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


“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

©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


“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.

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“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

I’ve just received a hefty volume about Elliott Smith


“I’ve just received a hefty volume about Elliott Smith that’s been put together by the photographer Autumn De Wilde. Flicking through, it looks great, and it really hammers home something that bugs the shit out of me when people often talk or write about Smith. It’s just too easy to write about him as this “troubled”, “unhappy”, “doomed” figure, to spend an hour with a profoundly shy man and divine from it that he was somehow not long for this world. Of course, Smith had problems: at times, when I was never quite sure whether he was talking on or off the record, he was fairly explicit about them to me. But really, the habit of simplifying his life into one inexorable downward spiral winds me up time and time again; it reminds me, too, how glib writers can come across – and i’ve certainly been guilty of this – when they try and psychoanalyse their subjects. Continue reading

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

The biggest misconception, I think


“The biggest misconception, I think, is that Elliott was a sad-sack folk artist whose work was a direct extension of the darker parts of his life. Even a cursory listen to an album like XO should roundly disprove that notion, but I think there are a lot of reasons we’ve collectively bought into the romantic myth of the suffering artist. I don’t think writing my book had as much to do with the strength of my relationship to Elliott’s music as it did with the sudden, overwhelming sense that Elliott’s work was broadly and sadly misunderstood.”

Matt LeMay

In person, Smith was much that his songs suggested he would not be

©Marc Alesky

“In person, Smith was much that his songs suggested he would not be: direct, relaxed, easy to talk to. In fact, he talked for hours and even let me interview his father, Gary, backstage in Portland. There was only one thing he would not do,and it was instructive. According to Smith, for the Spin photo shoot, he was asked to wear a tight, white T-shirt artily spattered with fake blood. (Former Spin staffers deny that this happened.) Smith felt that he was being asked to play the role of the tortured artist, marketing his pain. He walked out of the shoot, though he later returned and offered to pose in less theatrical ways. (For a variety of reasons, he ultimately did not appear on the cover.) At the time, I thought such stubbornness was an example of someone taking a principled stand about controlling his own image. Now, I wonder whether it was a case of an acutely conflicted artist finding a brand-new way of sabotaging his success.”

R.J. Smith