Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Memoir of dreams and journeys

M Train

By Patti Smith

Publisher Knopf

Pub Date: October 6, 2015)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Rock singer, writer and poet Patti Smith states the basic dilemma of her new memoir M Train in its very first sentence. Her book, for the most part, happens after the death of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith of the rock group, MC5. It is a deceptively simple but full life filled with cafe visits, constant reading, travel, and much reflection on where she was and where she is. It is time with friends and the occasional inspirational moment from a literary hero. It is an endless pot of coffee, her drink of choice. Patti Smith is far from the typical rock idol and M Train is not your typical memoir. The line at the top is spoken by a cowboy in a dream. The cowboy becomes a form of muse and spirit who accompanies her into the waking life at odd moments. It is an atypical muse for a very atypical writer.

M Train is a journey where dreams and real life intersect. Despite her rock and roll credentials, Smith is foremost a poet and it shows in this descriptive, almost musical prose that weaves dreams, memories, and her daily life in a lyrical reminiscence of life, regrets and longing. Whether she is at her favorite table in her favorite cafe, writing in her ever present notebook, visiting the grave sites of famous writers, discovering a Murakami novel, or even buying a house that will soon feel the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, her nothings turn into exquisite somethings that may change the way you see the simple things. Her writings has a timeless quality, an adjective with two meaning: a book that will withstand the test of time but also a memoir that challenges the definition of time, merging past and present in a solid event that emphasizing that our past does indeed make our present. In our dreams, there is no separation between past and present. This is what I believe the author is attempting.

There is much that I envy about Patti Smith, her rock and roll notoriety and fame being the least. I envy her effortless way with words, her child-like wonder which has only been slightly aged by her experiences and the wisdom of maturity, and her freedom and courage to take on the whims that often evolve into meaningful quests. Yet I find we have much in common too. We share the love of literature, great art, and the give and take of brilliant minds. She has that strange and wonderful urge to hunt down the impossible. For instance she becomes obsessed with finding the house Haruki Murakami describes in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles with its bird statue and mysterious well, knowing it probably only exists in Murakami’s mind. To many it sounds like a silly adventure, a bit of nothing so to speak. But the description of her quest sent me into throes of nostalgia for the time I stood standing and staring at a boarded up under construction tenement in London enchanted by the idea that this would have been where 221B Baker Street would be if it really existed. And then, there is coffee.

Travel is a central theme in her book. Yet each travel is linked to her past, or a memory, or a quest of inspiration and fulfillment whether it is looking for an imaginary house or having a beach house of her own. Travel, dreams and memory are three themes yet they all merge into one with a dreamlike sense of imagery suiting for a poet.

There is one more ingredient to this verbal tone prose. Fred Sonic Smith. M Train is just as much a tribute to her late husband and to their passage together in life. For those who read her marvelous Just Kids, you will remember her experience with Robert Mapplethorpe which resembled a romantic but tragic tale of youth and coming of age. M Train speaks of a different type of love; a partnership where two can be themselves but steady in the idea that they complement each other. While Just Kids spoke of coming of age, M Train speaks of accepting the arrival of coming of age, albeit an older age, and sharing it with the one you love the most. But it also speaks quietly and with contemplation of the crisis of loss when that essential person is no longer there.

If you choose to read M Train, I suggest you read it slowly, contemplating every sentence. Ideally it should be read while in a cafe but simply sitting in your reading place with a cup of coffee will suffice. I consider the coffee important. It is definitely a cup of coffee read. But however you choose to experience M Train, I assure you it will be an experience.

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