XO, Elliott

Elliott Smith, 1969-2003

Elliott Smith had moved to Brooklyn, New York, in mid-1997, to escape the hurtful memories of a broken relationship he had left behind in Portland. In 1999, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he recorded his last full-length album, Figure 8. Speculation was rampant the last few years that Smith had sunk into a pit of despair, alcoholism and drug abuse. His shows were erratic; he would forget or mumble lyrics, often stopping songs halfway through.

"While Elliott was living in Portland, [drugs] weren't a problem for him, he just drank and stuff," Krebs says. "I think when he went to New York and Los Angeles, especially L.A., that's what kind of killed him in a manner of speaking. He was around people who knew him not as Elliott, but as Elliott Smith the rock star."

Smith was involved in a fracas with L.A. County sheriffs at a Flaming Lips/Beck show last November that landed him in an L.A. County jail. The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne told Billboard magazine last week that Smith had appeared "to have lost control of himself," describing him as "needy" and "grumpy."

Elliott Smith is shown here in a 1997 photo taken by Pete Krebs with the author's camera.
Pete Krebs
Elliott Smith is shown here in a 1997 photo taken by Pete Krebs with the author's camera.

Smith told Under the Radar magazine in a March interview that he had been treated for drug and alcohol addiction at the Neurotransmitter Restoration Center in Beverly Hills, with a process where the blood is infused with massive amounts of amino acids and proteins, ostensibly restoring neurotransmitters to their pre-abuse state.

"I think he genuinely wanted to stop feeling so bad," Krebs says.

Smith had been in the process of completing an album titled From a Basement on a Hill, and had released two songs on a limited-edition seven-inch single in August on Seattle's Suicide Squeeze label, "Pretty (Ugly Before)" and "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free." He had built a recording studio in the San Fernando Valley and was reportedly shopping the album to independent labels after coming to an agreement with DreamWorks that allowed him a hiatus from his contract.

Whether From a Basement on a Hill will see release is not known at this time, although there is reportedly enough completed music for a full LP. On one track, "King's Crossing," he sings, "Give me one reason not to do it . . ." Other song titles from the album are equally disturbing -- "Strung Out Again," "Let's Get Lost," "Shooting Star" and "Fond Farewell."

"He was always one for a play on words," Krebs says of the noir-ish titles. "On a lot of his songs the titles were really telling. A lot of those titles were a lot less metaphoric and more abrupt than I've come to expect."

Elliott Smith's abrupt suicide, as sadly predictable as it was, significantly lessens the pool of great songwriters putting out sublimely beautiful music -- or at least ones with a broad profile and the ability to engender true hope in their listeners. His fans, friends and family are left only with memories and an incredible catalogue of recordings by one of the greatest songwriters in recent memory.

"I don't have a memory of him as a drug addict or as a crazy person or anything other than my friend, a really funny, really super smart, caring person," Krebs says.

Smith sported a tattoo on his upper right arm of Ferdinand the Bull, from the children's story and classic Disney cartoon, wherein a bee stings a gentle, flower-sniffing bull, and observers mistakenly think that he is on an angry rampage. If only Elliott Smith had smelled a few more flowers, perhaps his life would not have ended in the ugly self-abusive rampage that it did.

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