Happy New Year! Here are the books and articles I’ve been reading for the past week or so. Hope you enjoy some of them.
Swim Through the Darkness: My Search for Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali by Mike Stax
Craig Smith was a handsome, all-American guy, who played football in high school and hung out with the popular kids. In his youth, he was a gifted session musician and songwriter, who wrote songs for Andy Williams and Heather MacRae. He seemed to have it all, but he ended his life sleeping rough on the streets of L.A., muttering to himself in a schizophrenic daze. What happened?
Mike Stax, a longtime fan of Smith’s, tries to answer that question via this book. It took him fifteen years to piece together Smith’s life from old newspaper clippings, television recordings, recollections of old friends, and more. My guess is that Smith got swept up in the counter-cultural haze of the 1960s, took some drug (or combination of drugs) that flipped a switch in his brain, and never got back on track. We’ll see if I’m right.
Unfortunately, like a lot of Feral House books, the proofreading leaves a little to be desired. I’ve found a few obvious spelling and grammatical errors and I’m only about 40 pages in. Despite this, I’d highly recommend this book for its portrayal of an almost-vanished world.
Similar books: Black Sun by Geoffrey Wolff; “The Lost Child” by Barney Hoskyns; Catch a Wave by Peter Ames Carlin;Valerie Solanas by Breanne Fahs.
“Is Joan Didion in Denial About Her Daughter’s Alcoholism?” by Jennifer Matesa (link)
I found this article via one of those internet rabbit holes that takes you from one article to the next, until you’re reading about self-healing computers or the teachings of St. Paul. If you’re me, though, you end up reading speculative articles about a deceased woman’s possible drug problem. That’s a sobering self-realization, no pun intended.
The article is partly a review of Blue Nights, Didion’s memoir about her own daughter’s death at age 39, partly a close reading of the text for how Didion writes (or doesn’t write) about her daughter’s depression and alcoholism. A vague sentence in Blue Nights prompted Matesa to “take a closer look at how addiction is examined—or not examined—in her memoir about her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.”
Not only are the words “alcoholic” or “addiction” absent from Blue Nights, they’re almost absent from articles about the book and interviews with Didion. Only in one interview does Didion use the word “alcoholic” to describe her daughter.
“Any headline that’s written as a yes-or-no question can be answered ‘No.'” I forget who said it, and I’m too tired to look it up, but I think the rule stands. It’s just as likely that Didion wanted to obscure some of the details of her daughter’s life and early death, either from grief, a sense of failure as a parent, or a desire to protect some of Dunne’s privacy, even in death.
Read this article on The Fix.
Similar articles and essays: “Moved by Kim” by Seth Davis Brantz; “My Life Without Drugs” by Russell Brand (really, give it a chance); “How I (Finally) Learned to Talk to My Drug Addict Daughter” by Linda Dahl.