Darden Smith — “I Smell Smoke”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

DARDEN SMITH – “I Smell Smoke”

Not every songwriter can be Bob Dylan; not every musician a Michael Hedges. Bruce Springsteen once was asked who his favorite songwriters were, and he replied, “The one-hit wonders.” Sometimes, of course, a songwriter or performer has to wonder why even that one-hit proves dismayingly elusive. The late Jackie Lomax would seem to be a case in point.

Among contemporary songwriters, I’ve especially admired the dedication of Darden Smith, who is one of the vast contingent to have emerged out of the recent Southwest/Texas scenes. I’m not sure that Darden Smith has had a hit song at any point in the past thirty years, but he has a few songs that are worth listening to repeatedly. Mostly recently, I heard a recording of “I Smell Smoke”; it’s the kind of song that a young singer could add to his early repertoire and thereby make it clear to the audience where he sets the bar for his own compositions. It would, in fact, be a great song to play in a bar. It’s also a song where the lyrics could easily shift over to be sung by a woman.

I first heard Darden Smith play at a club on the Sunset Strip. I’m not sure if it was the Roxy. I had gotten tickets through my job at Radio & Records and all I was really anticipating was a night out listening to live music. I ended up writing a poem about the occasion.


Two ridges

of soft blue light

gleam off an upright bass,

notching outthrust rims

of polished wood, an instrument

to stand behind, whose weight

assures the plucking’s command,

imperative of hip and hand.

He comes out first on the dim stage,

dips his fingers

in the rivulets and smears it on

the thick strings.

One hand rappels the bass’s neck,

playing notes Darden Smtih

can’t sing. He’s not a genius,

but devout and patient and shy

and proud. How could he forgive her —

“You’re not worth the sacrifices

I’ll have to make.” “Maybe not, but I’m

still asking you.” No, again.

The room was very quiet, as when mountains,

at twilight, amass their shadows

in layers of crushed rock, protruding crudity,

and chill. The splendor of fertility

relinquished. “I don’t blame her. It’s been harder

than she suspected. Not even I’ve endured.”


The next time I saw Darden Smith was at McCabe’s, in 1988, and then another time in the first half of the 1990s. His song, “Little Victories” was out by then, though I remember that his live version wasn’t as strong as the recording. At least that night. He’s still touring quite a bit, and I believe he’s on a tour in Great Britain right now. I have doubts that anyone in GB is reading this blog at this early stage in its promulgation, but if someone happens on it by chance, and learns that Darden Smith is nearby, then give a listen to this modest craftsman as a way of reminding oneself of the value of reiterated imagination. The break-through song is the one you’ll write today and think of as an ordinary effort.




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