I first met Elliott on my birthday in Boston


“I first met Elliott on my birthday in Boston, years ago, mid ’90s, he was playing in town that night, I had heard a record, the self-titled one; I was captivated, intrigued and jealous. Someone had come along with songs so sad and beautiful, the nervous guitar, the whisper voice, it sounded like what I was after but never quite reached. My friend Ramona [Clifton] dragged me backstage; he and I talked and got on well. Soon enough, Elliott was opening for Sebadoh, the Harmacy tour. Lots of people heard him for the first time then and lots of people talked right over him. Funny thing is, he preferred it that way, when the crowds were quiet it made him uneasy. I related to that back then. We did a drive from Phoenix to San Diego, the two of us in his rental car; we talked the whole way. I was beginning to reach the uneasy conclusion that Sebadoh needed a new drummer, he talked about leaving Heatmiser and continuing alone, the difficult decisions we were making and the reality of hurting friends, the implication of changing. Elliott had a lot of insights that helped me gain perspective; he was a very intelligent guy. There was a darkness to him as well, but beautiful.

“I saw him off and on after that at shows, he moved to L.A. a little while after I did. He had become famous, was under incredible pressure, touring and recording constantly. He fell back into drugs. I went to a small get together for his birthday this summer at a local bar; I talked to him a little, he seemed younger, softer, more childlike. It was a change from the person I had met. I had noticed it before but now it really struck me., everything had taken a toll on him. I wasn’t surprised when I got the news, he did seem happier lately but you never know. I’m sad he didn’t make it, I’m sad for the people that loved him. I’ve been remembering things about him: he taught me to play croquet, he was fucking good at it too; we didn’t know each other at the time but we both lived in Northampton, circa ’89, and he worked in our favorite supermarket; we loved the bakery, turns out he worked in the bakery. Elliott Smith made delicious blueberry muffins; he did Thirteen, a Big Star song, during a soundcheck on the Sebadoh tour and brought me to tears, the first time a peer’s voice made me cry; I watched him sing along Raw Power, I believe he took his shirt off, we had drunken, excited plans for a Raw Power tribute band. Elliott on vocals, of course.”

Lou Barlow


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