Between Christmas and New Year, I receive a WhatsApp message from my former publisher Rob Kemper. ‘Have you heard that Paul Smit has died?’ No, I haven’t. Paul Smit was seventy-four. He hosted my website and the contact we had in recent years was mainly via e-mail. Paul preferred calling, but as soon he had the floor he never stopped. Once Paul was enthusiastic he was simply unstoppable. During the weekend of North Sea Jazz, he called me before dawn to tell me that Nile Rogers was spending the night at the nearby Hilton hotel and that I had to go there as soon as possible to interview this musician.

Paul in better days

I call Rob and ask him what happened. Paul was supposed to have dinner with Rob and his wife Tineke on Boxing Day. Rob tried to contact Paul and saw that his messages were not answered, not even seen. Rob alerted the police, who made their way to Paul’s home in Weesp. Rob waited for the officers, the door was locked and they had to use a battering ram. The downstairs neighbours immediately came to complain about the noise. Rob, who had never been in Paul’s house, left it to the officers this time too. They found Paul lifeless on his toilet. After some investigation, the officers concluded that Mr Smit had died a natural death, although they could not say exactly how long ago this had happened. ‘We couldn’t find any love in his house,’ one of the officers added.

Rob does not expect many people to come to the funeral. I ask him to pass on the time and place. Paul may have caused irritation sometimes, we spent many hours talking to each other and, admittedly, we often had a good laugh too. If only for our shared hospital stories.

Eva Cassidy
Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy put me on Paul’s path. On his website ‘Ko van Dijk vertelt’, he wrote lyrically about this American singer. He was willing to help me with promotional activities for my book about her. In fact, he knew a Dutch publisher who might be interested. That is how Rob walked into this story. I am grateful for all the good things Paul did for me. He got things done, although this often led to uncomfortable situations. He arranged a radio appearance where I talked about Eva Cassidy and Margriet Sjoerdsma sang her songs. ‘You will be taken home by taxi afterwards,’ Paul assured us. When it turned out that no taxi had been arranged, Paul demanded the programme manager to drive Margriet and me to Rotterdam.

On the morning of the funeral, I remember to bring an Eva Cassidy CD. On my way, I notice that in one of his latest blog posts, Paul writes about the contact he has with his late mother. On the train, I write a poem, the first lines of which read:

You call for your mother’s help,

you are her only child, you are in need

in despair you ask her for a sign

in the hope that you will find happiness indeed.

The rain is pouring down and the wind is whipping along the Amsterdam Zuidas at such extraordinary speeds that raising a storm umbrella is pointless. I am the first to report to the funeral home. My name is noted. ‘Do you want to say anything?’ the lady receiving me asks. ‘Yes please, I have also brought a CD.’

‘No need for that,’ she replies, ‘Paul made his own playlist.’ A technician who has worked with Paul enters. Finally Rob and Tineke arrive. The technician tells us that Paul had cancelled and spent his funeral insurance money. ‘The Amsterdam municipality has bothered him so often, let them do something for him in return now.’


We follow the lady upstairs and take our seats in the front row close to the coffin. We listen to a funky song by George Benson. Then the lady reads the words in which Paul looks back on his life. He thanks people who are not here. He complains about lack of money. And he urges us not to be sad, because life wasn’t that much fun. Rob and I recall our own memories. The last word is for Ella Fitzgerald: ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ she sings. The money again.

In the coffee room, we get coffee. No cake, there is no reason to exaggerate things. When the conversation starts to get going, the lady asks if we want to wave Paul goodbye, when he will be driven to the crematorium. Disturbedly, we look up. ‘No thanks,’ Rob says.

‘I’ll wait for you downstairs,’ replies the lady.

‘I think they want us to leave,’ the technician concludes. We get up and look for our coats.