A tribute to Elliott Smith

This special post is my personal tribute to Elliott Smith, a talented songwriter and musician. Biography, reviews, images, book, music and video resources.

If anyone is wondering about the odd phrasing of dayan’s post, it’s probably because this rumor has been flitting around various fan sites and web forums. This message from charlie who runs the elliott smith site apparently confirms that he did in fact die today. Terribly sad.
(posted on MetaFilter – community weblog – by malphigian at 11:05 PM on October 21, 2003)


  1. Biography
  2. Essential Discography
  3. Books
  4. Movies / Short films
  5. Music Video
  6. Images
  7. Live Video
  8. Reviews
  9. Other Elliott Smith tributes
  10. Other Resources

1. Biography

Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith (August 6, 1969 – October 21, 2003) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska, raised primarily in Texas, and resided for a significant portion of his life in Portland, Oregon, where he first gained popularity. His primary instrument was the guitar, but he was also proficient at piano, clarinet, bass, drums and harmonica. Smith had a distinctive vocal style characterized by his “whispery, spiderweb-thin delivery” and use of multi-tracking to create vocal layers, textures, and harmonies.

After playing in the rock band Heatmiser for several years, Smith began his solo career in 1994 with releases on the independent record labels Cavity Search and Kill Rock Stars. In 1997 he signed a contract with DreamWorks Records, for which he recorded two albums. Smith rose to mainstream prominence when his song “Miss Misery”, included in the soundtrack for the film Good Will Hunting, was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category in 1997.

Smith battled with depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction for years, and these topics often appeared in his lyrics. At age 34, he died in Los Angeles, California from two stab wounds to the chest. The autopsy evidence was inconclusive as to whether the wounds were self-inflicted. At the time of his death, Smith was working on his sixth studio album, From a Basement on the Hill, which was released posthumously on October 19, 2004.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

2. Essential Discography

3. Books

Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing
By Benjamin Nugent

The first biography of the musician Elliott Smith, whose heartbreaking songs were rendered all the more haunting by his tragic deathBest for his Oscar-nominated song “Miss Misery” from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, Elliott Smith was catapulted to the status of indie rock star after performing at the 1997 Academy Awards. Some of his albums, XO and Either/Or among them, would become ’90s classics, helping to define an understated aesthetic that owed as much to the melodic emphasis of The Beatles as it did to punk.

“Nugent sheds new light on what has previously been perceived as a dark existence…. The author understands the magnificently thick atmosphere of Smith’s music intimately, and submerges us in it.” -Salon

Elliott Smith
By Autumn de Wilde

Elliott Smith’s intensely intimate music and open-hearted, Beatlesque pop songs have left a deep mark on a generation of fans and musicians in the wake of his tragic death in 2003. In Autumn de Wilde’s remarkable photographs and conversations with close friends, family, and musicians he inspired, this is the first and only portrait of the beloved and troubled singer/songwriter by those who knew him well. Complementing de Wilde’s riveting, personal images are ephemera, handwritten lyrics, and revealing talks with Smith’s inner circle, many speaking here for the first time. Also included are a foreword by Beck Hansen and Chris Walla, and a live CD of unreleased solo acoustic performances.

Elliott Smith’s XO (33 1/3 series)
By Matthew Lemay

This book focuses on the genius of Smith’s 1998 debut that remains his defining album. Many albums could be cited to support the claim that great suffering yields great art. Elliott Smith’s “XO” should not be one of them. Smith’s 1998 major label debut defies the ‘tortured singer-songwriter’ stereotype and takes up this defiance as a central theme. At a time when Smith was being groomed for a particular (and particularly condescending) brand of stardom, he produced a record that eviscerated one of the central assumptions of singer-songwriters: that pain is beautiful. Indeed, “XO” insists that romanticizing personal tragedy can only leave you ‘deaf and dumb and done’. It backs up this claim with some of the most artful and intelligent music of its day.

While these themes permeate “XO”, the record hardly registers like a thesis statement. The album’s title cleverly reflects one of its central concerns – the difference between how we present ourselves and the damage we do through such self-denial. It’s simple lyrical phrasing and characteristically hesitant vocal delivery have led many to overlook how mean, witty and incisive XO is. It is the product of an artist who could never quite shake off the stigma of his early work.

4. Movies / Short films

Heaven Adores You

A new documentary directed by Nickolas Rossi about late musician Elliott Smith. Through interviews with close friends and archival footage, Nickolas Rossi's film proves a heartfelt, gorgeous, meditative tribute to Smith's legacy and music.

Strange Parallel
Directed by Steve Hanft

A documentary/short film revolving around the American singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. The film features interviews with Elliott himself as well as fans, friends and other acquaintances of his (including Gus Van Sant, Larry Crane, and the members of Quasi). The film also includes snippets of Elliott Smith performing as well as footage of him recording an unreleased song, “Brand New Game”. The film sometimes moves out of reality, with acted-out, metaphorical sequences that involve Elliott considering purchasing a mechanical hand (a “robot hand”) to improve his music. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

"In 1998 I was hired to make a film for the reclusive rocker Elliott Smith. Very excited, I flew to Portland, Oregon, where he was staying and met with him to figure it out before we filmed. At the meeting he explained, in a very quiet voice, with a slight smile, that he didn't want it to be a straight-up documentary. So I suggested he write down some of his dreams. The next day, we met again, and he began talking a lot, and louder, telling me all about how he "had a fucked up dream last night." It was very funny when he explained it, everyone in and around the music business he was in was telling him to get a mechanical hand to replace the hand that he'd trained for so long to play guitar. There was also a military recruiter who came into the bar where he was writing a song that would yell at him for no reason, and Satan was there, that kills me. A lot of people who know him from his music don't understand that he was really funny. So we wrote the dream into the shot list and intercut it into the more traditional music footage. It was hard to get the documentary footage out of him, he hated being interviewed. He was much more into the dream sequence and we had a lot fun shooting it. It was an amazing experience and just knowing a guy like that, so talented and brutally honest, has changed my life. Bless him."
Steve Hanft

Elliott Smith – Lucky Three 

An 11-minute short film featuring Elliott Smith playing acoustic songs. Directed by Jem Cohen, the film was recorded October 17-20, 1996 in Portland, Oregon, and released in 1997. It is available on Kill Rock Stars’ Video Fanzine #1 release (1999, out of print). In an MTV indie outing interview, Smith described it as “a cross between a video and a documentary, but actually being neither of the two.”

Elliott Smith & Friends (“backstage” video)

Rare video of Elliott Smith, with members of No. 2, Quasi, & Jr. High. Shot during the 1999 XO tour.

The biggest lie (2003)

Video of the memorial wall in Los Angeles, the day after Elliott Smith died
by nicholasrossi

Elliott Smith's Either/Or (In 5 Minutes)

Pitchfork takes a closer look at the album, in honor of its 20th anniversary (25/02/1997)

5. Music Video

Coming Up Roses (1995)

Elliott’s first solo video. Directed by Ross Harris

Miss Misery (1997)

Directed by Ross Harris

Baby Britain (1998)

Music video by Elliott Smith performing Baby Britain. (C) 1998 Geffen Records

Son of Sam (2000)

Directed by Autumn de Wilde

6. Images

Autumn de Wilde’s portfolio

He worked closely with Elliott Smith as a friend and photographer for several years. Autumn de Wilde (1970) is an American photographer best known for her portraiture and commercial work photography of musicians. In 2007 De Wilde released a book that featured photographs she had taken of late musician Elliott Smith. The book included handwritten lyrics, interviews with close friends and family, and a bonus CD of a live performance.

The Elliott Smith Memorial Wall
The wall Smith stands in front of in Autumn de Wilde’s photograph on the cover of the album “Figure 8″ exists in Los Angeles, and since his death it has become a memorial to him. It is covered with graffiti and written messages containing lyrics and personal messages to Smith. It is located at 4334 W. Sunset Boulevard, which is a store by the name of: “Solutions” Audio-Video Repair, just south of the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue. The original painting was recovered in 2007 after it was vandalized.

Update (sad news): Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 mural to be cut away for new bar

1000+ images about Elliot Smith on Pinterest

Fans of Elliott Smith (1969-2003)

Google Image
Google image search

7. Live Video

Live at the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival
Olympia 1999-07-17 (Full Show)

  1. Son of Sam
  2. Angeles
  3. Rose Parade
  4. Happiness
  5. Taking the Easy Way Out
  6. Southern Belle
  7. Wouldn't Mama Be Proud?
  8. Division Day
  9. The White Lady Loves You More
  10. Stupidity Tries
  11. See You Later
  12. Independence Day

Live at Irving Plaza 2000-05-17 (Full Show)

Ballad Of Big Nothing (1999) – Irving Plaza – NY
Bumbershoot Festival
Seattle | September 02, 2000
JEMS Archive

Live at the Reading Festival
England 1998-08-29 (Full Show)

Stupidity Tries – Elliott Smith on David Letterman Tv Show
Elliott on Letterman performing Stupidity Tries. Got it from the sweetaddy boards. The bass player is Sam Coomes from Quasi.

8. Reviews

Rolling Stone

Magnet – Real Music Alternatives


New York Magazine


Onda Rock



9. Other Elliott Smith Tribute

Late – Ben Folds’ Tribute to Elliott Smith
This was a song Ben Folds composed in memory of Elliott Smith. Folds played a few shows with him. Rest in peace.

Rose Parade: An Atlanta Tribute To Elliott Smith -Trailer #1
Atlanta’s tribute to the late singer/songwriter and great talent Elliott Smith, and its contribution to the project called “Future Butterflies”

Rose Parade: An Atlanta Tribute to Elliott Smith Trailer #2
Atlanta-based film collective, “Rose Parade” is a documentary for and about the fans of Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith – Pitseleh (Fan made video)
A very solid and fine short film

10. Other resources