I’ve just received a hefty volume about Elliott Smith

jmbyterrystaunton

“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

I’m supposed to be a rebel rock’n’roller

tvw

“I’m supposed to be a rebel rock’n’roller who thinks about nothing but rock’n’roll and wants to die, but I like to read – Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, that Kierkegaard guy. Other people always say how heavy and depressing they are, then you usually find out that they’re just good. I mean, Raymond Carver – that’s not any more heavy and depressing than a Nirvana record.”

Elliott Smith

I’ll never get rid of that

kjay

“I’ll never get rid of that. Because I made a couple acoustic albums, I must be a sad songwriter. It’s just an automatic reaction to knowing that someone plays the acoustic guitar. It comes up all the time but I don’t really care anymore. I know that some of my songs are kinda sad, but if it wasn’t like that the happy moments wouldn’t count too much. So if other people see them as strictly depressing, what can I do about it? Nothing.”

Elliott Smith

The biggest misconception, I think

Matt-LeMay

“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

malesky
©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

Some people are afraid

charlieg-1
©Charlie Gross

“Some people are afraid that if they don’t seem like some sort of perpetual winner all the time, if they don’t make a lot of money and wear expensive cologne and go to all the right places, that then people are going to think that they’re some sort of loser. But just because people have a range of emotions and thoughts which can coexist at the same time and at times sometimes they get ecstatically happy about something and at other times ridiculously depressed, doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them when they’re sad and that they are only successful, good Americans when they’re happy, when everything’s going right for them. The media is always telling people to look better and go shopping more and present an image of prosperity and you can only do that so much before you’re presenting that even to yourself all the time. So if you do go see a movie and the ending isn’t happy, it may be a great movie, but you end up feeling inordinately depressed because you’ve been blocking out your own feelings. There must be some reason why I always get these questions, which to me seem like totally surface things about my music. There’s a lot in my music that I find happy and optimistic, in both the melody and the lyrics.”

Elliott Smith