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M Train

Cover of M Train

M Train

National Best Seller
From the National Book Award–winning author of Just Kids: an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the prism of the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Patti Smith has described as "a roadmap to my life."
M Train 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. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer's society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York's Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.
Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith's life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith.
Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today.
From the Hardcover edition.
National Best Seller
From the National Book Award–winning author of Just Kids: an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the prism of the cafés and haunts she has worked in around the world. It is a book Patti Smith has described as "a roadmap to my life."
M Train 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. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, and across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations, we travel to Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Mexico; to a meeting of an Arctic explorer's society in Berlin; to a ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York's Far Rockaway that Smith acquires just before Hurricane Sandy hits; and to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima.
Woven throughout are reflections on the writer's craft and on artistic creation. Here, too, are singular memories of Smith's life in Michigan and the irremediable loss of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith.
Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the cover In 1965 I had come to New York City from South Jersey just to roam around, and nothing seemed more romantic than to write poetry in a Greenwich Village café. I finally got the courage to enter Caffè Dante on MacDougal Street. The walls were covered with printed murals of the city of Florence and scenes from The Divine Comedy.

    A few years later I would sit by a low window that looked out into a small alley, reading Mrabet's The Beach Café. A young fish-seller named Driss meets a reclusive, uncongenial codger who has a café with only one table and one chair on a rocky stretch of shore near Tangier. The slow-moving atmosphere surrounding the café captivated me. Like Driss, I dreamed of opening a place of my own: the Café Nerval, a small haven where poets and travelers might find the simplicity of asylum.

    I imagined threadbare Persian rugs on wide-planked floors, two long wood tables with benches, a few smaller tables, and an oven for baking bread. No music no menus. Just silence black coffee olive oil fresh mint brown bread. Photographs adorning the walls: a melancholic portrait of the café's namesake, and a smaller image of the forlorn poet Paul Verlaine in his overcoat, slumped before a glass of absinthe.

    In 1978 I came into a little money and was able to pay a security deposit toward the lease of a one-story building on East Tenth Street. It had once been a beauty parlor but stood empty save for three white ceiling fans and a few folding chairs. My brother, Todd, and I whitewashed the walls and waxed the wood floors. Two wide skylights flooded the space with light. I spent several days sitting beneath them at a card table, drinking deli coffee and plotting my next move.

    In the end I was obliged to abandon my café. Two years before, I had met the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit. It was an unexpected encounter that slowly altered the course of my life. My yearning for him permeated everything—my poems, my songs, my heart. We endured a parallel existence, shuttling back and forth between New York and Detroit, brief rendezvous that always ended in wrenching separations. Just as I was mapping out where to install a sink and a coffee machine, Fred implored me to come and live with him in Detroit. I said goodbye to New York City and the aspirations it contained. I packed what was most precious and left all else behind. I didn't mind. The solitary hours I'd spent drinking coffee at the card table, awash in the radiance of my café dream, were enough for me.

    Some months before our first wedding anniversary Fred told me that if I promised to give him a child he would first take me anywhere in the world. I chose Saint-Laurent du Maroni, a border town in northwest French Guiana. I had long wished to see the remains of the French penal colony where hard-core criminals were once shipped before being transferred to Devil's Island. In The Thief's Journal Jean Genet had written of Saint-Laurent as hallowed ground and of its inmates with devotional empathy. He had ascended the ladder toward them: reform school, petty thief, and three-time loser; but as he was sentenced, the prison he'd held in such reverence was closed, the last living inmates returned to France. Genet served his time in Fresnes Prison. Devastated, he wrote: I am shorn of my infamy.

    At 70, Genet was reportedly in poor health and most likely would never go to Saint-Laurent himself. I envisioned bringing him its earth and stone. Though often amused by my quixotic notions, Fred did not make light of this self-imposed task. He agreed without argument. I wrote a letter to...
About the Author-
  • PATTI SMITH is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.
    Smith had her first exhibit of drawings at the Gotham Book Mart in 1973 and has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. Her books include Just Kids, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, Wītt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea, and Auguries of Innocence.
    In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor given to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
    Smith married the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit in 1980. They had a son, Jackson, and a daughter, Jesse. Smith resides in New York City.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Patti Smith is best known as a musician--her most famous tune, "Because The Night," rocks on. But this memoir, her second, contains nothing about her music. It's a series of personal reveries on her late husband, eclectic travels, coffee shops, her cottage on Rockaway Beach, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In her narration, her authentic personal style may come across as a monotone, especially to those who are expecting her rocker expressiveness. Such listeners may think her lack of emphasis sounds as if she has no personal connection with the words. Those who admire Smith the poet, visual artist, and author of the acclaimed earlier memoir JUST KIDS will most likely appreciate the authenticity of her reading, if not the style itself. M.S. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 10, 2015
    Following Smith’s bestselling and critically acclaimed book Just Kids, this essay collection creates a map of the singer-songwriter’s peripatetic journeys to cafes, cemeteries, hotels, and train stations around the world. She is the perfect guide, revealing the mysteries in the shadows, the little bits of life people often take for granted—such as a good cup of coffee, a familiar coat, or the “transformation of the heart.” In 19 imagistic reflections, Smith invites readers to travel with her from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul and Sylvia Plath’s grave to the Far Rockaway bungalow that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy comes ashore and destroys much of the surrounding territory. Smith’s haunting and joyful recollections of her life with her late husband, Fred Sonic Smith, anchor her intensely physical descent into memory and its ability to haunt her waking and dreaming life. Smith illustrates her meditations with her signature Polaroid photos of Fred, as well as objects such as her father’s desk chair and the chess table where Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky. The narrative carries readers through the despair, loss, hope, consolation, and mysteries that Smith faces as she lives through Fred’s death, struggles with the writer’s craft, and comes to realize, through one of her dreams, that the “writer is a conductor”—and she is indeed a phenomenal conductor along these elegant tours of the haunting places in her life, where anyone might stumble upon momentary but life-altering wisdom.

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