I am Robert Smith-Hald, born in West Chester County Pennsylvania, into a secluded, nearly self-sufficient religious community called Camphill. It is a world –wide organisation, based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. There are now several Camphill places in the states. Back then there was Beaver Run, where I was born, and Copake Village in upstate New York. Both started in the early sixties. As a family, we moved between the two. There are a couple of these places in Norway, but most well known are the Steiner, or Waldorf Schools, which also teach in accordance to Steiners philosophy, anthroposophy. Please se www.waldorfcritics.org to learn more about the nutty hodge-podge religion anthroposophy really is.
If you have seen the movie “The Village” by M. Night Shyamalan, this will give you a very good picture of what it was like physically, and also ideologically. Ironically, this movie was filmed on location in Chester County, just 15 minutes down the road. The Camphill community I grew up in is located in what is called Amish Country, also Pennsylvania Dutch Country. There are many similarities to the Amish.
The glue of these types of communities is to lay down lots of taboos. The outside world is bad, henceforth; No TV, no candy, no junk food, no blue jeans, use candles rather than electric lights- and stay way from anything remotely connected to modern culture- and the worst- NO POP music, which includes rock, folk, blues, even most country music. The only music allowed was classical.
This is my first experience of pop music. It is as follows.
It was high summer. We were three friends, 5 or 6 years old and on a “treasure hunt” in the periphery of the 400-acre estate on which Camphill Beaver Run rests. It was surrounded by thick forest, and what we would do is dare each other to go deeper, seeing who had the biggest balls. This year we got all the way to the other side, to the outside world. And there we found something fascinating, we found a small garbage dump! This was great fun for little boys. It was filled with bottles, old silverware, magazines, pots’n pans and just plain old junk, but the most precious item we found that day was a white and red plastic wind-up grammophone record player with a fist-load of multicolored plastic singles. It was a toy really, but to us it was a genuine hi-fi marvel. We took it back home through the forest, and cleaned it off in the playground between the houses where we lived. It took a while, and quite some elbow grease until we got it cranked up and running, and put the first candy-red see-through single on. But it was worth it. Out of the little crackly speaker came Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock”. This was the first time any of us had heard music like this and we were gripped by an uncontrollable excitement. We laughed and shouted and were generally hot and sweaty and wild eyed as we jumped around and around the grammophone. We put the next single on, and that was “Hound Dog” and we went ape-shit. This was a whole different ballgame than Für Elise.
We were of course not alone, and our antics were soon discovered by our ill-tempered nanny, who I maybe shouldn’t mention by name. She could have been in her early 20’s. She was short, fat and squat, slightly cross-eyed, with red hair done up in pigtails and a severely stubby nose. She was like a grown up version of Pippi Longstocking who had had a good chug on Dr Jekyl’s home made magic potion and never went back to normal.
She emerged from one of the houses sweating great beads of Nanny Juice, huffing and puffing and screaming hell and high water. (But of course not swearing, that would be forbidden too..) She had put on green rubber rain boots that reached her chubby swollen kneecaps, probably because they were the closest things she could find in a hurry. She came bellowing down the stairs as we frantically tried to save the record player. There had been some masonry work being done earlier that week, and the tools were still there, among them a heavy-duty sledgehammer. She grabbed this in stride, and by this time her bellowing had become a full-scale shrieking banshee gone berserk.
We formed a protective wall around the grammophone, nearly peeing ourselves with fear, praying she would stop. But she didn’t. She raised the sledge hammer high and it came crashing down, flicking my ear as it went whizzing by, grazing a shoulder here and there, and then totally annihilating the grammophone in a sickening crackling thud of jarring plastic compound, raining red and white plastic bits all over our little quivering heads. She didn’t stop there. She raised the sledgehammer high, over and over again, and in the end there was only a pile of tiny plastic chips left, half buried in the summer-baked grass. She then meticulously scooped up all the rubble onto a large trash-can lid, and carried it over to the storm cellar, where she, god only knows why, -she pried open the storm cellar drain with a crowbar and stuffed the remains down the drain. She put back the grid, picked up a pick–axe, and threatened us with sudden and certain death if we ever mentioned this episode to anyone. We were scared to death, and of course we didn’t breathe a word.
I have yet to write a song about this episode, I wouldn’t know where to begin. But it did inspire the song "On and On", which will be released as a single soon. The song is basically about getting on with life. (what else can you do, trapped in a sect like that- you either get on with it or run away. Running away wasn't an option at that age, although I assure you that Idid explore it, even at that age.)
There are several lines in the song directly linked to this episode. The most potent one for me is the line " wet boots are tumbling down the stairs, and the sun is setting in the west". The line comes from the sound of those big rubber boots pounding down the stairs, and the setting sun signals nightfall. I had recurring nightmares for years afterwards of those big rubber boots tumbling down the stairs to the cellar.
Growing up in this way has definitely shaped my relationship to music quite keenly. My lyrics and melodies reflect who I am and where I come from. I have written songs ever since I can remember. I am a prolific writer, with hundreds of songs- And many more to come.