My Arm is Up in the Air Mar 25, 2011

by Eric Pitsenbarger

There's a giant intellect hammering away inside the slim form of Charles Smith. Angelic troubadour on display along with the other old world instruments merrily pinging small hammers, filling our entrance into the studio theater with a birdsong of lilting, sweet thrumming. Warming up, his delicate, precise hands nevertheless apparently sometimes hit the wrong his face will tell you. Grimace, eyes widening, a shrug, slight sigh...begin again. The performance is already afoot as I can see personality at play and in connection with his instrument. Demanding, hard working, self effacing. Humor and pain, a world of experience projected in his interaction with us sitting right there observing, listening. It's beautiful and poignant. I'm befriended and included in the process of his mastery, the continuing conversation he has with the elegant dulcimer. The  sweet bouncy dance that fills the room, a disarming nostalgia juxtaposed against the demanding mind of Charles Smith. This is an important clue to grasp as once lights dim, his spine stiffens and he says: "This better be good."

It's already better than good. This is a tour de force of brevity and will. A marriage between a man who seems to be a bit at odds with the world and a delicately expressive, emotional voice heard in applied doses. The Dulcimer, Bowed Psaltery and Autoharp all evocative of a vintage, somewhat mysterious, warm and reflective place are tasked in paradox to Charles' sometimes harsh, angry slap in the face of wordy gymnastics. You are required a commitment to just ride through the storm that begins to wash over and overwhelm. Look at the stage! An apron papered with a billion tiny words; the constant flow of words that must clammer inside of Charles, the bulk of which never breath but are melted down to a grimace. Cushioned by singing strings, the mind eased into peaceful recline, you are then hammered with the onslaught of personal reflection, fiery opinion and manic, desperate need for understanding and the need to articulate the vastness of one's self.  I can see it immediately...I recognize the signs. We are strangers in ourselves, in this demanding world. Mind as big as a house, emotions larger than the universe itself...syphoned through the vessel of human, base elemental expression. It's difficult. It's infuriating, frustrating...exquisite torture. Charles marshals his craft to produce a broadside of amazing absurdist theater, tearing open expectations, confusing and effecting. A history lesson with tang. Don't worry if you can't keep's impossible. The power of Charles' work is the cathartic journey past caring of exactitude, of perfection and compartmentalization. Acceptance for the way things are. Beauty in all things.