Every scene has its idealogues, its gatekeepers, its purists. But Dirk Smiler—-a charismatic mainstay of local goth and alternative circles who died Monday from a gunshot wound—-was never one to exclude. According to friends and acquaintances of Smiler who spoke with Arts Desk, as well as the dozens of accounts mourners have posted to Facebook and a tribute page, Smiler delighted in introducing himself to strangers, often helping to bring them into the area’s sizable, but sometimes elusive, scene.
He also helped people leave it. Two members of Smiler’s group of close friends died in recent years, and he helped send them off with what friends described as dramatic, heartfelt poems and eulogies at their funerals and wakes.
Chelsea Ruggaber, the receptionist at Washington City Paper, returned to D.C. about a year-and-a-half ago after living in Berlin. She and her roommate were attending a Sisters of Mercy concert at the 9:30 Club when Smiler and his then roommate approached them. At first, “I got creeped out,” she says. “He was very flirty, very outgoing, but charming.” At the time she was 22, and wasn’t used to hanging with older people; the goth scene in Berlin is generally younger, she says. Smiler gave Ruggaber and her roommate a ride home that night, and introduced her to people in the scene. She went to a dinner party at his Annandale home in January, and last saw him a week ago, at the Bound fetish and S&M party in a warehouse in Northeast.
“I realized he was charming, but not in a discrimating way,” she says. “He wasn’t about excluding people. He was about meeting as many as possible.”
Richard A.D., who runs the Web site The Metro Underground, had a similar experience. He had known Dirk since the ’90s through the scene, but they weren’t close. “In 2008, I split from a pretty serious relationship, and I realized that most of my friends had married or moved out of the area. Dirk basically introduced me to people in the scene and helped me make friends.”
Smiler sometimes filled an ambassadorial role. A less active member of the scene, Jenn Walker writes that her fondest memory of Dirk actually belongs to her father, an amateur photographer who sometimes shoots wedding, and who ended up photographing the ceremony of one of Walker’s acquaintances. She writes:
After the wedding, I asked him how things went. He had a wonderful time with the “freak” guests. The star of the show, however, was Dirk. Dirk was the wedding officiant. My dad raved about “this guy Dirk”, who was charming, well-spoken, kind, engaging. He captured the hearts of all the guests, and was equally charming when having a private conversation with my dad. I had to laugh, at the idea that my father found Dirk so honorable, given his penchant for the hedonistic lifestyle.
For many, Smiler served an ecclesiastical role, as well: Just as he officiated weddings, he also participated in funerals and wakes. He recited the poem “Lenore” by Edgar Allan Poe at the funeral of Louisa Hanley in late 2008; some time earlier, when Smiler’s friend David “Bagel” Baker died, he gave a rousing, emotional eulogy at a wake at the Lake Anna Winery in Spotsylvania, Va., where the Virginia Rennaissance Faire is held.
But he never considered himself the “King of the Goths,” as some mourners have referred to him. “He wasn’t like a leader in any manner,” says a friend, Steve Hernandez. “But people definitely flocked around him. His parties are pretty much what tied everybody together.”