“Well, I’m sitting in Portland, Oregon, right now, after postponing part of our tour. Here to spend time with loved ones and attend memorial services for our beloved friend. Portland is where I first met Elliott, but I really came to know him in L.A. I feel very lucky to have been a part of his life and he a part of mine. He was so warm and generous. I learned so much from him, not just musically, but in life as a whole. He was inspiring, hilarious, hyperintelligent and completely frustrating.
But there was always a lesson to be learned from his positives and negatives. I went over to his house so that he could help me out with a song I was stuck on.
“I don’t think that I’d be doing what I’m doing without Elliott Smith. In college, I got sick of guitar rock, and sort of felt spent on angst and contortion and the testosterone bullshit of rock. I went into listening to all electronica music like Portishead and Björk and stuff. Then Elliott Smith came along with the song “Needle In The Hay” and I don’t remember where I first heard it, but I immediately went and got the record. It’s sort of like reliving the Beatles. His melodic and harmonic senses were so incredibly Beatles weighted, but he updated it in this way that made it speak directly to me as a 19-year-old. I can’t think of a single song of his that I don’t like. He was just a genius.”
“I did a couple of tours with him when I was playing in a band called Those Bastard Souls. We were touring with Sebadoh and Elliott was opening the shows before the whole “Good Will Hunting” thing so he was opening solo, and you know, he’s incredible. And also, he’s just such a very kind, gentle person. You know, troubled, at times, as we all are, at times. It was really disheartening to hear about what was going on after he died. Because you always hope that people come together when someone dies. When you die as a young person it seems like it’s so shocking and so difficult to digest. It’s sad when people are angry at each other and calling names and stuff. So, that’s what that song is about.”
“Around ’97 or so my friend Jon Brion went out and bought about 15 copies of a quiet-voiced singer and gifted guitarist named Elliott Smith. Jon, whose talents have earned him wide admiration as a producer and composer, was on a mission to spread the word about an artist who he himself had just encountered and was beginning to work with. “You have got to hear this!” Jon said. The album was simply called Elliott Smith. It would be followed by the albums Either/Or,XO and Figure 8 before Smith’s death at the terribly young age of 34.
At a time of musical grandiosity, Elliott had emerged with a very contrasting vision. His originality, almost whispered rage and isolation spoke to a generation with the kind of honesty and sophistication not heard since Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. The album Elliott Smith coincided with my casual friendship with Elliott. He, Jon and I shared many an off-the-cuff night on stage at Largo, colliding like bumper cars as we worked our way through old cover songs, even tackling the Bowie/Queen duet “Under Pressure” one night – none of us with a straight face. I remember those laughs well, just as I recall the impact of encountering Elliott Smith’s artistry for the very first time.”
“We were drinking and crying buddies and we had a reputation for getting really drunk and really sad. He turned me on to all the great Russian writers, and we turned into an English literature class where we would talk for hours about writers. Elliott was always seen as a man crying with a constant cloud over his head, but he was a hilarious guy, and he was like any of us – he had a full spectrum of emotion. I have no way to say how he died; nobody has actually ruled it as a suicide. I don’t think Elliott was thick-skinned enough. He cared too much about people, and he saw that people were waiting to take advantage of you and get rich off of other people’s talents. I don’t think I could ever be that guy. After Elliott died, I spent a lot of time just listening to his music that he would regularly give me over the years. I still miss him. Some mornings I’ll wake up and think of a really amazing Japanese film, and I’ll want to go talk to him about it… I don’t try to romanticize the sad stuff anymore. Depression isn’t fun or cute, and it doesn’t make you more desirable. I don’t know if it killed him, but it didn’t make him happy when he was alive.”
“Most writers aren’t very good judges of their own material. They’ll think one thing is good, because it works, whereas other people might like the thing that didn’t really work, but was way more interesting. Writers opt more for songs that work well than they opt for the songs that represent personal growth, and that poor choice often slows your writing down a lot.”
“I’ll never forget one night in Largo, many years ago, when Jon was taking requests. A shy figure approached the stage with his request jotted down on a folded up slip of paper. That man was Elliott Smith. His request was Cheap Trick’s “Voices.” Since then, Brion has recorded the song in his own inimitable style (it closes out Meaningless.) At the end of the night in San Francisco, I shouted – along with others – for him to play another request. My pick was “Voices”, privately in honour of the late Elliott Smith.”
“So. Elliott Smith went and put a steak knife through his chest this week. That’s what happened. One minute we had a world with Elliott Smith in it and the next we didn’t.
When I first heard it I felt sick and frightened, and I was a little confused by my feelings. Usually when rock stars die I feel maybe a little sad, but that’s about it. Sometimes I grab hold of the “how is this worse than thousands dying in some country I’ve never heard of, as is doubtless happening even as we speak?” ring and hang onto that for a while; sometimes, as when brain cancer claimed Chuck Schuldiner, I get a little emotional about it. But usually I am more moved by such two-line items as one sees in the local paper from time to time, the ones about some anonymous fellow who stood in the path of an oncoming train, or whose car flipped into the ditch during a snowstorm, killing all its passengers instantly.