Ten years ago today, one of the greatest songwriters of our time passed away under tragic circumstances. Much too young, needless to say, as Elliott Smith would have been 44 now – and how many songs would he still have been able to write? It’s a sad affair but we decided to make something positive out of it. Read our ten reasons for which we miss Elliot Smith and take the opportunity to revisit some of his records or songs. Because this man is too good to be forgotten.
01. His realness
Horrible word I guess. But you’ll get the point when you watch him in this little video in which he abruptly stopped one of his greatest tunes (Waltz #2) and explained why he had to: “What’s the point of playing a song badly? It’d be better to play it and mean it, than to just walk through it.” If only every artist would follow this rule.
02. His performance in the Oscar-night 1998
Being nominated for Miss Misery, his contribution to the Good Will Hunting-soundtrack, Smith had no real chance in actually winning the OSCAR, as it was the year of Titanic. But hey, just watch him, being that shy guy in a white suit with dirty hair on that ridiculously large stage, mesmerizing an audience of millions with his counterdraft to Celine Dion. Miss Misery vs. My Heart Will Go On. The latter won. An exemplification of what’s wrong with the business.
03. His humour
Not the first thing you have in mind when thinking of Elliott Smith, but of course he had at least some sense of humour. In my opinion, a very fine one. Quite sarcastic from time to time, surely bitter. But poignant and never detrimental.
04. His words
Obvious, but really, the way Elliott Smith arranged his magnificent words remains to be topped. There is a unique way in his of accompanying simple remarks with poignant romanticism in his writing that made his songs so easy to relate to and so far away from being pretentious.
“I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl/ Who’s still around the morning after” – Say Yes
05. This man’s music
One of the biggest misunderstandings is, that if you put a guy with a guitar in front of an audience it’s folk music. Elliott Smith is not. His tunes were Beatlesk pop at it’s best. Rich, various, harmonically challenging and multi-layered. A whole colourful world behind sad words.
06. The way he dealt with people.
Here, maybe it is best to let an anecdote speak for itself. Mark Oliver Everett (Mr. E from Eeels) once told it in his autobiographical book Things The Grandchildren Should Know:
“We were sitting on a couch in the office at Largo, the Los Angeles club where Elliott and I both played often. Lisa Germano was telling Elliott and me a story about something that had recently happened to her. Flanagan, the owner of Largo, had a big, white, fluffy dog named Seamus, who had just jumped on the couch and squeezed in behind Lisa. As she continues her story, Seamus throws his front paws over Lisa’s shoulders and starts humping her back, but Lisa appears to be oblivious and continues her story. Flanagan and I are laughing so hard we’re crying, but Elliott just kept leaning forward and listening to Lisa’s story, trying to give her the dignity to finish, even though a big white dog was straddling her and furiously pumping away on her back.”
07. Grungy Elliott
See him as the widely forgotten but nonetheless great frontman of his first band HEATMISER.
Okay, this is purely subjective and you could pick any other album from his, but: to me, Either/Or is one of the best Singer/Songwriter-records of all time. Period. (And it’s nice to see a Kierkegaard-reference here and there…)
09. The story of Ferdinand
Seemingly even being very reflective about his tattoos, Elliott Smith got him one of Ferdinand the bull. Still, one of the few things that are okay to get tattooed. This story (if you don’t know it yet, read it) is meant to be right there: under your skin.
10. Simply his voice
Not only by what he sang, but how he sang it, you could tell that this is heartfelt music. There is no space left between you and the artist. With his trenchant and thin voice, Elliott Smith failed to build up any sort of wall between him and the world. Maybe he should have, just in order to protect himself, to hide some things that are too intimate. Sadly, this was part of his greatness as it was probably a contributing factor for his downfall. Definitely, Elliott Smith is deeply missed – as an artist and as a kind, polite and humble character. An exception in our otherwise self-righteous pop-culture.
In the end, what’s to say? Nothing but: It’s just a fond farewell to a friend.