My awareness of Patti Smith was that of a rock musician, and more specifically one influential in the punk rock genre. There wasn’t all that much awareness and not much interest. Then I heard her interviewed on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. I learned that Smith is not only a singer-songwriter musician, she is an accomplished poet, writer and artist. That interview was from several years ago when she wrote Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award winner for nonfiction. Just Kids is the story of Smith’s younger years (1960s and ‘70s) as a developing artist and her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
More recently I heard Smith interviewed on another Fresh Air program following publication of her most recent book, M Train. Smith is quoted as describing M Train as “a roadmap to my life.” The book is a memoir with mixed reflections about many things including her marriage to Fred “Sonic” Smith, family life, wanderings, music, and relationships. Notable to me was her favored writing locale – a Greenwich Village café – and her passion for TV cop shows. There are commentaries about her travels, New York City life, and her fondness for hot black coffee. There is also the curiosity of her purchase of a run-down seaside bungalow timed, unfortunately, just prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival.
Patti Smith came across to me as an extraordinarily gifted yet down to earth person. Seeing her writing in her notebook at a corner table in her favorite café wouldn’t be all that memorable. But her reflections are memorable and M Train is a remarkable book.
Smith, Patti. M Train. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf). 2015.