If there’s one thing Patti Smith is known for, it’s defending the Twilight movies against haters. And if there’s a second thing Smith is known for, it’s guest-starring on Law And Order: Criminal Intent. Then, a little further down the list, she’s known for writing books, and that’s about it. Her last book, the memoir Just Kids—about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe—won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. Now Pitchfork brings word that Smith has penned a new memoir, M Train, to be released by Knopf on October 6.
Smith is basically the quintessence of the Lower East Side New York City bohemian artiste, and her writing doesn’t stray from that persona. So the description of this new book is very serious, because Patti Smith is very serious and also because, for all her talent, she seems constitutionally incapable of being light-hearted about anything:
M Train is a journey through eighteen “stations.” It begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations: from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose untimely death was an irremediable loss. For it is loss, as well as the consolation we might salvage from it, that lies at the heart of this exquisitely told memoir, one augmented by stunning black-and-white Polaroids taken by Smith herself.
It will in all likelihood be an excellent book, much like her last one. It will not, however, be the kind of thing you throw in the bag for a light beach read. Patti Smith does not know what a “beach” read is. It’s possible she’s never been near a beach, unless you count Coney Island at 3 a.m., drifting fluidly between the waking world and melancholy visions funneled through a worn copy of On The Road, a theophany of stale cigarettes preaching the hollow truths of the universe.