This is a book about Patti Smith’s daily routines and travels, her artistic inspirations, her deceased husband, and in the end, about what it means to be an artist. There are no wild parties or substance abuse or sexual encounters: instead there is the same cup of coffee and brown bread every morning at the same coffee shop, there are friends and photographic mementos, there are nights with her cats and BBC mysteries. The M Train isn’t the happiest place, but it is a place of marvelous peace. Smith bears witness to loss and change and miracles with a deep sense of humility and an overriding curiosity and gratitude.
Given the near seamless integration of Smith’s memory palace into the everyday, it’s easy to forget that somewhere in all the normal daily activities a transcendent consciousness is moving through the world transforming perception into insight. A house becomes a “rectangle of hope,” a rock becomes “a missal of stone.” In this, Smith continues to live out a certain idea of artist: someone whose practice actually enables her to experience the world in a different way, no matter how everyday the circumstances might be. Replacing ecstatic excess with calm devotion, Smith writes herself to a purpose beyond fame or fortune or altered states: “There is only one directive: That the lost are found; that the thick leaves encasing the dead are parted and they are lifted into the arms of the light.”