband.
At the finish of “M Train,” I was struck. Not only in her books, but also her presence in media, Smith lives her life holding hands with creativity. Within the few minutes of scrolling on her Instagram, I noticed the same dedication to musing on the mundane that was present in her memoir. Smith begins each post with the words “This is..” and proceeds to introduce a significant person, event, or location — writing in great admiration for her daughter Jesse, who “lives the language of enthusiasm,” gratitude for friends and co-collaborators like Steven Sebring, bass player Tony Shanahan, and appreciation for friends like Stefano Righi. She sees, then depicts people and instances in intricate visions. More so, she seems forced to write them down in her crystal-like transparency, in a way that the world might know what each mean to her.
On June 26, she posted pictures of her coffee and current read, saying “This is / back home. So happy to / be at my table with all I / need for a long contented / morning. A jewel of a book / picked up at the Reykjavik / airport, black coffee and / components for a healthy / shot. I love this strange / little book by the poet / Sjon, a bit reminiscent of / Rene Daumal. Today will / be the usual jet lag battle / but I have my weapons: / coffee and a book. What / could be better?”
In her writing, both formal and quotidian, Smith encourages the creative to never cease in interacting with the world around them. And it is her great respect for the individual, and her holistic perspective on life — brought about by loss and the wear of age — that sets her apart.