Fred Smoot

In all honesty, today has been a bit of a rough day for me. I just got done playing a memorial service for this man.

Fred Smoot

Fred Smoot

His name is Fred Smoot.

He was a standup comedian and a photographer. He was part of the associated press that took many of the photos you may have seen regarding Vietnam, specifically the Tet Offensive.

However, Fred would have preferred to have been remembered as a standup comedian—and that he was. He was a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson seven times; this was a drop in the bucket compared to all the other notable appearances he made as an entertainer on numerour late night and daytime television programs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He shared the stage with many, including: Johnny Carson, Neil Diamond, Merv Griffin, Steve Allen, The Everly Brothers, Count Basie, Paul McCartney's WINGS, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Gordon Lightfoot, 5th Dimension, Count Basie and his Band, Mamas & the Papas, Mac Davis, Bobby Darin, and Trini Lopez.

I listened to all of his friends recounting stories regarding his life and all the joy and laughter he brought to them; it was palpable—if not contagious. We can all be so lucky, to be remembered so fondly, and to be the one bringing the joy and smiles to others.

One of his friends stated that there is a star in the sky that she chose for him. She has named the star after him. Ironically, that star is in the Canis Minor Constellation (this was not a conscious decision). It’s a small constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere, and it’s name means the lesser dog, or the more specific title, the underdog.

Fred died as a rich and wealthy man. While he was not someone who possessed a large monetary fortune—I mean, he lived in spare bedrooms from the kindness of others, he ate the food that friends provided to him, and lived in his car with no possessions—he was a billionaire in terms of the friendships and laughter he brought to everyone in that room today. I could feel it, and I cried—and I have never met him in person.

Fred had dementia. Quite literally, he was a man with a shrinking brain. For those of you that may wonder, yes, “The Incredible Shrinking Brain” was partially inspired by Fred—however he deserves his own song—I’m working on it.

In the meanwhile, Fred, this poem is for you. It is by one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost:

Canis Major

The great Overdog 
That heavenly beast 
With a star in one eye 
Gives a leap in the east. 

He dances upright 
All the way to the west 
And never once drops 
On his forefeet to rest. 

I'm a poor underdog, 
But to-night I will bark 
With the great Overdog 
That romps through the dark.

You brought everyone in your life so much joy and laughter, Fred—and to me, you brought tears, and for this, I thank you. God bless you. You are loved.

My First Music Placement and Homelessness

Mike Vitale.jpg

Hopefully, this is something that I won’t forget. It took me 39 years, but I finally had a piece of music picked for use in either a tv show, or a movie (forgive me for not knowing which it is). It’s an independent production called “House Broken.”

From what I am told, they are in the post production side of things, but I have been paid a synchronization fee for the song, so, it’s a done deal in terms of their interest in using the tune. They are pitching it to festivals and networks as soon as they complete the project.

Naturally, my hope is that anyone who works hard on their creative project, finds success with it.

It’s a project that deals with the subject of homelessness. The main character is based off of a real life person by the name of Fred Smoot. Fred was a stand up comedian in the 70’s who found success in his career and made several appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This was a big deal for standup comedians in the 70’s.

Later in life, Fred developed dementia and eventually became homeless, living out of his car with his dog. He became a man of few possessions. Literally, he had a trophy, his car, and his puppy.

Fred’s circumstances are far from unusual. A friend of mine and I were watching a documentary called “Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home” that came out in 2010, regarding Skid Row and it’s homeless population. Many of the people that call downtown LA their home, have preexisting mental conditions—Manic Depression, Schizophrenia, and dementia being several of many.

“House Broken” will be a project that addresses the homeless crisis we see here in Southern California. I see it in my own neighborhood of Eagle Rock. If you are a Los Angeles or Orange County resident, I am sure you do as well.

The song that is being used is my most recent. It’s called “The Incredible Shrinking Brain.”

Here is a private link to check it out if you feel so inclined:

The Incredible Shrinking Brain

words and music by Mike Vitale

I feel like a mime with a painted on sad face touching an invisible wall

And it’s a crime I can’t see this behind my shit talk fueled by jealousy and alcohol

Sure, I’m overly critical, but by now I should know better

Maybe I’m just too hard on myself and it doesn’t really matter

The longer I live the less I know for sure

When I was a younger man my certainty was premature

There’s all these abstract explanations I could conjure up in vain

But I’m the man with the incredible shrinking brain

Do you feel like an actor dressed up in black face

We’re really just canaries in a coal mine

Carried out the shaft like a suitcase, soot trace, smeared across our face and brow

The war on race, preference, sex, and creed are indelible

and noxious as the fumes

And right before we lose our consciousness collective conscience looms

The longer we live the less we know for sure

When we were a younger brood our certainty was premature

There’s all these explanations we could conjure up in vain

But we’re people with incredible shrinking brains

Our incredible shrinking brains

Create the fertile furrows from a farmer’s plough

“Two fathoms deep” shouted across the bow

“Anger and hatred are caustic to the vessel in which it’s stored

Far more than to anything on which its poured”

The longer we live the less we know for sure

When we were a younger brood our certainty was premature

There’s all these abstract explanations we could conjure up in vain

But we’re people with incredible shrinking brain

We’re people with incredible shrinking brains