By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Doing [No Age at The Smell] was fun because we were doing it all together,” Randall says. “I feel like being gone so much, you miss the parties, you miss birthdays, and then, after a while, I’m not expected to be there, so no one is bummed when you don’t show up. Last night I was thinking, ‘Where’s all the homies?’ Who am I to ask for that when I am not there? There’s been too many sacrifices. Too many little things that I didn’t know were on the line.”
The way people talk about Jim Smith, you’d think he was sanctified and risen. The story of every Smell-scene band, of every habitué-cum-volunteer’s gee-whiz excitement about working the door or the soundboard, hinges on Smith, who opened the club 11 years ago. A labor-union organizer by day, dutiful scene facilitator by night, Smith is taciturn, and almost freakishly humble. He dresses in working-man’s clothes and decries little — Smith has the gravitas of a man living by a code. He does not keep an office — in fact, there is no office between the heavily muraled walls of The Smell. Smith is often seen behind the large wooden desk at the door, stamping hands or talking to regulars. He is out and accessible, making rounds through the alley, keeping watch in front of the Dumpster like a sentry, advising kids not to stand under the spot where the pigeons like to perch. Smith has the quietest air of authority you can imagine.
Volunteers and Smell bands are all quick to note that Smith often closes the club at 1 or 2 a.m., then goes to work at 6 a.m., night after night. Without complaint. Or exasperation. Or even the slightest sense that these unpaid duties bring him anything other than gratification.
“This is my primary home,” says Smith, who, before the No Age show, had the privilege of moving a dying rat from a puddle to its Dumpster grave with a shovel. “I never planned it this way, but it’s my legacy.”
“We all try to paint him out to be a martyr, year after year making no money, but I think he gets a lot out of it spiritually because it gives so many people opportunities and love and respect,” says Pocahaunted’s Amanda Brown, who has been part of The Smell scene long enough to know. “For Jim, if a show draws a few people, it’s still worth it to open the gates.”
“If Jim hadn’t given us a chance early on, and been so supportive — put us on shows with touring bands — we wouldn’t be doing what we are today,” says Juan Velazquez of Abe Vigoda. “He’s facilitated so many things for [us]. We will always do whatever he wants; we will always be returning the favor.
“The whole thing is that The Smell is a drug- and alcohol-free place,” Velazquez adds. “When I was in high school I wasn’t doing any of that stuff, but a lot of kids see that as what you do for fun. Jim wants a space that isn’t about that, where people can really experience things and just hang out with friends. He has high standards and just wants to do positive things for people, for the kids who come there.”
The Smell’s guiding tenet, as personified by Smith, is inclusion — but it’s not merely an all-are-welcome mat, it’s the knowledge that this might be the only open door weird kids have. Such was the case for Michael Fierstein, 23, who began coming to The Smell four years ago and has since become one of the club’s de facto bookers. He’s responsible for many of the experimental-noise bills, including the Thurston Moore solo show later this month. “I started volunteering right away,” Fierstein says. “Jim is so supportive of anyone who
wants to help. It was an easy transition from coming to The Smell and working there — Jim made it seem easy that you could change things.” Six months after he first showed up, Smith let him start booking shows. “I had never thought I would be involved in music — how would I have even gotten started?”
Anna Gunder, 18, has been volunteering at The Smell for the past year, though she’s been coming since she was 14, when she came to see a bill of experimental dance bands. “I always wanted to volunteer, but you have to show up early — now that I’m older, I’m allowed to do more things with my time.” She uses the word “family” liberally when discussing The Smell, and she’s seen benefits beyond scene-borne bonds. “I don’t stutter as much now because I’m used to talking to people in bands, who come up to talk to me.”