Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Thirty-seven years ago, in 1978, Patti Smith shook up the music world with the release of her album Horses. “Gloria” and “Redondo Beach” from that album can still get the joint jumping. In the same year she released her underarm album, Easter. “Because the Night” from that album is still powerful, and “Easter” is a lament to end lamenting.

In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres—France’s highest honour for an artist.

In 2010 she published Just Kids. It became a #1 New York Times Bestseller and won a National Book Award. The American writer Joan Didion said this about Just Kids: “This book is so honest and pure as to count as a pure rapture.” And Johnny Depp landed long enough to praise her book as well: “Patti Smith has graced us with a poetic masterpiece, a rare and privileged invitation to unlatch a treasure chest never before breached.” I remember not being able to put Just Kids down until I finished reading it.

It’s 2015 and Patti Smith has just released another book, M Train, a reference to something she saw in a shot glass after two tequilas, “I closed my eyes and saw a green train with an M in a circle; a faded green like the back of a praying mantis.” (p. 123). Smith never repeats herself and M Train alternates between memoir, diary, travelogue, real estate deal, good meal/bad meal stories, and her lust for more and more good coffee, and impossibly good stories, that in another writer’s hands, you simply could not believe were true.

For example, how could the following story be true? Smith is attending a conference of the Continental Drift Club in Iceland, and is excited to be invited to photograph the chess table where Boris Spassky played Bobby Fischer in 1972 in “The Chess Match of the Century” in the breathless deathless words of The New York Times. She lingers in the room where the modest table is preserved, and tries to frame the table in her camera viewfinder to get the best photograph. Then she has the honour of meeting Fischer, who begins to spew “a string of obscene and racially repellent references that morphed into paranoiac conspiracy rants.”

“Look, you’re wasting your time, I said. I can be just as repellent as you, only about different subjects.”

Fischer has finally met more than his match, and settles down and eventually he and Smith spend part of the evening singing songs such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fischer in falsetto. True story.

Could the following story be true as well? Smith is staying in a big Hotel in London. She’s anticipating the forthcoming Cracker TV marathon staring Robbie Coltrane, about to be aired in Britain.

(Haven’t seen Cracker yet? Go to Thomas Entertainment on Baker Street in Guelph now and rent it before the other person reading this review rents it. Now, back to Smith’s story...)

Standing by the elevator I suddenly felt a presence beside me. We turned at the same moment and stared at one another. I was stunned to find Robbie Coltrane, as if I’d willed him, some days ahead of the Cracker marathon.

“I’ve been waiting for you all week, I said impetuously.”

“Here I am, he laughed.”

And here she is. On the M Train. I couldn’t put her second book down either.

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