“Goodbye, Goodbar, Goodbye!”

John “Mister Goodbar” Smith
October 20, 1936 – April 5, 2011

I am saddened to report that my friend John “Mister Goodbar” Smith passed away in his sleep at approximately 1:20 this (Tuesday) morning (EDT) at Briarwood Rehabilitation Center in Flint.

John had been transferred to Briarwood only last week following several weeks of convalescence at McLaren Hospital after a fall at his home.

John was 74. At this time, there are no plans for formal services.

John had come to Flint in early 1969 as manager of the then new Flint Cinema Theater on South Dort Highway, eventually becoming Advertising Director of Butterfield Theaters of Michigan in the late ’70’s. John then left Butterfield to become a radio talk show host on WTRX and, subsequently, WFDF. “Mister Goodbar” was quite active in early Flint Rock ‘n Roll, including involvement with Sherwood Forest and Mt. Holly Concerts and support and encouragement of many local musicians.

I was honored to have enjoyed and treasured John’s friendship and counsel for well over four decades. He was one of the nicest individuals with whom I ever enjoyed the pleasure of association. And wisest as well.

I referenced “Mister Goodbar” several times in my book, “Local DJ”, but a more extended version appeared in the original, unpublished draft, made available here:

Bob Vanderweil and John "Mister Goodbar" Smith -- Sherwood Forest -- 1974

“On Saturday, November 4th, 1972 President Richard M. Nixon flew into Tri-City Airport in Saginaw for a rally. I had been cleared through the Secret Service for press credentials and was waiting on the tarmac when Air Force One landed. It always provides an impressive arrival, regardless of occupant. Nixon walked within five feet of me on his way to a hastily improvised podium. Saginaw was one of seven stops on that day’s itinerary, and he was on the ground for less than thirty minutes. I was surprised at how big a man he was and how well he carried himself. I was most struck by his eyes.
They were steel-cold. The only other eyes I had ever seen radiating such hard, furious intensity belonged to Chuck Berry.

Eileen and I voted on Tuesday, November 7th. It was dreary, dark, wet, early evening in Flint as we arrived at our polling place. Several long-haired McGovern supporters were standing drenched in a cold rain, passing-out last minute flyers. “He’ll bring our brothers home”, they pleaded. Eileen voted for George and I wrote-in a vote for Mr. Goodbar.

Mr. Goodbar was truly John Smith, but which name is more believable?

John was the manager of a first-run theater , The Flint Cinema, on South Dort Highway and had premiered most major new films arriving in fair Flint. John looked like a college professor and kept nearly two feet of anarchistic hair neatly tucked-in under a seditious wig. We had first met when I was doing a live WTAC remote broadcast from his theater in 1969 for the Flint opening of “Easy Rider”.

During my last break, I had commented that “Easy Rider” was unbelievably great and, unlike many commercial pronouncements, actually meant it. I also ad-libbed that if “2001″ by Stanley Kubrick was a “Space Odyssey”; “Easy Rider” was a “Spaced Odyssey.” I thought it was a superior line.

John Smith walked over, gravely introduced himself as the theater manager, and somberly suggested that I come to his office before leaving. Great. A right-wing asshole. I was ready for a speech on “family image”, “corporate responsibilty”, or possibly “the encouragement of youthful decadence” as I knocked on the office door with a resigned sigh. Keeping clients happy was a practiced skill and besides, it was his goddamn movie.

Mr. Smith was sitting at his desk. He looked up and simply said: “Lock the door.” I did.

“Try one of these headin’ home!”

John tossed a round, full, generously-packed joint in my direction. It was rolled like a mini-baseball bat.

He placed his hand to his head and removed what I then knew was camouflage. I was looking at Jerry Garcia in a three-piece suit.

“It’s a special “Goodbar” blend.”, beamed John.

That it was.

Goodbar was the product of prolonged parochial education (Sacred Heart/Immaculate Heart of Mary/Precious Blood/Jesuit) and had spent several years working in Ann Arbor. He was acquainted with John Sinclair and the MC5 and all their cohorts. He was skeptical of their revolutionary pretentions, but thought the music was acceptable if “one enjoyed melodic hysteria”. His critique of the new Yoko Ono single, produced by husband John Lennon, was that it “sounded like the woeful wail a beagle having its dick nailed to the floor”. John was arrogantly intellectual and pleasantly subversive. A perfect companion!

A prominent cartoon figure in many college campus “underground” newspapers of the day was a character called “Mr. Goodbar”. He had nothing to do with candy-bars or a later movie wherein he was sought. “Mr. Goodbar” was several dimensions ahead of normal reality and light-years advanced in cosmic perception. Whenever someone brought a mundane, ordinary, commonplace problem to his attention (or one which he considered such, which was almost anything), he always offered a single, simple, eloquent piece of advice. Anyone who read “underground” comics knew what Mr. Goodbar said. Mr. Goodbar would always say:

“Go Fuck Yourself.”

“Mr. Goodbar” was John Smith’s alter-ego and true identity.

To me, John Smith would still make an excellent President and did proudly and patriotically inhale. Mr. Goodbar believed that Vietnamese weed was the only good thing being brought out of the conflict and smoking it was a gesture of appreciation and thankful salute to otherwise unheralded American troops. “At least those Commie pricks can’t get high on this one”, John would seriously philosophize as we sat around three-room “Goodbar Manor” at 4 a.m. listening to Bill Cosby play jazz piano with “Badfoot Brown”. I believe he was on tape.

In spite of my ballot, Mr. Goodbar was not elected President in 1972 nor was George McGovern. Bob Seger summed it up.

“Tricky Dick, he played it slick. Somethin’ I’s afraid he’d do, back in ’72.”

Michael Moore and John Smith -- Flint, Michigan -- 2002

Thoughts From The Internet:

Michael Moore — “I am very sorry to hear this. He was such a good guy to me. And smart. He knew his movies. Wouldn’t let me pay.” 

John "Mister Goodbar" Smith, MIchael Moore, Eileen Cavanaugh, Peter Cavanaugh, Roy "Roy Boy" Guidry -- Whitey's -- Davison, Michigan -- 2000

Nancy Dymond — “So sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. Can’t believe he was 74.”

Neil Kearney — “Sorry to hear of his passing, Peter.”

Pat Clawson —Very sad news, indeed.”

Dave Barber — “Peter, I don’t know what to say. Although we spoke of John’s situation by
phone – it’s still so hard to deal with the reality of his death. YOU were such a good friend to him. My heart is heavy with sorrow during our time of loss.”

Brad Norman — “So sorry for your loss, Pete…you always spoke highly of him. Remember the
great times you had together.”

Tom Rose — Sorry Pete.”

Ellen Light — “Sad to hear Peter. My thoughts and prayers are with all of his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Kevin Pollock — “So sorry Pete.”

Jim Meltzer — “He was a great guy.”

Max Kerner — “MAY HE REST IN OUR HEARTS FOREVER, PETE.”

Tony Clark —” I remember John from my WTRX days and Flint Nightline. Nice guy…sorry to hear about his passing.”

Michael J. Thorp —” I worked with him as well. Ran the “Butterfield Theaters” in the area for years and always had a classy sound on the air. He was a natural, and very bright. He could comment intelligently on almost anything. Sorry to hear of his passing.”

Charles Walker — “It sucks to lose old friends.”

Jim Baade — “He use to fill in for Dave Barber over at WFDF back in the 90’s. Nice guy, sorry to hear of his passing.”

Bill Pearson — “Although John’s persona was that of a hardcore rock ‘n’ roller, truth is he enjoyed and appreciated ALL types of music. He called me at WFNT a couple of years ago to tell me how much he enjoyed hearing “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” by Nat King Cole on one of my Christmas shows. A great guy…He will truly be missed.”

Tom Rose — “Sorry, Pete.”

Dennis Preston — “He seemed like a great Bud to you, Pete. I’m glad I met him at my Posters Exhibition in Lansing a few years ago.”

Doug Sanders — “Sad news, Pete. I’m sorry for your loss. His face is in my memory.”

Jon Broadworth — “Sorry to hear of John’s passing. He was very helpful to me during my short stint with radio. My condolences to his friends and family.”

Jeff Olds — “Sorry to hear that John has passed, he is in my prayers.”

Cameron Smith — “John was a great guy. I worked with him at WTRX. He will be missed.”

Tim Owen — “Sorry to hear… best to John’s family and friends…”

Bill Groves — “Good bye Mr. Goodbar! As a Plumber of some experience it’s my belief the that
the sewer system of this space ship is clogged beyond repair
and sage that he was, John choose to leave before the shit got above his chin.”

Johnny Burke — “John Smith was an enigma, wrapped in a joint! I always loved the way he
talked…hardly ever understood what he was saying. He had a way of “boiling it
down” that I studied, and attempt to emulate to this day. RIP old friend.”

Rob Namowicz — “John became my pal when he was still operating Butterfield theaters in Flint and Ann Arbor. We had met at various music venues in town. John helped me to understand and appreciate film by encouraging me to go to his theaters. One of the earliest movies I saw at Johns’ insistence was ‘Performance’ with Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. We were both big fans of the soundtrack album that featured much slide guitar and some electronic music which we both dug immensely.

At the theater on South Dort, John would wind his Dorian locks beneath his hairpiece to create a visage of normality for the patrons. We would sit in his office and chuckle, munching good popcorn, then at moments before the film start, smoothly enter the rear of the theater. After we would repair to his apartment, Goodbar Manor. Whilst listening to the myriad albums John had purloined from radio stations in Flint from promo men and program directors wide ranging topics would be discussed, from the arctic to the tropics, from the Democrats to the Republicans, the anarchists to the totalitarian.

Several years into our friendship out little band had rented a block of buildings in downtown Holly, acquired giant piles of West Amplifiers, and set up a recording studio. Odd Fellows Hall studio was the scene of many wild happenings, among them visits from Mr. Goodbar when he would appear with 71/2″ reels of tape, selections he had made with art on the cover of the tape box labeling them ‘Welcome to the Crazies.’ Our playback system at the time afforded John the chance to hear his favorites at more than concert audio pressure. He and I and anyone else who could take the sound levels would plop down in comfortable chairs in front of the speakers with all manner of mood enhancement to hear Goodbars’ selections. His taste was various and eclectic, and widened my horizons on every visit.

John was not shy with his opinions in conversation and would not let a bad idea go unchallenged. His retorts to either my youthful altruism or latent conservative outlook would get peppered by his barbs. Always thoughtful, he helped to elucidate an unusual world view based on his wisdom and experience. I will always be grateful to have known him.

On visits during this last hospitalization, after they pulled some of the tubes out of him so he could speak, he had lost a lot of ground but not his sardonic wit. He poked fun at his own condition, remarking he had told the doctors to ‘just give him the needle and set him out by the back door.’ I perceived that as a ‘rally’ for John, but alas, it was not to be. Godspeed old friend, break on through to the other side. Don’t give St. Peter too much guff.”

5 Responses to ““Goodbye, Goodbar, Goodbye!””

  1. Ellen Light Says:

    I lived near that theater back then. Saw Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid there among many others. I am very saddened to learn of John “Mr Goodbar” ‘s passing. It’s wonderful that you have immortalized him in your writing. 🙂

  2. Johnny Burke Says:

    John Smith was an enigma, wrapped in a joint! I always loved the way he talked…hardly ever understood what he was saying. He had a way of “boiling it down” that I studied, and attempt to emulate to this day. RIP old friend.

  3. Jerry ringlein Says:

    One of the good guys, and a great conversationalist. I loved to just set and talk to him. He will be missed by many people. He gave his soul for “Rock & Roll”!

  4. Shawn Chittle Says:

    I met him once and was glad I did, thanks Peter C for arranging that. I felt like I was talking to a walking cultural institution, a man who was “there” and enjoyed talking about it. I really wanted to spend more time with the guy…

    Sorry to hear of his passing. 😦

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