Patti Smith - M Train



When I started buying albums regularly, I tended to buy eclectically. Some albums I bought because I liked the band, some I bought because I liked the format, others were purely based on the cover. I bought my first Patti Smith album, based on the cover.

'Horses' mesmerised me. It was beautiful. Stark and bold, a heroic androgynous Patti Smith looking out at me from a clear background, challenging my young stumbling hesitant self, to be bold, or at least it seemed so to me. The cover was probably meant to signify something else entirely, but to me it was a call to be myself, to not care what anyone else thought, I was me, and that was all that really mattered in the end, be bold. 

It would be a while before I made sense of Robert Mapplethorpe who took the photo that mesmerised me. I had heard of him, but I was still young enough to get people mixed up, still young enough to be sorting through what all the names meant to me, and what they would mean to me as my life progressed. 

Some names appeared briefly, and then were gone, others shaped my early life, others have dipped in and out over a lifetime, whilst others have stayed solidly with me, consistently, though not always in the forefront, often they have been jogging along there in the background, always somehow present, always a point of connection, that is true for me of Patti Smith. 

Discovering Patti Smith meant that I had found a marker in my life, there was life before I saw the cover of 'Horses', and there was life afterwards. I am not saying that 'Horses' made my life, but it did help to shift my trajectory, to help me understand a little more as to who I really was, rather than who others thought I was, or should be.

Many things have changed from buying that first album, to buying this present book, in both the author's life, as in mine. However, as in all our lives, there is this strange relationship between change and continuity, we can change radically, or gently over the years, yet our lifelines allow us to remain continuous, we are different, and yet the same.


I bought 'M Train', the latest in a group of autobiographical works by Patti Smith, because I wanted to make a reconnection, to see where she was in her life, and perhaps in return find out where I was in mine. I must admit to never having read any of Patti's books, but something told me it was time, and me being me, the cover of 'M Train' got me to buy the book because I loved the cover, some things never change.

This is a book that contains a slice of autobiographical scenes. It is not a blow by blow, year by year serialisation of a life. 'M Train' is a grouping of snapshots of moments, some poignant, some funny, some emotionally difficult. It is a good way to write and read a biography, it seems a much more natural way than strictly sequential from birth date to present time. We see our own biographies as seemingly random memories, glimpses of scenes, of moments. At one point we can see ourselves lying on the grass admiring the vastness of the blue sky when we were seven, the next walking along a pebbly beach at fifty two and hearing the screech of the pebbles under our feet, then next again being deafened by a band warming up in a tiny pub back room when we are twenty.

There are lots of connections to moments, whether it be Patti's captivating scene placing a physical moment in a matchbox, her polaroid snaps of spaces and moments, her connecting personal memories of the now dead, all are real to her, and therefore through extension, her readers. 

Connection is everything. It is how we structure our lives, it is how we are able to pass some of our own life path onto others, not through force, but through gentle reminiscing, through the creativity of description, through the colouring in of scenes that were important to us, and may give value to others.

'M Train' is a quiet book, it is not loud with celebrities met, praises and awards delivered, illnesses conquered, or rivals bested. It is a book to read in small moments of stillness, whether at three in the morning, or a still Sunday afternoon. 

I smiled, sighed, and got tearful, and that is probably the best recommendation for any book.

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