The ten-year anniversary of Elliott Smith‘s death is today; it’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since one of the best songwriting minds of my generation decided to log off the Earth server for good.
A few weeks ago I picked up the new book, Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith, by William Todd Schultz (Schultz has also written on Diane Arbus and Truman Capote). It’s a well-documented, detailed look by a devoted fan into Smith’s life and journey.
Smith was a seriously complicated guy. I remember when I got his first solo release, Roman Candle, in the mid-90’s and how blown away I was by the emotion and especially the craftsmanship of the songs. I was writing a lot of songs back then myself, several of which eventually wound up as the pseudo-band project The Daisies (some of those songs are now part of IUMA — see here if you’re interested).
Elliott left us with a number of great songs, and while many are slow, dark ripostes to years of abuse and victimization, much of his work is a healing salve for the mind and heart. This was a guy who suffered tremendously, often by his own hand, but in the truest artistic fashion he transformed that suffering into beauty and truth.
In January a gig with Smith and Jon Brion popped up on YouTube, circa 2000. Smith’s performance is powerful. Independence Day, accompanied by Brion and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau is mesmerizing. Smith also plays a few covers, including renders of Lennon’s Jealous Guy and Big Star’s Nightime (what a treat — Smith covering Chilton!).