We sat back-to-back 5 feet apart in a quadrangle for a year and half on the
32nd floor, Times Square, New York -- me, John, Tommy and Tony. I vividly
remember Tony drifting in inconsistently late always offering a perfect,
new, poetic observation, something so obvious to him yet no one else had
ever noticed. "Can you think of another example of a thing the packaging of
which you throw away into the thing itself? -- A garbage bag," he said. He
put cracks in our spine with his contextual imitation of Yoko Ono, the
person who couldn't mouth sibilance. Sometimes we worked, but mostly I
remember practicing our juggling, soliciting homage to a shrine we erected
for Chakka from "Land Of The Lost," and inventing personalities in a concept
band with names like "Eye-ball the bevel-width" and "Wet Nap." We got paid
to backstroke into another dimension.
Tony was a "digital designer" highly proficient at still, video and
imagery. He was also the guy to ask about technical computing shit; he knew
his stuff. But I later learned Tony was really a writer, from my impression,
a synthesis of Mark Twain and William S. Burroughs. He could see darkness
and absurdity, but portray it with a such clever humor a subject like death
took on another life, ivy snaking out of the darkness which you could climb
at least half way to the top. Tony's prose, written and spoken, changed me.
He could intellectualize break-dancing. Some very important things I've done
would not and could not have happened without my exposure to him. He freed
my mind and taught me, by example, how to outwit anguish. What doesn't make
any sense to me is how it outwitted him far too early.
Tony and I helped each other move from tiny studios into other more tiny
studios in New York. We went to clubs together. We travelled to Amsterdam.
We hiked up the Appalachian trail and stayed up all night. There are times
when I made Tony laugh hysterically, and that made me feel like a
genius-savant. I last saw him in the Fall of 2001 in San Diego and played an
acoustic version of Dancin' Queen which he loved. I'm playing that song
again tonight with the one word I like to change: "You can dance you can
[die], havin' the time of your life..." I hope Tony hears it.
I knew Tony Smith at Eastern Illinois University, and the news of his death
is very sad to me. Reading his writing again is both troubling and
calming, because his voice is one I knew well and always loved. He was
also a tremendous friend to me and to my then young children, when I and we
most needed one, in a time that was dark and strange for all of us. Then,
he sold me a Ratt distortion box and a Marshall amp, and said go this way.
Later, I gave him the amp back, and told him to keep the Buzzcocks album he
had permanently borrowed. One night we watched the best of all possible
midwestern summer thunderstorms roll across our world. I miss him.
A few months in to the 6-month book project, CatWave, Tony and I were eating at Saffron, down by Bar Dynamite. This must have been fall of 2001. He told me his theory of DKJ - that the odds were high that he would be dead, crazy or in jail within 5 years. But if he could beat the odds, he'd write the juiciest novel on the planet.
One of Tony's favorite restaurants was Bombay in Hillcrest. Some of the best Indian food in San Diego. I could rarely get him to go eat anywhere else. One night, while he was waiting for the fish vindaloo, he told me about El Chuga. As it turns out, El Chuga is the background energy of the universe that powers creativity - people who can tap into El Chuga can produce "juice". If you knew Tony, you've heard about juice. Anyway, he said it like it was the biggest secret in the world. And I think it still is.