from Rolling Stone
Elliott Smith, whose fragile melodies and voice positioned him as a Nick Drake for a new generation, died yesterday of a knife wound to the chest, an apparent suicide; he was thirty-four. Smith's body was found at his home in Los Angeles by a friend yesterday just after noon. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead an hour later.
Smith's life and career eerily reflect that of Drake, who mined a similar vein of melancholy folk-rock before an overdose (it has never been determined whether intentional or not) ended his career at age twenty-six. Like Drake, Smith's output is striking and spare: Six full-length solo albums, three with his old band Heatmiser, and, true to the independent ethic that defined and dogged him throughout his career, a few handfuls of EPs and seven-inch releases.
To those who followed obsessively, Smith's career was as varied as it was brief. But his blessing and burden was an Academy Award nomination for a song that he would effectively retire from his live performances. Smith never quite seemed comfortable with the degree of attention drawn by "Miss Misery," an original song that appeared (along with several other of his tunes) in Good Will Hunting. The song earned Smith a slot on prime-time television at the Oscars ceremony alongside Celine Dion along with endless barbs and queries. "She was a very nice, lovely person," he said.
The appearance was a long way from Smith's underground rock roots. Born Steven Paul Smith in Omaha, Nebraska, on August 6, 1969, Smith spent his childhood years in Dallas with his mother and stepfather. He began playing music at age nine and composing a year later. By the time Smith was in high school, he had moved to live with his father in Portland, Oregon. Smith seemed nomadic by nature, spending a few years in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and back in the Pacific Northwest. "I just like moving around," he told Rolling Stone in 2000, "because, you know, you only live once. I kinda wanna try out living in a bunch of different places and see if anything sticks. I guess I've pared down my stuff over time to things I can easily move."
It was at Lincoln High School in Portland that Smith fell in with his first band, Stranger Than Fiction, which ended with his graduation from high school. Smith moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where he attended Hampshire College, and played with a local band. Smith met fellow singer-songwriter Neil Gust at school and the two relocated to Portland, forming Heatmiser in 1992, along with bassist Sam Coomes (who would later form Quasi) and drummer Tony Lash (who would go on to be a noted producer). The band's sound was more punk than folk, though in interviews, Gust would note that before and after shows, Smith would sit and play quieter fare on his acoustic guitar. Heatmiser would release three LPs and an EP between 1993 and 1996, and during that time, Smith also released Roman Candle (1994) and Elliott Smith (1995) under his own name.
Heatmiser flared out by 1996, and Smith turned to a full-time solo career, writing and recording songs that were largely acoustic, sing-song melodic and tinged with melancholy and embraced by a cult-sized audience. Either/Or arrived in 1997, but prior to that release, Smith had earned a fan in filmmaker Gus Van Sant. Six of Smith's songs appeared on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, but perhaps more striking was the way Van Sant incorporated the songs into the fabric of the film, using them to fill in the silences.
In addition to the much ballyhooed Oscar appearance (at which a game Smith appeared in a white tuxedo), Good Will Hunting earned him interest from major labels, with Dreamworks signing him and releasing XO in 1998. The album found Smith broadening his sound, with cascading production on "Sweet Adeline" and a hooky piano vamp on the dancing "Waltz #2 (XO)." Another Dreamworks record, Figure 8 was released in 2000 and again found a marriage between Smith's acoustic foundation and a more robust production dynamic. "There's no point in making the same record over and over again," he said. "It's always going to be kind of coherent because it's all coming from the same person. So given that amount of boredom, you might as well change it up as much as possible."
Figure 8 marked the beginning of a quiet period for Smith. His gaunt appearance and world-weary manner had long fueled rumors of chemical addiction, though Smith kept his personal life guarded. As for what could have been perceived as idle time, he said, "I don't really think of time off as writing blocks. I think that's a Western notion of demonizing inactivity. When your imagination decides it needs to take a nap, then maybe that's what it needs to do."
Smith had begun to show signs of resurfacing this year. In August he released "Pretty (Ugly Before)"/"A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free," a new seven-inch. He was also working on his sixth album, From a Basement on the Hill, with plans for a release next year.
And while Smith's tragic end will no doubt seal his legacy as a Drake-like poet of gloom, he thought such focus wasn't fair to the whole scope of his work. "The 'depressing' thing is a superficial tag," he said. "Everybody gets a tag. If you listen to a Velvet Underground record, you don't think, 'Godfathers of Punk.' You just think, 'This sounds great.' The tags are there in order to help try to sell something by giving it a name that's going to stick in somebody's memory. But it doesn't describe it. So 'depressing' isn't a word I would use to describe my music. But there is some sadness in it -- there has to be, so that the happiness in it will matter."
C'MON C'MON THE CLUB IS OPEN