The night I met Elliott Smith
It was cold but manageable
Damp wet kinda cool
I saw him play, on a whim
By sheer consequence
I wasn’t overly familiar
Just a songwriter
newly crownedContinue reading →
“A few weeks after I started college, one of my new friends (a much, much cooler friend) asked me if I’d ever heard of Elliott Smith. “Uh… yeah…” I mumbled. It wasn’t completely a lie; I knew ‘Needle in the Hay’ from the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums, but that was the extent of my knowledge. The next day he stopped by my dorm room with a burned copy of XO tucked into a notepaper sleeve. It was a… difficult experience. I’d been listening to the most disposable sort of punk rock in an attempt to reinvent myself as tough and rebellious, and XO sounded like nothing I’d heard before. But I persevered… and failed. After a week on continuous loop in my CD player I’d progressed to the “this is nice, but…” stage and no further. Still, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I picked up a copy of his eponymous sophomore release in hopes that it would fit in more with my style. And it worked.
“She started talking about I Figured You Out. She said that she watched Elliott as he wrote the song–I guess it was during one of the times when they were touring together–and then he played it. And he said “It sounds like the Eagles! I can’t wait for [she said a name, I forget who, I don’t know anything about the Eagles] to get off the highway and take a dump!”And then he crumpled up the paper and threw it in the trash. Later on she got into the trashcan and took the bit of paper with the song written on it out. Then a bit later, I guess when Elliott was in a better mood, she said something like “As a singer-songwriter who doesn’t write many songs, would you mind if I kept this?” Elliott said it was okay, and I guess then later on he was the engineer for her recording of the song on the Martian Saints EP.Continue reading →
“When I met Elliott Smith, I told him I loved Waterloo Sunset since the first day I heard it, but until I heard him do it it never choked me up. His response was : ‘I’m sorry. I think my voice ruins it. Ray is a much better singer than me.'”
“It is bittersweet that one of Elliott Smith’s finest albums would be one which was released posthumously. From a Basement on the Hill is a masterwork of dexterity and achievement, with Smith exploring his love of The Beatles’ recording techniques. Using an array of instruments, the album was largely made at Smith’s home studio. It was left unfinished when Smith tragically took his own life in 2003, his family and friends collaborated after he passed so that the album would see the light of day. It is the one grace to come from the terrible event, for From a Basement on the Hill is one of the strongest and most powerful records of the last twenty years. King’s Crossing is a song about Smith’s demons, as well as his disillusion with the Music scene at the time. ‘The method acting that pays my bills keeps a fat man feeding in Beverly Hills’ he sang, lamenting the exploitation of his emotions to generate record sales. This is my top Elliott Smith record, which I revisit very regularly. I love the visual portraits Smith creates within this song. It is so full of regret, hopelessness and contemplation; be it about his career, his addictions or his existence. Powerful stuff.”
“What I was doing for two or three years was taking a Polaroid every single day…and it just happened to be that day that he was playing. But there’s a better story: Modest Mouse was opening for Elliott Smith, and Isaac’s amp literally blew up on stage. At that time, all he had was one amp, and you know, we’re not making that much money. After the show Elliott Smith came up to us and he’s like, “Oh, man, you guys, that sucks,” and then he gave us a few hundred dollars to go buy another amp. And he wasn’t that popular then, either—it was like 1997 . He was a cool guy.”
“Tonight we had another morale raising performance here on our camp, a band named “Brickfoot.” As I have explained elsewhere in this blog, Armed Forces Entertainment contracts with a variety of musicians and comedians to tour camps and bases around the world in an effort to provide a temporary distraction for soldiers. I can honestly say, that this was the best AFE sponsored show I have seen, partially because of their brand of music, some of the artists they chose to cover, and for the unfettered support they showed the troops. This evening, the band played a variety of cover songs, from the Beatles and some other classic rock favorites, to originals they had written, to some more obscure modern “indie” songs. What impressed me most about this band was their covers of the White Stripes, Radiohead, Coldplay and most of all Elliott Smith.
“I got a chance to meet Elliott Smith before he died. I’m a big Elliott Smith fan. I went to Los Angeles to go see him. He was super fucked up and thrashed and I’m sitting there at the bar staring at him, and he’s 10 feet away. He’s drinking Johnny Walker Red, and I’m thinking, “Oh man, he’s drinking Johnny Walker Red.” I made him so uncomfortable.
I was staring at him and he kept looking over at me. Finally he was staring back at me like he wanted to fight me, and I realized what I was doing, because I’ve had people do that to me before. I’m fully bumming this dude out. We watched him play; it was totally awesome. My friends that were in other bands were like, “Do you want to meet him? Do you want to meet him? Let’s go backstage.” And I’m thinking, I already did that shit at the bar; he’s going to remember me. What do you say? “Hey, your music changed my life”? You’re going to put them in an uncomfortable situation. I just told them, “Nah. I don’t think so.” It’s such a bizarre thing to get that kind of attention: to touch someone’s youth or be a part of their childhood.”
“Eleven years ago today, Elliott Smith stopped making music. Thousands of miles away from the grim crime scene of hisdeath, I was a fifth grader at the peak of awkwardness. Puberty hit me with that feeling of alienation that is difficult for adults to reconstruct. Pictures of me at age 11 display the old sources of my middle school woes: an expander had pushed my upper palate wide open, stranding my two front teeth so far apart that people asked if they had been pulled. I had just started to reluctantly wear itchy, uncomfortable bras, and several months later I would become one of the youngest girls in my grade start my period. As I navigated the same daily horror of being a chubby nerd with bad hair, Elliott Smith stabbed himself in the heart in Los Angeles.
Or so we think. Smith’s death remains acold case. The cuts on his hands and arms and lack of a hesitation wound scream murder to some, but his then-girlfriend firmly maintains her innocence. Either way, fans feel his loss sharply. In the aftermath of his death, his lyrics have gained eery resonance. “Nobody broke your heart,” he sings in “Alameda.” “You broke your own / ‘Cause you can’t finish what you start.”Continue reading →