Singer/songwriter Elliott Smith was found dead in his Echo Park apartment Oct. 21. He was 34.
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News of Elliott Smith's death by a self-inflicted stab to the heart wasn't what you could call a shock, unless the shock came from how perfectly expressive his final act was. Elliott was certainly a man who could express himself; it's a terrible pity that wasn't enough. He had not been well, and if he chose to describe it to interviewers as a struggle with alcohol, so be it. When I met him in Los Angeles, there were shocking sores on his face, as if his inner pains had forced themselves to the surface. But his music (in what I'm told are mostly minor chords) managed to be lilting in its melancholy. It was the kind of music to which you might putter around the house after a painful breakup, a perfect mixture of balm and pain, tales of brokenhearted girls being loved from afar, and chords skipping over his own fury. Often the poison of his lyrics passed one by completely in the thrall of a pretty tune, but they were there: perfectly expressed despair. He couldn't stay, and we really shouldn't wish it on him. (Rebecca Schoenkopf)
We were blessed to have Elliott perform at Detroit last April. Although not at his best, he still trudged through and gave it his all. I was lucky to know him as an acquaintance and as a fan, to be able to have in-depth conversations with him whenever our paths crossed. He was a sincere and sweet guy, and I get chills hearing his songs—even more so today after a friend called to break the news. But those songs always made me feel great emotion and love for the beautiful side of music. I'll miss him greatly. I am very sad about it. (Chris Fahey. Fahey operates and books the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa.)
A few months ago, after spending a long—and much-too-sober—night at the Bigfoot Lodge on Los Feliz in LA, my best friend headed down the street to the Roost. Inside, we grabbed a table and a bag of popcorn. Looking to my left, I recognized a man sitting with some aging hipsters. "Janine," I began, "what are the odds that Elliott Smith would be here tonight?" Looking over her shoulder at him, she replied, "Pretty good, I think." Just then, a woman placed a chocolate-frosted birthday cake in front of the Elliott look-alike. As his friends launched into a chorus of "Happy Birthday," we waited in anticipation for—and soon received—confirmation: " . . . dear Elliott." Singing along under my breath, I briefly entertained the notion of sending him a drink but quickly thought better of it. Instead, my friends and I grabbed some dollar bills and headed for the jukebox. Careful to pick songs I knew he hadn't covered, I made selections I hoped would inspire him or at least put a smile on his face. Half an hour later, the last of my songs, "Dancing in the Streets," came on, and Elliott got up to leave. His arm around one of his friends, he headed toward the exit with a giant smile and a half-shimmy, half-bounce to his walk. It might have been his birthday, but seeing him dance out of the bar to a song I picked was one of the best gifts I've ever received. (Ellen Griley)
We're all heartbroken. I never really saw the more depressed side of him. I remember him being really funny, a guy who had this great, subtle sense of humor. I think he lived through his lyrics, but then when you listen to his pretty melodies, they sort of mask any darkness. Elliott was just a nice, quiet guy who had a very gentle spirit and that incredibly sweet voice. To tour and stand onstage and play music with him will always be a highlight for me. But I think he'll always be remembered for his fantastic body of work. People are going to keep discovering his songs, and that's the greatest music, the kind that always sounds new and fresh, no matter how old it gets—my favorite band growing up was the Beatles, and they're still great today; Elliott's music will hopefully have that same long-lasting impact. I think he was the greatest songwriter of my generation. (Shon Sullivan. A veteran of several local bands including Moonwash and currently of Goldenboy, Sullivan was a member of Elliott Smith's most recent touring band.)