I just wanted to do something with him

©Jesse Barnett

“I just wanted to do something with him, and between Either/Or and XO, he came down to my studio. I sat him in front of a binaural head, which is this grey foam sculpture of a human head with two specialized microphones in each ear hole that has this incredibly realistic stereo effect. So we sat down in front of this ludicrous device and he sang two songs, which became other songs later—one was “The record that plays over and over/ There’s a kid in the story below” lines from “Bottle Up and Explode!” The other one ended up as “Going Nowhere”. I didn’t have anything good to add to them, but I have these a cappella versions. I wish I knew where I put them.”

Mike Doughty

Elliott was a shy person, and he took a little while to open up


“Elliott was a shy person, and he took a little while to open up. There’s a better word than “polite” or “courteous”, but he was the kind of person who certainly did not ever want to offend anybody. On the other hand, he did what he wanted. He was fragile in some ways, but he could always pull himself up by the bootstraps.

After his death, people said to me “You must not have been surprised. You must have seen this coming.” Well, no. Your parents get old and they’re going to die. Then when they do, you’re shocked. You hope against hope it won’t happen. I last saw Elliott in May or June. Through September, we’d been playing phone tag – he wanted me to come out and see his studio and hear From A Basement on the Hill. That was the week before he died. We were talking about the possibility of me helping him mix the record, but we didn’t get to hook up.

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We always made mix tapes for each other


“We always made mix tapes for each other. He and I and two friends were going to this party, and we made this pact to make mix tapes. We realized that we’d all put ‘Rocks Off’ by the Rolling Stones on all four tapes. So Elliott invented this game where every time that song came on, we had to yell ‘Rocks Off!’ and name the city we were driving through – ‘Rocks Off, Delaware!’, ‘Rocks Off, Newark!'”

Dorien Garry

You’ve heard of artists and athletes who are so cool and powerful


“You’ve heard of artists and athletes who are so cool and powerful they’re described as “lights out.” And you’ve heard of “unplugged” concerts. Well, the all-time coolest Elliott Smith show in Nashville, which took place the night of May 9, 2000, was LITERALLY “lights out” and LITERALLY “unplugged.”

Here’s what happened: Elliott was touring with an L.A.-based stoner band called Wiskey Biscuit. At 8 or 9 p.m. that night, Wiskey Biscuit opened the show, performing their entire set perfectly normally, although their lead singer looked like he was going to nod off at any moment. Continue reading

Our tour manager was a really good friend of Elliott’s

©David Torres

“Our tour manager was a really good friend of Elliott’s and she brought him around to a few shows of ours when we were out in the Pacific Northwest and there was Elliott on the side of the stage grooving to our music, moving, bopping, pretty much dancing unabashedly throughout our set. The first of these shows he came to and danced on the side, he introduced himself to me and said he was a huge fan of our band and my drumming. He said on more than one occasion that I was one of his two favorite drummers, the other being Steven Drozd. Man, that was something else to hear from someone I admired so much. And he would follow that up with one of the reasons he loved our band was because it always made him wanna dance. It was both really touching and just funny coming from someone like Elliott. His honesty and brashness was something else.”

Russell Simins

The more research I did for this article


“The more research I did for this article, the less I wanted to write it, all aware of the irony – or flat-out hypocrisy – of writing an introduction like this to yet another article on the very subject I am chastising; fearing all I was doing was insensitively adding to this pile and being yet another unqualified person to talk about the life and death of a person whom I never knew or met. Article after contradictory article I read, an overwhelming strand often found tying these together – aside from the more canonizing, unctuous pieces – is the removal of compassion, treating Elliott as though he was nothing but a story, an object, a subject for copy. Continue reading

He did struggle with drugs, alcohol and depression


“He did struggle with drugs, alcohol and depression. That’s all true. But other things that have been written are not true. He was a really complicated guy, but he wasn’t just a sad sack. He had a great sense of humor, and some of his music is very light.  And while he was sometimes depressed, he wasn’t always in that state. People like to construct a personality, particularly after someone has died. They like to be simplistic and say, ‘This led to this, which led to this, which led to that.’ But that reduces the complexity of who they really were. The coroner’s report ruled the death inconclusive. There’s an open police case; it was never ruled a suicide. They couldn’t determine if it was homicide or suicide. … That’s important to the family.”

Marta Greenwald

It’s upsetting just to know that he’s gone


“It’s upsetting just to know that he’s gone. I don’t like thinking about what happened that day – it was the worst day of my life. I wish for his parents that they had a bit more clarity about what exactly happened. But as far as me wanting to go to the bottom of it, that’s not the case. He’s gone and nothing is gonna bring him back. And I don’t think anybody wanted him to go. So whatever happened, I don’t think it was something planned. I think it was an accident.”

Ashley Welch