‘He touched a lot of lives. He changed mine.’
Mark Piepkorn
Gary Smith, right, visits with Mark Edson at the headquarters of WOOL-FM, the community radio station that he helped found.

‘He touched a lot of lives. He changed mine.’

Gary Smith ‘was smarter, funnier, and more talented at almost everything than pretty much everybody, but he never held that over anybody’s head’

BELLOWS FALLS — For me, “friend” is an elevated concept seldom bestowed. I don’t make friends easily. And then, being a socially inept dumbass, I’m not always a particularly attentive friend when I get one.

But somehow Gary Smith was one of my best friends. He was that for a lot of people.

My friend Gary died. There’s a mountain of good things to say about Gary, and many of them are being said by famous people and not-famous people alike.

I’m one of the not-famous ones. He touched a lot of lives, changed a lot of lives. He changed mine. I was lucky to know him.

A lot of the same things irritated us. A lot of the same things inspired us. He was smarter, funnier, and more talented at almost everything than pretty much everybody, but he never held that over anybody’s head.

I didn’t know him until after his days in the thick of the music biz — I didn’t even realize initially that he’d had his fingers in so much of that stuff that defined my life. He didn’t hide it, but he didn’t crow about it.

He wasn’t much older than me.

* * *

I met Gary when I moved to the small Vermont village of Bellows Falls and got involved with the community radio station that he’d helped found, one of his many passions.

This was after the Windham Ballroom concerts ended, and a few years before he started planning Popolo restaurant.

He once had an idea for a regional events magazine. We launched and ran it together, he and I. It only managed to last for four issues, but it was pretty great and should have been successful.

He was one of the earliest supporters of the music performance documentation project I’ve been hacking away at the last handful of years. The spirit of it resonated with him even though it’s mostly defined itself as an acoustic folkie thing rather than the crunchier stuff that really moved him.

He donated some bits and bobs left over from Fort Apache Studio — gear that might very well have been used in sessions with The Pixies, Billy Bragg, Radiohead, Big Dipper, Juliana Hatfield, Throwing Muses, Belly, Tanya Donelly, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, The Connells, The Specials, Blake Babies, Weezer, Yo La Tengo, Warren Zevon, Uncle Tupelo, or countless other bands and performers.

To be the steward of a tiny slice of that legacy, to keep it fulfilling the purpose Gary intended, is heady stuff.

* * *

As he started getting sick and then sicker, Gary and I had frank and mostly irreverent conversations about mortality. We were both pragmatic about death.

He lasted a lot longer than he always thought he would; except for his mom, his family all died young. He didn’t want to die, though. There were a hundred things he still wanted to do. There were always a hundred things he wanted to do.

It’s been three days since I got the text: “Gary died tonight.” I was in Minnesota visiting my mom, something I know Gary would have approved of.

I’ll miss Gary. It’s not really real yet.

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