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Article ID: 12142
Age Group: Adult
Posted: October 21st. 2007
Chas V. Smith
by Peg Aloi
This past week, the world lost a bright light and one-of-a-kind man. There are a number of tributes already on the web (at www.chastribute.com and elsewhere) but honoring Chas on Witchvox seemed right. I don’t know if he was a witch or even if he identified himself as pagan. But he was such an integral part of so many communities, like the Brushwood Folklore Center, the Church of the SubGenius, and ACE and the Chameleons, and such a persona at events where pagans gathered, that his vibrant presence will be missed in our circles for decades to come I am sure.
I have included a tribute written by the Rev. Ivan Stang here, as well as words written by Ivan’s partner, Princess Wei. I have also added my own italicized words of remembrance here and there. It is hard to know what to say to celebrate the life of such a uniquely talented and lively person, but here goes.
“This morning, Oct. 16, our friend Chas Smith peacefully vacated Earth Plane One for greener pastures.
Chas was hospitalized a month ago with double pneumonia, and had a severe stroke while in the hospital. He had also been fighting Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer which he had beaten in his youth but which killed his brother several years ago, and for which he had recently started getting radiation treatments. Chas was a really tough old soldier but nobody could fight this so many illnesses and traumas forever.” (I recall Chas being hospitalized with something relatively simple last year and catching a hospital-borne infection that nearly killed him. He took it all in stride even as many of his loved ones were very worried. We had an online chat about alternative medicine, and I sent him a care package of herbal tea and Deepak Chopra’s book on Quantum Healing. Soon enough he was back to teaching, playing music, and working hard on his campsite, which seemed to be his favorite activities.)
“Chas had just turned 50.
As a music professor at Cleveland State University, Chas taught the most popular course at the whole school, a class in the history of rock and roll and its roots. Chas put much more into his class than just the history, however. He was beloved by students as much for his spontaneous rants on life and society in general, or on space and science, or whatever had grabbed his interest that week, as for his musical subject matter.” (Chas’ knowledge of music was vast and intricate. Once when I asked him what sort of music he’d be playing at an open mic night at Brushwood, during his summer gathering “Rumble in the Jungle” he asked if I knew any “high lonesome” songs, which he explained were these sort of lyric old cowboy tunes like Hank Williams might sing. I told I him I’d do my best to learn one or two, and he said they were easy. This from a man whose performances incorporated myriad genres: rock, blues, punk, country, techno, space music, folk, psychedelia, you name it. He loved to talk about music as much as he liked to play it.
(Chas jamming on keyboards)“He also taught regular and very popular workshops in music and consciousness at Starwood, Winterstar, and Sirius Rising. He taught basic musical composition to little kids through a program with the Cleveland Opera. He authored three textbooks on the history of rock and roots music: "From Woodstock to the Moon: The Cultural Evolution of Rock Music," "The Soul of Sunrise: Grassroots Music in America," and another which was only recently finished.” (This third book is entitled “Rumble in the Jungle: The Soul of Indigenous Music in the Americas” and is from Kendall-Hunt Publishing)
The focal point of his life, however, was playing music. He was in The Clocks, a popular Cleveland punk band in the late '70s and early '80s. During the 1990s and early 2000s he fronted Einstein's Secret Orchestra or ESO (with Dave DeLuca, Bob Mozick and Michele
George (to whom he was married for several years). Two excellent studio albums and many good live recordings exist. In recent years ESO became more of a blues, classic C&W and jam band with many different members. Chas also toured with Cobra Verde as keyboardist.
Cleveland radio listeners heard Chas's weekly show on WCSB, Swamp Radio, every Thursday night for over 20 years. This eclectic show included not only whatever music Chas was into at the time, but live performances, jams, and also improv comedy and plays
-- first with Brain Rot Theater (radio comedy sketches by Dave DeLuca, Dan Didonato, and Chas) and later with DeLuca, myself and my wife "Princess Wei." Chas also took calls from listeners -- and he got some pretty wild listeners. The bits recorded on Swamp Radio were a mainstay of the syndicated SubGenius show "Hour of Slack" for almost a decade.
Almost all SubGenius events in the Cleveland and Northern Ohio area featured ESO (or sometimes just Chas, solo) as the musical headliner from 1992 to 2002.
(Chas painting a tiki mask) Chas was an outdoorsman -- not a hunter, but a hiker and camper. His seasonal camp at Brushwood Folklore Center in western rural New York grew into a sort of giant art gallery and performance area where some of the coolest events at Brushwood took place --
and if you're familiar with Brushwood, that's saying quite a bit. Variously called Tranquility Base and Club Tiki Banzai, Chas's parties (including the annual Rumble in the Jungle) are legendary. When Chas wasn't playing, he was DJing. (I remember one year Chas built an elaborate stage set-up in his campsite, wired for sound so that people could sit and drum to electronic music. I had never seen anyone do this at Brushwood, and many people that took part or wandered by expressed the same thought: “What a cool idea!” And to call Chas’ parties “legendary” is almost an understatement. The campsite would get so crowded with people dressed to the nines, many of them dancing, that it would resemble a popular club at happy hour [which is what it was on some level I suppose] Sometimes he chose cool themes, like Mardi Gras, and sometimes it was just a rockin’ good time in the woods.
Chas also created and maintained online forums for the Brushwood and Sirius Rising communities. He constantly posted updates about his recent weekend, and sometime even tantalized those of us not lucky enough to be at brushwood that weekend with posts emanating directly form his campsite! Few people used technology in the woods as creatively as Chas. His laid-back descriptions of the pleasures of Brushwood and general ruminations on life were inspiring to us all, be they abvout coffee, baseball, or in one memorable instance, a thread on the Brushwood list entitled “The Lost Days of Botardism.” As Chas explained, to some of us who grew up during a certain era in the Northeast US, a “botard” was a derogatory term leveled at kids who studied at the local voc-tech programs, which eventually became a general-use insult kids threw at each other. It generally meant you did something stupid. The thread talked about all the things we used to do as kids to have fun and get into trouble, and lamented the fact that “these kids today” don’t get to have as much fun as we did with our monkey bars, cardboard cartons and vacant lots surrounded by trees. We started referring to long-lost emblems of “Botard Culture”: botard toys, botard candy, botard games, botard campfire songs, etc. )
The camp -- and his performance costumes or "rock star duds" -- were outlets for Chas's considerable graphic arts talents. He had some of the most psychedelic outfits I've ever seen in rock shows, decorated by hand in his inimitable style. His home and especially the recording studio in the basement benefited from his handiwork and seemingly boundless energy.” (One of my favorite parts of returning to Brushwood for every camping season has been witnessing the transformation of Chas’ campsite. Each year, it would be slightly or even radically different from the year before. The “Tiki Banzai” theme usually carried over to some degree, with wonderful stuffed monkey friends hanging in trees. This summer, my partner and I saw a sponge in Target shaped like a monkey and knew we had to get it for Chas’ campsite. We dropped it off and he just looked at it and said “Awww…cool!”)
Chas will be remembered by thousands -- his almost countless former students, his many fellow musicians and performers, his camping buddies and the many communities to which he was such a big contributor -- Brushwood, A.C.E. in Cleveland, The Church of the SubGenius, WCSB, Cleveland State, and probably many more of which I have yet to learn.
Chas wasn't the only reason I left Dallas for Cleveland, but he was definitely one of the main ones. He is already greatly missed.
A deep and heartfelt thanks to Bob Mozick for being such a rock for Chas and his family and friends through this whole hard time.”
--Rev. Ivan Stang
FROM PRINCESS WEI'S LETTER TO THE CHAMELEON CLUB/ A.C.E.
“I'm sorry to be the bearer of sad tidings, and they don't come much sadder than this one.
Bob Mozik called me at 7:30 this morning to tell me Chas had left this mortal plane.
He said Chas had a small army of visitors over the weekend - we think he was waiting to see as many friends as he could see before he left (or hear them as it was more toward the end).
A Beachland Ballroom benefit concert is in the works. His memorial will takeplace at Brickman Funeral Home in Willoughby, OH.
Chas was overcome by multiple medical problems. While at the Clinic, he bravely fought 4 separate infections, double pneumonia, his Hodgkin's disease, which had come out of remission, and massive stroke damage. The thing to remember is that to the end,
Chas kept a bright outlook. Always the thumbs up - while he was able.” (Those of who too far away to visit Chas were cheered by the updates from visitors who reported Chas’ progress, the movement after his stroke, his “thumbs up” signs. My thanks to everyone who shared with us how our friend was doing and shared our love and support from across the miles. When many of us finally learned how bad off Chas was it was amazing to think of how upbeat he was trying to be about it all.)
Also, the doctors at the clinic used all of their knowledge and expertise to do everything they could for him. I visited him every other day, and witnessed very compassionate care each time I saw him.
Thanks to Bob Mozik, he had music in his ears the last week or so of his life. Bob bought a CD player and brought in many mix disks of Chas' favorite music. One of the nurses said she thought a CD player should be standard equipment for every hospice room -
What could be better than soothing music to allow you to be far away while still physically there?
Chas' family had no idea how many friends Chas had. They were bowled over by the number of cards, gifts, flowers and visitors he received. I pray that that bowling over can continue when many contributions toward the Medical Fund his father set up begin
Again, donations for Chas can be sent directly to:
Donation for Charles V. Smith
U.S. Bank 26410 Lakeshore
Euclid, Ohio 44132
Please make checks payable to Donation of Charles V. Smith.”
Thanks to Ivan and Princess Wei for their heartfelt tributes to Chas. When we lose a person so full of life at such a young age, we are stricken with many emotions: grief and anger and a profound sense of loss. I hope those of us who have lost a friend in Chas can remember the good times through the pain, and carry on his tradition of eloquent anarchy.
We will miss you: your music, your magic, your mischief.
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