You just never know when a jewel will drop in your lap, one with 253 beautifully bound pages.
The first time I saw Patti Smith perform was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy Friday night. She stood in the center of the Met’s intimate auditorium in jeans and a white poet’s blouse, worn out boots gracing her feet that if could talk, would tell a tale all their own.
The moment she started to sing, she owned my heart.
M Train, standing for mind, is a heartbreaking memoir of the first tier, revolving around her late husband, Fred Smith, who died of heart failure in 1994. As she opens her own heart to generously let you in, memories spill out giving candor its noble due.
Memoir will always remain a mystery to me the way it brings forth the past freshly packaged into the present. Smith is so honest it’s as though her mind’s being operated on without any form of anesthesia. You find yourself sitting alongside her as the pain drips steadily, quietly.
There are also lighthearted moments, like when a kid in Washington Square Park brings her yesterday’s sock that had fallen from her boot, and her passion for coffee…her drug of choice, as she puts it.
When the cafe she writes at every day suddenly closes, they bring her favorite table and chair to her home. One might think, isn’t that a bit much? But then you’d underestimate the almost supernatural effect of Patti Smith.
I found myself weeping for her, and Fred, their two kids who were deprived of their dad so early. The way she picked herself up leaving their home in Detroit to begin life again here, in New York, turning inward for all things.
There’s also the small house she bought in Rockaway Beach she tenderly calls, her Alamo, that was all but leveled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 since restored, in a chapter called, Her Name Was Sandy.
But the parts written that seep into your skin is when she uncovers Fred in all his sonic splendor. Fred “Sonic” Smith, born in 1949, was one of the key builders of the Detroit High Energy rock sound as guitarist and co-founder of the group MC5, and while the work after the band’s breakup was infrequent, what has survived cements Smith’s reputation as one of the great unsung heroes of Midwest rock & roll. After meeting at one of his concerts in 1976, Patti and Fred were married in 1980.
Though he’s been dead for 22 years, yearning for her husband has yet to cease.
…Midflight I began to weep. Just come back, I was thinking. You’ve been gone long enough. Just come back. I will stop traveling; I will wash your clothes. Mercifully, I fell asleep, and when I awoke snow was falling over Tokyo.
The poetry she holds is always present, as I wept with her, taking my own loss from its wrapping remembering Bill Hicks too died in 1994.
If you know Patti Smith’s work, her prose is merely a continuation of her genius…just another leaf in her creative table. I can’t say she’s for everybody, more an acquired taste if you will, but like anything rare you’ve come to regard as miraculous, she’ll lift you higher into a place where life, and all its stop and flow, will be seen and understood much better.
We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don’t go. Don’t grow.
Patti Smith won The National Book Award in 2010 for her book, Just Kids.