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


They only notice my music being dark

©Daniel Coston

“They only notice my music being dark because most of what’s played on the radio is so . . . I don’t know, not dark. So they hear this one thing about my songs, and they make that stand in for what they are.But there’s humor in them sometimes. They don’t make me feel worse. They make me feel better.”

Elliott Smith

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

©Nick BK

“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

The mainstream keeps describing me as depressing


“The mainstream keeps describing me as depressing and I don’t need that anymore. I mean, you can go see a sad movie and find beauty in it. You don’t walk away depressed. It can be inspiring. When people talk about how I’m all gloom, it makes me feel bad. Nobody wants to be described as depressing. Sometimes I’m depressed, and sometimes I’m not, just like everyone else.”

Elliott Smith


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

I’ll never get rid of that


“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


“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