"...people are strange when you're a stranger..."
In some way, it feels almost corny to use a line from what's become one of the somewhat annoying "Classic Rock" staples to introduce the subject of Craig Vincent Smith here, but, honestly, this line kept floating to the fore of Disaster Amnesiac's perceptions as I plowed through Mike Stax's book about the man, Swim Through Darkness: My Search For Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali.
Still, one overriding impression that comes across, at least to this reader, is the overwhelming amount of strangeness, which quite clearly overflowed into a life lost in the darkened waters of Los Angeles alienation, that emanated from Craig Smith. Almost every interview subject recalls moments during which their interactions with the man were colored by an intense, frightening otherness, darkened energies that more often than not keyed their flight instincts to "take off".
Eventually, they all did.
Swim Through Darkness is Stax's attempt to tell the tale of a talented man who was initially likely affected by certain neurological challenges that were exacerbated by a tragic run-in on the Hippie Trail in Afghanistan. Smith seemed destined for a prosperous life within the Los Angeles entertainment world: his list of hep early to mid 1960's contacts was impressive to read. As mentioned, this often described "Golden Boy" seemed to evince some strange vibe that served to put people off even within that sun shiny world. As Stax spins the story further, what were initial hints at the tragic aspects of Smith's life become more and more apparent, more and more open as he became less and less moored within the shared reality of those around him. What eventually emerges from the tale is a lonely shell of a man, almost a ghost, really, inhabiting the streets of Van Nuys and Santa Monica, seemingly completely cut off from "reality" all together. A stranger.
It's to Stax's credit that he stuck with the story, and to read about the redemptive action that he finally took, revealed as the book closes, alone makes Swim Through Darkness eminently worth reading.
As with all of his articles for Ugly Things, Mike's research is highly in depth, and his treatment of the subject of Smith is incredibly moving.
Read and remember: be kind to strangers if at all possible. It seems likely that there are more than a few "Maitreya Kalis" shuffling about in our towns and cities. Their stories, while likely not as initially shiny as that of Craig Smith, should be equally honored within the consensus. Thanks Mike, for the reminder. Hopefully you found a fine place for that box.