Could someone explain Elliot Smith

edited September 2013 in Fight Club
I don't mind his music, especially in a movie soundtrack,but I don't quite get the obsession with him. I may have just missed the boat. I know this obsession applies to many musicians who had their lives cut short like Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Amy Winehouse, Jimmy Hendrix, etc.

BTW this ranking of his albums ignited this question,but it's been in my head somewhere for some time.


  • kezkez
    edited September 2013
    Ha, I never got him, either. Actually, I had never heard of him until I discovered Elliott Murphy (who I love, BTW), and for the longest time, every time I would go searching for something by Elliott Murphy I would invariably come across all this stuff by Elliot Smith and how wonderful he was. I gave him a listen, but it never did anything for me.
  • edited September 2013
    To get some idea, look at where this Chris Drabick feller ranks the album Figure 8. Any uninvolved pop music fan listening to the Smith catalogue for the first time, with no preconceived notions whatsoever, would consider this to be his best album, hands-down, no question about it. But this guy ranks it at #4, because it's the least Elliot-Smithey of all the non-posthumous Elliot Smith albums. Likewise, this guy barely mentions his previous work with Heatmiser, a fairly good - but conventional indie-rock band.

    The "obsession" you refer to is coming from fans of a certain brand of bleak acoustic folk music, people who got really fed up with the grunge scene and the punk scene before it and decided this was how they would finally "grow up." To them, Smith was (and is) a hero, and the inconsistency of his solo recordings is just seen as more evidence of his humanity, sensitivity, creativity, and so on. In many ways that's exactly what it is, but to really appreciate it you really had to have attended way too many Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden gigs in the early 90's, imbibed way too many controlled substances and alcohol, and gotten beat-up in way too many fights with rednecks and metalheads.

    Clear as mud?
  • Great question; it's really got me thinking, although I'd have to say, at this point, damned if I know. I used to really like Elliot, but have hardly listened to him in a long time.

    I think Scissorman's got a lot of it right; it does have a bit to do with deciding to grow up. I remember I first got XO around the same time I got Neil Young's Harvest, and Pet Sounds. (Actually I think I got all three in the same BMG music club order.) And it fit well with that whole filled out orchestral pop sound, which felt like more of a grown up sound, and this was right after I graduated college, so it was kind of grow up time.

    But it wasn't so much that I was sick of grunge/alternative; it was more like the scene; the major lable alternative scene was dying out. This is maybe '97, so Cobain is dead, Smashing Pumpkins are turning goth, Soundgarden has broke up or is on it's way, NIN still hasn't come up with a new record. Red Hot Janes of Chilli Addiction Peppers. Etc.

    And while sounding more relaxed and grown up, Elliot still had that whole self destructive thing going that we all loved in the 90's. I remember reading about Courtney Love yelling at Elliot Smith telling him what an asshole he was being. And I remember somebody saying that that era of music had three suicides to define it; Joy Division guy, then Cobain, then Elliot.

    I remember thinking I would always love those albums, especially XO and Either/Or, but when I looked at my cd shelf last night turns out they were sold off long ago.

    So maybe, for me, it would make sense to say that I loved him when I was trying to grow up, and we did grow up late in the '90's, then I fell out of love when I really grew up.

    For what it's worth, I feel like I exactly agree with that guys rankings, even though I don't even know all of those albums. And that's part of it too - it's a certain way you were supposed to feel about Elliot, and a certain album order you were supposed to feel and know, more than what it actually sounded like. But again, that's just for me. But that list really doesn't explain the love very well, does it? I mean, I'm never very good at saying why I like or liked something; but if a professional writer isn't either...

    I guess I really should dig some up and give it another spin.
  • I've always felt the same way as you do, choiceweb. I'm apparently not a true '90s indie music fan, though, because I can't stand Pavement, so my opinion is likely invalid.

  • edited September 2013
    Thanks guys, especially ScissorMan and amclark. I think it really does come to missing out on some artists in their time makes a huge difference on liking them or not. A few years ago I got into Guided By Voices and it wan't that hard to do, but other 90's indie bands have not quite done it for me.


    BTW Under the Radar does this ranking thing fairly regularly. They did that with Belle & Sebastian, though not to my liking.
  • I didn't get into Elliot Smith until around 2002/2003. I think I picked up Figure 8 because it got mentioned in the Onion's AV Club section. I loved it. Still do. I immediately began scooping up everything else by him.

    I think he's a great songwriter, and between his visceral statements of heartbreak, disillusionment, and hopefulness, I find his music consistently hits the bullseye on my heart. I still listen to Figure 8 pretty frequently... I go through binges of it. Either/OR and XO get played from time to time. I never listened to anything that came out after he passed away, though I might get around to it one day. All his music is up on Bandcamp now, so there's plenty of opportunities.

    He appeals to me much in the same way as the music of Nick Drake. I think their music has a lot in common.

    Having discovered his music later than most of his fans, and not being part of any scene that followed him, I can't comment on any characteristics or traits that his fans possess.
  • I never really "got" him either, though honestly I didn't try that hard. That sort of indie folk stuff doesn't do it for me, except as a very occasional change of pace. I do like some Nick Drake, but mostly in passing, if I hear it somewhere. It's not something I'll make a conscious decision to buy and listen to. I owned one or two Elliot Smith CDs back in the day, but they're long gone.
  • I basically skipped the 1990s.
  • Other than one or two artists, me too GP! My first response was Elliot who? Also, of course, being in the UK means I missed out, probably like GP actually, on artists big in the States but not here.
  • @choice - Interestingly I just picked up used copies of "Fold Your Hands..." and "Storytelling"

    I do find it interesting that Smith was fairly conventional sounding overall - that's what makes me wonder why he has such a cult-like following. But pretty much any artist who has an album or two that really strikes a chord with people and then has no follow-up for one reason or another will tend to have that type fanbase around their name.

    I think of groups I love like Neutral Milk Hotel and Postal Service and can't help but wonder if they would be treated the same if they were still together (not counting the current reunion tours).
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