Patti Smith is much more than just the author of this beautiful book, “M-Train”. Before anything else, she is an icon. Smith is a musical artist, combining dark and abstract poetry with punk, rock and folk – resulting in the classic album “Horses”, which was released in 1975. In 2012, Smith published her first memoir, titled “Just Kids”, which was highly critically acclaimed. Apart from being a celebrated musician, artist and author, Smith is also something of a fashion icon – as her uniform usually consists of loosely fitted black suits, with white shirts and wild hair, turtlenecks (which are seriously making a comeback this season), loafers and fedoras.
But we’re here to talk about Smith as an author – and an excellent one at that. The follow-up memoir to “Just Kids” is just as beautifully written and intriguing as its predecessor. “Just Kids” resolved around Smith’s relationship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe, how they were “just kids” in the New York City of the 1970s. In many ways, the novel was a love letter to times past, to art, to Robert Mapplethorpe and to New York – and “M-Train” feels just as filled with love, only now to Smith’s late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith.
“M-Train” does not travel back in time, as Smith’s previous memoir did, but stays in the here and now, a life without her husband. We follow Smith as she sits in Café ‘Ino every day, drinking black coffee at her regular table, writing in her notebook and reminiscing about times past. We follow Smith as she travels all around the world, to Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico, to Suriname and Cayenne with her husband as a young woman, to Bremen, Reykjavik, Jena and Berlin as a part of the illustrious Continental Drift Club (in memory of physicist Alfred Wegener), to flower-wallpapered hotel rooms in London and finally to Rimbaud’s grave in France. And finally, we follow Smith into her mind, into memories of her husband, of their life past.
Whereas “Just Kids” was a much more optimistic memoir, “M-Train” is drenched in melancholia. There’s a certain roughness to Smith’s gorgeous and delicately picked words, a certain sadness. Lost in her own thoughts, Smith takes her readers by the hand and guides them through her mind. “M-Train” gives an undisclosed insight into the restless mind of one of the most original and influential artists of the 20th century: Patti Smith.
The novel’s richness is what makes “M-Train” so special. It isn’t just a memoir (if there’s even such as thing as “just a memoir”. It is also a travel journal, almost, as Smith takes us to the most exotic of places and recalls the most precious and personal details, as well as a dream journal and a collection of poetry – as the memoir is so aesthetically pleasing is reads like a novel. The black-and-white photos that are scattered throughout “M-Train” add to the concept of it being a travel journal, or perhaps a diary; polaroids of personal belongings, of her husband, of Sylvia Plath’s grave. They add visuals to Smith’s stories, creating a complete picture readers can dive into. And it’s completely worth the plunge.