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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of misdirection.

M Train is a self-portrait of the artist in late middle age, and it’s to her credit that she includes most of the everyday stuff other rock stars are usually afraid to mention. She potters, stares out of the window, does the laundry, reads; she buys, makes and thinks about coffee. (There’s a lot of death and coffee, but no sex or taxes.) This is not the ageing rock star à la Keith Richards or Lemmy, maintaining the gnarly crocodile-skinned persona to the bitter end. But though she gives the impression of spilling the (Arabica) beans, there are also signs of something more ambiguous—details that make you distrust the performance of homeyness, or least take it with a pinch of artisanal honeycomb. There is, for instance, her membership of something called the CDC or Continental Drift Club, which (allegedly) holds semi-annual conventions in places such as Bremen, Reykjavik, Jena and Berlin. “Formed in the early 1980s by a Danish meteorologist,” she explains, “the CDC is an obscure society serving an independent branch of the earth science community. Twenty-seven members, scattered around the hemispheres, have pledged their dedication to the perpetuation of remembrance specifically in regard to Alfred Wegener, who pioneered the theory of continental drift.” Reviewers seem to have taken this at face value, but even if such a strange little cloistered society did exist, why exactly would Patti Smith be asked to join? Note the “dedication to the perpetuation of remembrance”: is our allegorical leg being pulled here just a bit? And is it just coincidence that nestling in her book bag are authors such as W.G. Sebald, César Aira, Haruki Murakami, Roberto Bolaño, Enrique Vila-Matas and others, writers who purposively smudge the line between memoir and fiction? M Train, with its dot-dash series of woozy photographs, even looks like a Sebald text, and I got the same queasy feeling from it that I’ve often had reading him: half-admiring, half-sceptical; almost seduced, but finally left cold. As with a flawless magician, you know there’s some form of misdirection going on, and it chips away at your pleasure in the performance. (I was annoyed at myself for assuming her visit to a “place called Café Bohemia” was some kind of wink-wink sign, when it’s also a fairly common name in Mexico, where she happened to be.)

Ian Penman

—posted 236 days ago


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