Elliott Smith:
A TVD Retrospective

From the beginning, Elliott Smith didn’t fit in. He was born into a broken household. He had a difficult upbringing, bouncing back and forth between his parents. He began drinking and drug use at a young age because of this. He was a band geek, playing clarinet in his high school’s band.

During the grunge era, Smith went against the generational angst with intimate and well-crafted songs that were often stripped down to their basics. To put it simply, he was an indie musician in an era where such music was rare, and more importantly, almost completely irrelevant. Elliott Smith changed all that with one song on a film that wasn’t supposed to be anything.

Struggling to get by in his band Heatmiser in the early 90s (1991-1993), Smith was encouraged by his girlfriend to send a tape of recently recorded music to Cavity Search Records. The label was so impressed they immediately wanted to put out his music-much to Smith’s surprise. From these songs Smith’s first solo album, Roman Candle, was born. The success of this release and his next one led to the disbandment of Heatmiser.

Continued success with his self-titled second album and follow-up, Either/Or, led to work with director Gus Van Sant on the movie Good Will Hunting. Smith contributed a few songs to the film, but wrote one, “Miss Misery”, that wound up landing him an Academy Award nomination and financial success.

Newfound success led to a bigger label and more fame, but also exacerbated Smith’s aversion to the limelight. Falling quickly into a depression, Smith once again battled drugs, alcohol and even a suicide attempt. Through this his finest albums, XO and Figure 8, were made and seemed to capture what he did best: gorgeous melodies and heartfelt songwriting. These were Smith’s last albums he would finish alive.

Overcome with paranoia, Smith seemed to pull away from everyone, including those closest to him. His writing during this period was often scrapped due to his problems. Though he did manage to start work on a new album, Basement on the Hill, it was all too little too late. The album was released posthumously.

On October 21, 2003 at the age of 34, Elliott Smith was found dead from two fatal stab wounds to the chest. Nothing was left around other than a Post-it that said, “I’m so sorry-love, Elliott. God forgive me.” The world seemed to stand up and notice his death, impact, and legacy almost immediately, with tributes popping up globally.

Many bands today were touched by Smith’s music. Rilo Kiley, Pete Yorn, Rhett Miller, Beck, Sparta, and Ben Folds are just a few musicians to cite Smith as an influence. But Smith helped usher in the popularity of the modern indie era that we all currently enjoy, as well as reviving folk music. Another posthumous release, New Moon, was released in 2007 as well as An Introduction to… Elliott Smith in 2010 released as a compilation of his best works.

To many of us, Elliott Smith represents all that is right with music. His pure, from-the-heart songwriting and beautiful music touches us in such a direct and amazing way that is truly inspiring. His ideas of music still reverberate today in modern music in almost everything we hear.

We here at The Vinyl District would like to encourage everyone who reads this to go out and listen to his music and honor his legacy today. Buy his music- it is especially wonderful on vinyl- voice your appreciation, but above all, remember what Elliott Smith stood for: individuality and the love of music.

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