Patti Smith wades into memory and loss in literary sequel

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES, Shaun Tandon- Revered for her influence on punk rock, Patti Smith proved herself to be a literary heavyweight as well with her 2010 memoir, "Just Kids," which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
Smith delves further into her literary persona in a follow-up book, "M Train," a meditation on memory, loss and her worldwide quest for a perfect cup of coffee.

"Just Kids" offered a tender account of her relationship with avant-garde photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, in a memoir of artistic and sexual discovery but also of the gritty New York of the 1960s and 1970s that stirred their creative energies.
In "M Train," which comes out Tuesday, Smith reflects on her life's other great, late love, rocker Fred "Sonic" Smith of the band MC5, for whom Patti Smith relocated to Detroit after they married in 1980.
She returned to New York with their two children after he died in 1994. But "M Train" is less tied to a city than "Just Kids."
Instead the now 68-year-old Smith goes back into her memories -- and her photographs, many of them reproduced -- as she fondly recalls trips to places as varied as French Guiana, Tangier, Tokyo and Veracruz, the last of which was reputed to have the world's best coffee.
Yet "M Train" is also a book about loss -- not only of her husband but of seemingly unrelated anchors in her life, including a club devoted to the study of Alfred Wegener, the German scientist best known for the Continental Drift theory, and a cafe in Greenwich Village where Smith every morning would sit at the same table and order black coffee and brown toast with olive oil.
Upset over a lost coat that bore sentimental value, Smith asks in turn, "Do our lost possessions mourn us,?" wondering if the coat remembered their times "asleep on buses from Vienna to Prague, nights at the opera, walks by the sea."
"Why is it that we lose the things we love, and things cavalier cling to us and will be the measure of our worth after we're gone?" she writes.
- A writer before rocker -
Absent from "M Train" is virtually any direct mention of Smith's music, from her 1975 album "Horses," which is often ranked among rock's most influential, to her best-known song, "Because the Night."
Unlike so many rock memoirists, Smith has no interest in boasting of excesses.
In "M Train," she obliquely refers to shows as "jobs" and, to explain how in 1978 she was able to lease a building in New York, writes that she "came into a little money."
"I feel embarrassed when people call me a musician," Smith said Saturday night at The New Yorker Festival ahead of the book's release.
Smith told the event that she can "play a few chords," but that she ultimately considered herself a "performer" whose skill was working up crowds.
Smith, who grew up in working-class southern New Jersey, said that neither of her parents completed high school but belonged to a generation that considered reading their entertainment. Her father, she said, would casually quote Aristotle.
Smith's own literary aspirations were born after her childhood discovery of French doomed poet Arthur Rimbaud, and she has long published her own verse along with music.
- More books on way -
Smith, explaining why she wrote the latest book, joked Saturday that her late husband was envious of the attention to Mapplethorpe via "Just Kids."
Smith said she had further books in progress including a companion to "Just Kids" that would focus on music.
Merging her literary and musical sides, she is following the release of "M Train" with a concert tour of Europe and the United States to mark the 40th anniversary of "Horses."
With her love of travel, Smith was asked if New York remained her home.
She said that she did not feel fully at home anywhere, but returned to one of her book's themes.
For all of the city's drawbacks, Smith said, a New Yorker rarely has to walk more than a block for a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, October 6th 2015
Shaun Tandon

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