Sunday, January 10, 2016

Patti Smith Is Too Cool for Me

M Train
Patti Smith, 2015

Number 2 of 50
Cravings inspired: coffee, brown toast with olive oil, having a neighborhood
A passage I loved: "I reverted to an old game, one invented long ago as an insomnia counterattack but also useful on long bus rides as a distraction from carsickness. An interior hopscotch played in the mind, not on foot. The playing field amounted to a kind of road, a seemingly limitless but actually finite alignment of pyrite squares one must succeed in advancing in order to reach a destination of mythic resonance, say, the Alexandria Serapeum with its entrance card attached to a tasseled velvet rope swaying from above. One proceeds by uttering an uninterrupted stream of words beginning with a chosen letter, say, the letter M. Madrigal minuet master monster maestro mayhem mercy mother marshmallow merengue mastiff mischief marigold mind, on and on without stopping, advancing word by word, square by square How many times have I played this game, always falling short of the swinging tassel, but at the worst winding up in a dream somewhere?"
If this book were a person: Fellow passenger on a bus to purgatory. Tetchy, tense. Muttering to herself so long you wonder if she's actually talking to you, but her eyes are closed so you can't tell.

I read Some Kids cover to cover at one go, standing up in a bookstore in Soho, which felt proper. I felt like I was being let in on a secret history, one that made me feel proud to be an artist living in New York City.

M Train did not leave such an inspiring or romantic impression on me. It tasted like the dregs of a life, raw-edged and lonely. In that sense, maybe it's an incredibly brave book. There is a lot of grief on display here. So much looking back, and everywhere ghosts.

Patti Smith is the grandmother of that cliche hipster tendency to drop a name and then imply, "Maybe you've heard of them, but you don't know them like I do." Her habit of making obscure cultural references feels defensive: a device to keep less elite minds at bay. Result: she's prickly company. If she's the gatekeeper of the cool crowd, I'm happy to stay an uncool kid.

Next up: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System by Jon Krakauer

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