Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory

Patti Smith writes prose like a poet, composes songs that become part of one’s being, has the perception of a cat who has lived nine very long lives, and an ability to surprise with each new creative endeavor. She takes the English language—the language of William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan and Toni Morrison (to name a few)—and manipulates it into a vehicle of insight and hope; love and defeat. Her inspiration seems to come from a vision informed by the outsiders in the world of the word: Jean Genet and Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs and Sappho. Likewise, it comes from a wonder in the lives we live and the environments we live it in.

Her newest effort, a wonderfully crafted memoir of dreams and reality, is titled M Train. It chronicles her physical travels and work, her loves and her loss. Moving between dream and this dimension, Smith unwinds a chronicle of growing old without regret. Like many others in this part of life, she sees her world growing smaller because her children are on their own and her spouse, the love of her life, is dead. Occasionally sad but never maudlin, Smith’s reflections echo with the energy of a rocker and the pensiveness of a rocking chair.

Coffee shops and writers provide the base from which Smith shares her story in M Train. One particular such shop, called Cafe Ino, used to exist near her apartment in Lower Manhattan. An apparent creature of routine, Smith began most of her days with a cup of coffee and a notebook in this cafe. She also begins this book with such a visit. pattismithmtrainNext we find ourselves accompanying her and her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, to French Guiana. Her reason for visiting is unique: she wishes to see the former French prison there; a prison the French writer Jean Genet hoped to be imprisoned in during his lifetime but was denied when it closed before his sentence could be fulfilled. As I read Smith’s description of the journey and her description of the prison I thought to myself: only writers like Patti Smith and Jean Genet could make me want to go to jail. That is the power of their words.

Life must defer to dreams. Smith writes that line somewhere in this episodic journey between the worlds our dreams describe and our bodies exist in. Like the moments after a hit of hashish sneaks into one’s mind rearranging conventional perceptions of outside reality, Smith’s descriptions and reminiscences blend the transcendence of dream and the linearity of real time. The floods of Sandy Hook drown her mourning of a lost coat and her visits to Mexico City and Japan enhance her enjoyment of a cold winter’s day in New York. Artists transit her memory and their works describe her current existence. Her and William Burroughs hanging out discussing the CIA. The men and women she calls gone Beats who ushered in the phenomenon we call the counterculture. She meets chess champion Bobby Fischer, known for his eccentricities, lack of social skills and genius. They sing Buddy Holly songs together. Later she writes of those times we are fortunate enough to eclipse our dreams with reality. One should be as lucky as Smith to have so many such moments.

In addition to being a sublime narrative of a life, M Train is also a working description of Smith’s artistic process. Sometimes she spells this process out; for example, when she describes composing a poem about Moby Dick. Other times this process reveals itself unwittingly as we turn the book’s pages spellbound by her use of the language. It exists in her memories of her father, a working man she loved and respected who lived the life fate laid out for him appreciating it as much as he could. It exists in her fond and loving stories about the years she and Fred Sonic Smith spent raising children, traveling the world, and sharing a love. Its very revealing is a delight.

Memoir is a tricky thing. Memory is even trickier. What Smith has done in this book is combine the two, surrendered to her dreams, and created a work of art that sculpts words into visions. Mendacity erupts into beauty and beauty becomes sublime. M Train is about Patti Smith framing the moments of her life as they occur and as they are remembered. Much more than a well-lived life being told, it is a window into a time, a history, and the recollections of an individual whose unique and particular perspective we are lucky enough to have shared.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lockheed and Loaded: How the Maker of Junk Fighters Like the F-22 and F-35 Came to Have Full-Spectrum Dominance Over the Defense Industry
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s “Psychological Obstacles to Peace”
Brian Platt – Brynn Roth
Black-Eyed Kids and Other Nightmares From the Suburbs
John W. Whitehead
You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again
Zhivko Illeieff
Why Can’t the Democrats Reach the Millennials?
Steve Kelly
Quiet, Please! The Latest Threat to the Big Wild
Manuel García, Jr.
The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ Over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Adam Parsons
A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash
Binoy Kampmark
The Tyranny of Fashion: Shredding Banksy
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail