M TRAIN by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury , 2015)
smith

If you have lived in a cave for the past four decades or spent too much time listening exclusively to crappy chart pop you wouldn’t know that Patti Smith is a Rock’n’Roll star.

You wouldn’t necessarily be any the wiser from reading her second autobiographical work either since there are practically no references to music making.

What you do learn from this collection of short loosely connected essays is that she is addicted to coffee, hates housework, loves visiting the graves of dead poets, likes taking black and white photos with a Polaroid camera and spends a good chunk of her free time binge-viewing TV shows (The Killing is a particular favourite).

The decision not to make this a conventional autobiography of this unique poet performer is typical of an artist who values her privacy and maintains a healthy distance from the razzamatazz of the music industry. She’s the kind of female role model we need more of; a free-spirit who epitomizes integrity and individuality and who sets her own agenda.

Now aged 70, she’s also a survivor, outliving many of the men in her life who meant most to her – beloved husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, iconic gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and much-loved brother, Todd. Actor/playwright Sam Shepard is one of the few key male contemporaries still in the land of the living. M Train is dedicated to him.

She takes a pragmatic view of death, probably because, aside from the loss of her nearest and dearest, most of the writers and authors she reveres lived short, tragic lives ; these include Arthur Rimbaud, Silvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Jean Genet, plus doomed Japanese writers Yukio Mishima, Osamu Dazai and Ryünosuke Akutagawa. A disproportionate number of these died by their own hands.

For someone who clearly loves nothing more than slobbing around at home with her cats in New York City or overseeing the renovations a dilapidated beach chalet on Rockaway Beach, Queens, she travels a great deal. The various chapters of this book find her in French Guiana, Japan or visiting cities like Berlin, London, Mexico City and Tangier.

This is a book about nothing and everything , a brief but fascinating insight of one of the key artists of the 20th/21st century that gives some inkling into what makes her tick yet preserves her enigmatic status.

Advertisements