“Being a performer, you just give your all. I did that for years, I just gave everything I had you know, it was fun.”
Following in the corpse paint footsteps of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and Alice Cooper, the theatrical Jimmy Smack was a misfit amongst his local punk contemporaries. Eschewing the frenzied aggression and politics, Smack chose to lurk in the darkness, chanting his way through the underbelly of the City of Angels.
Smack found strange sonic bedfellows with the sinister minimalism of Suicide and The Normal, the modern shamanism of Fad Gadget, the sermons of a hellfire-and-brimstone tent revival, the spooky vibes of The Cramps, and the experimentation of Wire. Although less melodic than his guitar-driven peers, Smack was a seminal figure in the eerie birth of Deathrock. He is less a singer than a psychic medium bridging the mortal and spirit worlds preaching the gospel of Cold War nihilism; channeling paranoia with great urgency through the howling banshee screams of electrified Celtic bagpipes. It sounds like nothing else, yet there is a primal element that makes this music incredibly powerful and universal. With his trademark snarl over an atonal electronic cacophony, the Los Angeles artist soon made appearances in venues like the Anti-Club (with the likes of Christian Death, Dead Hippie and 45 Grave).
Despite a death-positive message, Smack was, unfortunately, frightened out of live performance by pure hatred from the public.
“Once I got hot it was like I could play every weekend. People were pulling on me so I just kept on. Then I started getting some death threats and you’re pretty vulnerable on stage. So I was supposed to play that night and then I got some death threats on the phone and being married and having children and stuff I thought man, maybe I better not chance this, you never know. I was vulnerable. I bailed right after the death threat thing. I stopped, sold my pipes.”
A multi-disciplined artist, Smack was also a ballet dancer by day and Death Rock star by night…
“I was a classically trained dancer, I was in the theatre all the time, my whole life. I had the Hollywood Free Theatre and then the Star Theatre. I was just always on stage doing something. Worked with all these clowns, we were all clowns so I became a clown — I was Jimbo the clown.”
On Death Is Certain (out via Knekelhuis), Jimmy Smack’s poetic legacy remains timely as ever, as the city’s landscape has since shifted into branded wellness culture, empty rhetoric, grandiosity, and consumer culture.
After decades in the crypt, Knekelhuis finally compiles Smack’s full recorded output, culled from Across two 7”s, “Death Or Glory” (1982) and “Death Rocks” (1983), plus one 12”, “Anguish” (1982), providing a lavishly dark place to eternally rest via the Death Is Certain LP
The collection of songs opens strong with a nearly ten-minute long bagpipe-driven opus “Anguish”, evoking a tenebrous synth atmosphere that permeates the mood, not unlike the work of avant-garde violinist Nash the Slash.
The dark ritualistic reverie continues with the pre-industrial medieval clamor of “Hating Life” whose misanthropy is a stripped-down, forward-thinking template, heralding the work of Skinny Puppy.
The next three tracks that follow are effectively sinister in their less than two-minute-long brevity, with “Depression” sounding like a Tom Waits concert in hell, “Souls” heralding an apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles falling into the ocean, and “Cybernetic” slithering like a serpentine dirge lamenting the loss of what makes us human.
The collection’s title track, “Death is Certain” is a pulsing nightmare with caustic and irregular beats that work as intriguing aural masochism. The onslaught continues with the doom-laden cold war era “The Scarlet Beast”, a prophetic diatribe about the threat of nuclear annihilation via the Hammer and Sickle.
The bagpipes return with the infernal opus “Batty”, a minimalist soundscape that leads into the instrumental refrain of “Anguish” as the LP’s closer.
Listen to the Death is Certain LP below:
The Death is Certain LP release includes unlimited streaming of each track, plus high-quality downloads of the songs in MP3, FLAC, and more. There is also a lavish booklet included with rarely seen photos from Jimmy Smack’s archives, liner notes by Cooper Bowman, and excerpts from an interview with Jimmy Smack conducted by Juan Mendez (Silent Servant),