When I was 19 years old

matt wright steel
©Matt Wright-Steel

“When I was nineteen years old, my brother and I went to see Elliott Smith play. He was on tour supporting his album XO. I got carded at the door, and they put a bracelet around my wrist. My brother got carded at the door, and they put a stamp on his hand. As soon as we got in, he grabbed my arm and dragged me to the bathroom. Continue reading

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Recently, on a trip to Mexico

morganlucasschuldt
©Barbara Cully

“Recently, on a trip to Mexico, I was caught off-guard by a cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars.” The version sounded so much like Billie Holiday that I was instantly dumbfounded. How, I wondered, could Billie Holiday cover Elliott Smith? – it was impossible. Slightly less impossible was Smith’s song as a cover of Billie Holiday. But this didn’t sit right either, and so when I learned that the performer in question was Madeleine Peyroux, I was relieved, even pleased. I’ve always thought of Elliott Smith as a musician whose sound and sensibility are deliberately at odds. Peyroux’s version only confirmed this impression for me; hers is a languid, slinking, sonorous rendition, one that displays a wide range of expression and phrasing. Smith’s harmonies and melodies just aren’t as extravagant. Continue reading

Kurt Cobain wasn’t ours

scwbillwadman
©Bill Wadman

“Kurt Cobain wasn’t ours, in Portland. As suburban middle-schoolers who mass-transited it into town every weekend to pick up our copies of The Rocket, we loved Nirvana, naturally. But after the suicide, my punk-rock songwriting pal and I felt a little bit angryleft behind. And so we were excited about the beginnings of Candy Ass Records, each of us devoting hard looks to each new CD from the label that showed up at Ozone on Burnside, across from Powell’s. We didn’t need it to become as big a deal as Sub Pop; we just wanted something we could get next to from the start. Continue reading

In the summer of 2002, I’d just returned to L.A. from Eastern Europe

deerin

“In the summer of 2002, I’d just returned to L.A. from Eastern Europe – Belgrade -where I could live cheaply and so work full-time on a novel. To my frustration, the novel still required extensive surgery, and one night, in lieu of taking an axe to my computer, I drove to Ralph’s Supermarket on Glendale Boulevard. It was three in the morning, but there was a longish line at the cash register, and the customer immediately behind me was Elliott Smith. The checker wandered off, and I wondered if I should say anything to Elliott. Continue reading

I did have the fortune of meeting Elliott Smith

xmastree
©Wendy Lynch Redfern

“I did have the fortune of meeting Elliott Smith and, like many others who’ve had the honor, I found him to be an open book. I had just flown back to LA from vacationing in Uruguay. The flight was over twenty hours long and I had a severe case of jet lag when my editor called me up and asked if I wanted to interview Elliott Smith that night at a Silverlake club called Spaceland. We’d been trying to get an interview with him for months and, as tired as I was, I couldn’t pass it up. My first meeting with Elliott at Spaceland was somewhat surreal. I remember being nervous because I heard he was difficult to interview. I had no need to be. Elliott was forthcoming and funny yet also humble and extremely shy. It was a short interview as he had yet to soundcheck and, although he promised a follow-up, I thought the quick forty minutes we had with him would be it. Continue reading

Staking out the shadows between melancholy and fatalistic

gregkot

“Staking out the shadows between melancholy and fatalistic, Elliott Smith wrote pretty tunes that assumed the worst. At least that’s the critical shorthand on one of the more easily stereotyped artists of the last decade. But there’s more to Smith and his music than such faulty caricatures suggest.
A lyric from the song that opens Smith’s final studio album, “From a Basement on the Hill” plays right into the tortured-artist cliché: “I’ll never be good enough for you.” Of course, it’s tempting to read even more into Smith’s pessimism now that he’s gone, his death from two stab wounds last year instantly elevating him to rock-martyr status. Continue reading

Were you at college with Elliott Smith? I was.

dontfollow2 (1)

“Were you at college with Elliott Smith? I was. I remember him very, very slightly. I remember some band that he was in, vaguely. I remember not liking it very much. I remember his friends seemed like jocks at Hampshire. His music is pretty earnest. Yeah, he was kind of on a different wavelength than Hampshire, than my cohorts. He wasn’t in one of the more important Hampshire bands of the day.”

Richard Rushfield