Disclaimer: this post is sad. And happy. But don’t read it if you don’t want to be sad right now.
My friend Shmootzi was killed along with four others in a terrible shooting in a Seattle Cafe. A man with a gun just walked in and shot them all. And then left. And later shot himself. No one knows why. Sometimes things are just terrible. Sometimes there is no why.
Sometimes you don’t realize how much a person has affected you until they are gone. I didn’t know Shmootzi well but he plays a big role in my early musical life.
Shmootzi the Clod was a songwriter and performer. He’d sing so sweet your grandmother’s undergarments would melt, and then he’d pound a few nails and a fork up his nose and roll his eyes around in their sockets until you were hot and bothered, but mostly bothered.
Shmootzi sings “Over the Rails” with Circus Contraption. Press play and listen as you read:
I first saw him perform as a member of Circus Contraption at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, Ca in 2005. That show changed my life. I’d never seen anything like it – the circus band of freaks, the beautiful lady acrobats, and the clowns. The whole thing was funny and vulgar and dark. I had no idea we were in the middle of a circus/cabaret revival. They were my first. I was particularly taken with Shmootzi, who played the sousaphone and was really creepy and wonderful. He sang a song called “Over the Rails”, twitching and leering at the audience, daring us to adore him. And adore him we did. When another member of the band asked us to raise our hands if we were in love with Shmootzi most of the women (and a few of the men) did.
Later that year I bought my first guitar and learned a few chords. My sister and I were both writing songs but hadn’t written anything together yet. My boss at the time was having a 40th birthday party and wanted to get Circus Contraption to come play. Circus Contraption was not available so somehow we got the gig. I was so nervous I felt nauseated for days, but after the show I knew that I wanted to be a performer forever.
Our songs at the time were pretty, mostly about love, and basically boring. We talked about how we wanted our music to be more interesting, darker, weirder. Circus Contraption was referenced.
We did get interesting. Our musical skills got better and we experimented with odd percussion and darker song topics. We named our band, Vermillion Lies. We started playing gigs. We joined something called Myspace. We got fans.
One day we got a Myspace message from Shmootzi who had come across our music online. His message was odd and charming and I cannot recall exactly what it said… something disturbing and vaguely naughty about what we did do his heart… but the gist and gristle of it was that Shmootzi LOVED Vermillion Lies.
And I danced the happy dance that any fan dances when their hero tells them they are a mutual fan. The strangest man I ever heard liked what he heard of me. And I got to tell him how much I loved him.
A few years later we played a show* with Shmootzi’s band, God’s Favorite Beefcake. Shmootzi sang some odd songs, some beautiful songs, and pounded a fork up his nose. I got to tell him and the other members of Circus Contraption how much their show had meant to me and how they had helped inspire Vermillion Lies. They were all lovely people and I was so happy to know that their creativity was matched by their warmth.
Since I heard the news of the murder of Shmootzi and Meshuganah Joe (another member of Circus Contraption) I have been shocked. And angry at the awful violence. And confused. Why? WHy?WHY? Why did a mentally ill man have gun permits? W.T.F. And I’m sad for the loss, this world’s loss of talented and unique people. Sad for the Seattle community that is reeling from this. And sad for the emotional pain and mental turmoil of the man wielding the gun who, for whatever reason, followed that terribly painful path to destruction.
But I’m also happy to have known Shmootzi and Meshuganah Joe and Circus Contraption. I’m happy to have seen and heard and been inspired and to have been loved a little bit by the people I admired.
And what I keep thinking is this:
Be kind, and be creative. Be inspiring and be inspired. Drink whiskey out of jam jars. Sing to the sky. Because HOLY FUCK! Shmootzi was amazing. And so are you.
Now go out and kiss a musician.
Events and fundraisers and love in Seattle for Cafe Racer and the families of the fallen and for the one survivor (so many hugs and dollars needed.) http://www.caferacerlove.org
If you want to read the story go here: http://www.thestranger.com
And finally, my former band Vermillion Lies will be selling our CDs (which we haven’t done in a LONG TIME) for one week and proceeds will be donated to the Cafe Racer fund. So if you don’t have a VL CD and always wanted one this is the time.
And one more Circus Contraption Song, “It’s Been Good to Know Ya” Shmootzi sings lead.
(Buy the Circus Contraption CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/circuscontraption3)
*After the show that we played with God’s Favorite Beefcake, that very night, Vermillion Lies saved a woman’s life. I saw someone getting beaten on the sidewalk. I stopped the van and the woman ran up and flung herself onto our side view mirror and screamed for me to drive. Drive I did, with a man chasing the van, and a screaming, terrified woman hanging off the side of the vehicle. We got her into the van and took her to the police station.