elliott smith

Last week Elliott Smith took his own life after battling for several years with both heroin and alcohol addiction. Although I’ve never considered him one of my favourite artists, I’ve probably returned to his third album Either/Or, a truly beautiful, haunting, brilliant record, more than any other release over the last ten years. You’d think that this alone would propel the singer into my list of all-time-greats, but it doesn’t. And why? Because I also saw him play more than half a dozen times and, quite frankly, he always sucked. This may well be the the most wildly inappropriate moment to reveal this, but I always thought he butchered his songs live, clumsily destroying all the grace and atmosphere present in the original recordings.

My favourite Elliott moment came in the most extraordinary circumstances, when I accompanied my good friend Dr. Wendy Fonarow, Instructor of Anthropology at Glendale Community College, California, and author of an acclaimed academic paper entitled “The Spatial Organization of an Indie Music Gig” (seriously), to an Elliott Smith show at The Roxy on Sunset Strip, Los Angeles. We took refuge at the rear of the venue, seated next to a table adorned by a discreet sign saying “Reserved: Stipe.” Ha, we thought, as if! But no, in came the REM frontman, arm in arm with a very young “companion,” plus Courtney Love and the singer from Live, Ed Kowalczyk. Stipe and Love proceed to misbehave throughout the set, brazenly stealing my cigarettes and flouting California’s notoriously strict anti-smoking laws, Love occasionally breaking off to bawl “Goooooooo Elliott” at the stage.

After the show it’s next door to The Rainbow for a spot of late dinner, our meal interrupted once more by Courtney Love, looking increasingly worse for wear and behaving in a decidedly erratic fashion.

I’m then dragged off to the after-show party, held at the Brass Monkey Karaoke joint, where various friends and hangers-on take it in turns to belt out a selection of middle of the road classics. Elliott Smith is eventually tempted onstage to perform Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle and suddenly, he’s magnificent. He’s obviously drunk and doesn’t really know the song that well, but the wistful vulnerability so evident in his studio work comes to the fore, and it’s a quite, quite lovely moment. RIP.


  1. Wow – cool story – what was Mr. Stipe like? (or can’t you remember that much)

  2. We didn’t talk at all apart from me nodding each time he politely asked for a cigarette. For the most part he was getting tactile with his young friend, and I didn’t want to intrude.

  3. i saw Elliott play live a few times and always thought he was wonderful. I don’t know when you saw him, but my highlights were

    The Borderline
    Upstairs At The Garage
    Leeds and Nottingham supporting on the B&S tour

    The London show with them wasn’t so good, though. But then B&S were awful too.

    I’ll always remember his version of “Thirteen”. Just glorious.

  4. Just goes to show how one man’s junk is another man’s treasure – one of the shows I didn’t like was Upstairs at the Garage…

  5. You didnt indulge in any frottaging then?

  6. “Getting tactile”… I love it!

  7. Yea…You’re right …It is a very un-appropriate time to say something negative ….

    -Mary Lou Lord

  8. Are you going to update the site anymore?

  9. Yes, as soon as I have some time. I’m been a very busy boy of late.

  10. Yeah, we noticed – surfing the net for filthy names for the b3ta newsletter.

    And not even a “Bollocks to this…” post.

  11. Ive seen him a few times live and… i gotta admit he sucked a few times,but if you know and(understand’s) him like i do,then you know …….I want to follow you and im gonna love you anyhow…

    ill miss ya Elli

  12. and im never gonna know you now…