Review of SWIM THROUGH THE DARKNESS – MY SEARCH FOR CRAIG SMITH AND THE MYSTERY OF MAITREYA KALI

swimthroughthedarkness_cover_small-e1469737892615SWIM THROUGH THE DARKNESS – MY SEARCH FOR CRAIG SMITH AND THE MYSTERY OF MAITREYA KALI
Mike Stax
Process/FeralHouse

Mental illness is something I have deep empathy for. I struggle with it as do many people I consider close friends and family. It’s hard to read about but at the same time you can learn from the struggle of others. And you can count your blessings that you don’t have it as bad as some. A writer named James Crumley had this quote. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something about luck only counts with women and in gunfights. I would add mental illness to that.

Once upon a time, there was a musician named Craig Smith. He was the definition of clean cut and wholesome. His time was the 1960s. He wrote songs that were recorded by people like Glen Campbell and The Monkees. Smith was in a band called The Penny Arkade that almost became legendary. They were sort of proto-psychedelic rock. They were poised for success. They could have been as big as The Doors. They imploded in 1968.

Like many others at the time, Smith got into LSD and the whole hippie thing. He had a large maitreyakaliamount of royalty money coming in due to the songs he wrote that were recorded and released by others. So he went on a journey. You all know that quote by Tolkien that get’s tossed around out of context all the time, “Not all who wander are lost,”? Smith wandered and got lost. He came back but was never the same.

He went on a trip that took him across the middle east into Afghanistan while using large amounts of hashish and LSD. While in Afghanistan, it all went very wrong, it was the definition of going off the rails. It was sad. Smith came back damaged. He apparently had a kind of latent schizophrenia that was kicked loose by the trauma he endured in Afghanistan. People barely recognized him anymore. He was dirty, disheveled, and clearly mentally ill. Smith started calling himself Maitreya Kali. Thought of himself as a prophet. He recorded a double album that was called Apache/Inca. In retrospect, the album can only be classified as genius but at the time didn’t even show up on any radar anywhere.

swimming-through-the-darkness-the-hunt-for-craig-smith-psychedelic-messiah-1472845545After that, Craig Smith’s/Maitreya Kali’s mental health deteriorated even further. At one point he served time in prison for viciously assaulting his mother in the early 1970s. After his release from prison, he disappeared. He lived homeless on the streets the rest of his life, his mental illness having completely overtaken him.

Author Mike Stax spent 15 years on this story. The lengths he went to and dedication to putting this story down can only be called a magnificent obsession. As I read it, I became as curious about Mike Stax as I was about the subject Craig Smith. I think of this book as a quiet masterpiece. It’s not an easy read in a sense of the subject matter. It hurts. It will scrape your heart and soul. But it will also teach you things. I advise you to read the book and see what lessons you can take away.