Patti Smith’s M Train is a love letter to writers and the romance of writing. It is also a memorial of sorts to lost people, places and things: her husband, her brother, a café in the West Village, a beloved coat.
But for me, the most refreshing thing about this book is the way Smith comes across as a real person. She has a routine: she goes to the aforementioned West Village café every day (the Café ’Ino, no longer there, for you stalkers), orders her black coffee, brown toast and olive oil, and proceeds to read and/or write.
She’s also a fan of TV detective shows. (The Killing, Law & Order and CSI are just a few that get a name-check.) I love this about her because it makes her tremendous accomplishments seem to be within the grasp of ordinary mortals like myself. Reading about how she pieces together her life—both creative and otherwise—from a combination of concerts, readings, interviews, etc., helps demystify the process for me.
I also enjoyed reading about her travels and the importance she gives to certain cultural icons (Genet, Rimbaud, Mishima, etc.). A lot of her travels consist of bringing certain things—a stone, some beads, etc.—to the graves of these icons and bestowing them upon their gravesites. You have to admire someone who would go to such great lengths for a symbolic gesture!
I think the strongest chapter in the book deals with Hurricane Sandy and its affect upon the Rockaways, where she buys a bungalow just before the hurricane strikes. As someone who had to abandon his own apartment during that hurricane, I can certainly sympathize.
I guess what I’m saying is that I love Patti Smith because she doesn’t come across as some remote, unreachable “rock star,” but as an authentic, living, breathing artist, one that I have actually seen a few times on the streets of New York City.
One of my favorite things that I read about Smith saying (albeit not in this book) is “Just do the work.” And in this book, she does just that, giving us a glimpse of her daily life, her thoughts, and her philosophy.