While I was out #1: Cleveland, Smith Stories

Here’s the first half of things that happened while I was experiencing blogsilence.  A couple of them made me uncomfortable for awhile, and contributed to that silence.

Rust Belt Chic was published. It’s an anthology of works addressing the concept behind its title, which is articulated nicely here.  I haven’t read the entire book yet, I’m skipping around, but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve been acquainted with David C. Barnett (click ‘on-air personalities and scroll down) for many years, though we are not often in contact. Last summer, suddenly, he popped into my inbox to interview me by e-mail for a piece in the History section of Rust Belt Chic, about some early art activity I participated in, titled ‘Tales of the Regional Art Terrorists.’

Then, when I was in Cleveland a few weeks later, DCB visited the Smith’s living room, and recorded a very long, fun interview, portions of which were broadcast a couple of weeks ago.  The segment is available to listen to here, and runs from about 8:40 to 18:30 (of course, I can’t hear much).

The bridge pillar read “Birthplace of Various Industrial Byproducts”.

Just recently, Richard Minsky’s interview (that also included bits about my early life) along with some images of of my work, was published in the Autumn 2012 issue of Fine Books and Collections magazine, in Richard’s regular column. It’s titled Book Art: Without Words.  I haven’t seen it yet; I’ve asked Paul to forward the issue to me here at Ragdale when it arrives at the house.

Why was I uncomfortable about these things? It’s simply that I’ve never talked much publicly about my early life (the reasons for that might be the subject of a future blog).  Then, last summer, I decided those reasons were (there is no more appropriate word) hooey.

So, I mentioned the early (enormous) influence the Cleveland Public Library had on me (as both safe physical refuge and source of absorbing escape while I was a young, homeless runaway) to Richard during my lovely interview visit. He asked rather incisive follow-up questions. At one point, I did try to back away, but Richard said, “No, no, this is good.”  David already knew parts of my history and also asked direct questions. Except for that frisson of discomfort while talking with Richard, I was fine with answering all, but as the time neared for publication, I experienced some more oddness, and, well: my words shut down.

My good longtime friend Smith (also featured in the Rust Belt Chic article and radio segment, where he said Really Good Things about me) has never had any such qualms.  It’s something I’ve always admired him for.  Maybe that’s why the first descriptor that comes to my mind after having read his new book is ‘brave’.

I’m certain he doesn’t see it that way; he doesn’t hold back anything, ever, unless what he has to say might harm someone; he is an open book.  Stations of the Lost and Found, co-written with his lovely and talented wife, Lady K, is utterly, at times even painfully, honest. It’s all there: outrageous drug use, armed robbery, sex, adultery, his near-death by alcohol…and, perhaps glossed-over a tiny bit: redemption.  A Next Chapter needs to be written, definitely.

I liked this book, A Lot.  Much more than Kerouac, to which it has been compared. Yes, Smith is my friend; I’ve read earlier versions and have known some of the stories for years (and have lived through some as well, though I learned some new things, like about the LSD). This is the best telling ever, no question, and I think I would have liked it if I didn’t know him or the stories.  Smith’s own blurb about the book is much, much better than anything I can write; so please read it here.  He has led one strange life. The oddest thing about it, though, is that Smith is – and has always been – one of the most morally sound people I know.  And absolutely one of the funniest.  One story that didn’t make it to the book is something another friend told him years ago (the second thing that comes to my mind after ‘brave’): “Smith, if we just went by the facts, none of us would be here.”  Read this book; it’s truly true and stranger than fiction.

5 thoughts on “While I was out #1: Cleveland, Smith Stories

  1. Melissa, thank you for this… and thank you for developing the underground art scene in Cleveland.

    You guys were called the “Regional Art Terrorists” but I think you are in actuality legitimate artistic creators of Reality. You made reality interesting. Hanging lips from a bridge increased the happiness index, I am sure. Offering helpful hints such as “Ignore Alien Orders” on billboards was a way to assert anti-corporate “alienated” messaging. You asserted the right to create what is seen in your urban environment, your right to be co-creators to a fairly reasonable extent. We do not have to take the blight; we do not have to be dominated by corporate messaging to such great extents. We have the right to create more happiness and less alienation.

    Thursday last week we took part in a public art project around Broadway. There were huge wooden signs on which we wrote things we want to accomplish in life. That area is improving–there’s been road and sidewalk work and it helps remove despair. There were kids painting stumps around the border of a nearby park. Am just so glad when people work on creative ways to make things interesting and better.

    Yes, it’s odd about Smith’s morality given the extremes of some of his life!

  2. Here are a few excerpts from the WCPN public radio interview with you, Melissa Jay Craig (Sorry, had to include my so-called legend status, cuz my ego demanded it).

    Dee Perry: “In the art world, there’s always been a split between the establishment and the renegades; and back in the 1970s, Cleveland was home to a group of antiestablishment types who proudly wore the banner of ciminal and terrorists. D.C.B brings us some tales of these Regional Art Terrorists.”

    Bill Busta: “She really grew up on the streets of Cleveland and by her own scrappiness and her intelligence created a life for herself and had no access to anything; she had to create a lot of things from scratch.”

    David C. Barnett: “Steven Smith is another long-time friend of Craig and he himself is something of an underground legend in the Cleveland arts scene. For 20 years his publication *Artcrimes* was a compendium of some of the region’s major poets, painters, and collage artists. Smith met Melissa Craig at an art show and they became fast friends.”

    Smith: “Melissa is the most talented person I know, across categories. I mean word . . . most visual artists are very bad with words; she’s good with words, she’s good with painting, she’s good with sculpture, she’s good with publishing. She’s just good in everything she does.” (and referring to Melissa’s dancing Egyptian businessmen temple painting-like mural on the transist tracks by Tower City still being up, Smith sez) “It’s been, what, 30 years or something, and A) no official has taken them off, and B) no other grafitti artist has tagged it. Now that’s respect.”

  3. i love that bit about the mural! and still remember the first presentation you gave about yourself way back when and know that we were all grateful that you DID share those bits about your early life.

  4. Thanks, all!

    And thanks for the transcript bits, Smith: it seems like DCB used the verbal interviews that he took for the print article in the radio segment; those are included in the book word-for-word. Those are Very Good Words, written or spoken. You are a Legend.

    Lady, I like that take, very much: you got it in one! Thanks.

    Aimee, it wasn’t the ‘noncommissioned public art’ that concerned me as much as the even earlier stuff…but immediately after that same presentation I was ‘advised’ not to talk about any of it. Might address that in a later blog…

    Camille: YES.

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