I asked Elliott to open for Sebadoh

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©Greg Neate

“I asked Elliott to open for Sebadoh. Our audience was very rude to him. People were not even listening to his songs. I remember that the bar of the venue we were playing made its peak sales during his set. Poor Elliott. The most disgusting thing is how, two or three years later, the same people who had been ignoring him started to idolize him. His songs had not changed. Elliott was very aware of that irony. Sometimes it made him laugh, sometimes it depressed him completely.”

Lou Barlow

At first, I was disturbed by the tribute wall

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“At first, I was disturbed by the tribute wall that sprung up in L.A. after Elliott’s death. It said things like ‘I understand your pain’ and ‘God takes the best’ and I was thinking, Well, that’s kind of bogus. But they’re not talking about Elliott Smith the person, they’re talking about the Elliott Smith that sort of floats on those records, this voice and what it means to them. In a way, he was truly this flickering flame.”

Lou Barlow

I first met Elliott on my birthday in Boston

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“I first met Elliott on my birthday in Boston, years ago, mid ’90s, he was playing in town that night, I had heard a record, the self-titled one; I was captivated, intrigued and jealous. Someone had come along with songs so sad and beautiful, the nervous guitar, the whisper voice, it sounded like what I was after but never quite reached. My friend Ramona [Clifton] dragged me backstage; he and I talked and got on well. Soon enough, Elliott was opening for Sebadoh, the Harmacy tour. Lots of people heard him for the first time then and lots of people talked right over him. Funny thing is, he preferred it that way, when the crowds were quiet it made him uneasy. I related to that back then. We did a drive from Phoenix to San Diego, the two of us in his rental car; we talked the whole way. I was beginning to reach the uneasy conclusion that Sebadoh needed a new drummer, he talked about leaving Heatmiser and continuing alone, the difficult decisions we were making and the reality of hurting friends, the implication of changing. Elliott had a lot of insights that helped me gain perspective; he was a very intelligent guy. There was a darkness to him as well, but beautiful. Continue reading

Once you become popular

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“Once you become popular and you’re on a major label, you’re never popular enough, and he took that so personally, and became so bitter. It didn’t make any sense to me, because he’d be like ‘Oh, they’re really mad because, you know, Figure 8 sold only 150,000 copies’. I’d be like, ‘Oh fuck, that’s great! But it seemed like it completely overloaded him. When he brought DreamWorks new material, the label rejected his songs, at least once. I think it devastated him. Elliott told me, back then, that they had complained about his voice, the songs he had written, and told him to clean up. The fact is, all major labels use that ‘come back with a hit’ line, but I think with Elliott, that tactic was irresponsible and misguided.”

Lou Barlow

I discovered Elliott Smith a few years before he became famous

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“I discovered Elliott Smith a few years before he became famous. He had just released his second album. He was performing in a small club in Austin, Texas. I went there with my wife to drink beers and meet cool people. This guy had me hypnotized during his whole set. So much so that I wasn’t even taking notice of my wife who kept complaining: “how can you enjoy such a clown? He just stole everything from you, even your drums sound!’ Well, I didn’t really care. He had much better songs!”

Lou Barlow