Ten years later, ‘What Happened to Smith?’ singer says street has gotten far worse - Brooklyn Paper

Ten years later, ‘What Happened to Smith?’ singer says street has gotten far worse

Sick of it: Life in a Blender’s Don Rauf bemoans the influx of chain stores on Smith Street — like this American Apparel, although that whole company is about to go out of business.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

What happened to “What Happened to Smith?”

Local band Life in a Blender released its seminal song bemoaning Smith Street’s evolution from a grimy neighborhood hangout to hipster hotspot 10 years ago this month, and the tune has only gotten better with age — but the street sure hasn’t!

A decade later, the indie record stores and hip bars are turning into chain stores as rents soar, and the musicians now admit they didn’t know how good they had it way back when.

“Now I nostalgically look back at the time I wrote the song and think that was actually a good time,” said lead singer Don Rauf. “I just miss the quiet, the bodegas, and the mom and pop shops.”

The B52s-esque instant classic — one of 14 on the compact disc “The Heart is a Small Balloon” — lamented that the street’s friendly faces, rough edges, and $5 heroes had given way to all-white crowds “balanced in their Manolo Blahnik shoes” and paying “$20 and tip” for a sandwich.

It had become, so the lyrics go, “90 percent Manhattan.”

But now Rauf says he longs for the days of the “well-to-do dressed down in their thrift clothes” instead of the soulless big-brand outlets that are taking over.

“I see Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Lululemon, and American Apparel and can’t believe all of these places are coming,” said Rauf. “Once they come in the charm just totally gets washed away.”

The songwriter says he’s been considering updating the lyrics to match the current landscape when he has the time — although now he also wants to write “What Happened to Court?”

“I hate to see BookCourt, the Community Bookstore go,” Rauf said. “You now have all these overpriced tees, these overpriced tees for $90.”

But not everything has changed in the years since “What Happened to Smith” cemented their place on the Brooklyn Paper office’s “Songs about Brooklyn gentrification” playlist (also including country classic “Freddy’s” by Andy Friedman about the original Freddy’s Bar being bulldozed to make way for the Atlanic Yards).

Life in a Blender is still touring and releasing albums after 30 years together, Rauf still lives in Cobble Hill (albeit part-time — he spends the rest of the year in Seattle), and the phrase “Life in a Blender” has never felt more relevant than in these Trump-ian times, he says.

“Our name has taken on renewed significance,” he said.

Fans can lament both the changing of Smith Street and the changing of the commander in chief when the band plays a show at Park Slope’s Barbes on Jan. 20 — which is also Inauguration Day.

Life in a Blender plays “What Happened to Smith” and other tunes at Barbes (376 Ninth St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, www.barbesbrooklyn.com). Jan. 20 at 10 pm. $10 suggested donation.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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