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Choice Sides - The Music And Curious Death Of Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith rose to prominence with the song Miss Misery which was featured at the end credits in the movie Good Will Hunting. Before that he was an indie rock singer/songwriter who was very comfortable with his lot in life playing clubs to the small crowd who would recognize and appreciate his music, not to be taken further than that small room. He was uncomfortable with commercial success stating:

Songs like Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud from the album Figure 8 speaks of his success after the movie as something to live up to for others, not himself.


The question is wouldn’t mama be proud?
There’s a silver lining in the corporate cloud
And the pretty post that you’re taking as
As an NCO of the great pretender
I should sure think so

Wouldn’t mama be proud?

He didn’t hide his suspicion for those he believed would harm him, like the record label wanting to make him a big star. From the song Angeles (about his time living in L.A):

I can make you satisfied in
Everything you do
All your secret wishes could right
Now be coming true
And be forever with my broken arms

Smith was an addict. He spent most of his adult life under the influence of one substance or another. He went from alcohol to heroine to crack cocaine in no particular order. One reason he moved from Portland, Ore. to New York and ending up in Los Angeles was the vein hope of finding sobriety.


From the song Between The Bars:

Drink up with me now and forget all about
The pressure of days, do what I say
And I’ll make you okay and drive them away
The images stuck in your head

People you’ve been before that you
Don’t want around anymore
That push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still


This was his worldview. The simple truth about Elliott Smith was that his music was melancholic. A seemingly unfair reduction of his art, though difficult to deny. Yet his songs and the lyrics within touched on that part of us that has felt or is feeling that sense of loss, of heartache. You relate to the earnest words of someone who can’t quite get away from his demons, pointing out shortcomings that reflect out own faults rather accurately.


Ultimately, he was known to his friends as one suffering from depression. They accepted his constant claims of wanting to commit suicide as typical, and to some, even inevitable.

On October 21, 2003, after yet another arguement with his girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, who locked herself in the bathroom because Elliott once again threatened to kill himself. She then heard a scream coming from the living room in their shared place and found him with a kitchen knife sticking out of his chest, it penetrated his heart. Emergency surgery failed and he died. Smith was 34 years old.


After the police completed the investigation, it was ruled a suicide. Again, no one who was a friend was surprised by the inevitable. This should have been the end of the story, but it’s L.A. after all.

He lived a long period of sobriety attributed to Jennifer’s positive influence, but there had been signs of his return to drugs in the months leading up to his death. The relationship with his girlfriend - Jennifer was a member of the local punk band Happy Endings. Smith became their producer/manager/agent, which is how they met and formed a relationship - was not as picture perfect as the two made it out to be. They would be seen constantly involved in volatile fights, breaking up only to reunite. Some of the people familiar with them described the couple as Sid and Nancy as in Sid Vicious from The Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. A relationship which also ended with one (Nancy) stabbed to death.


Jennifer Chiba had remained silent about Smith’s death until The Smoking Gun released the coroner’s report wherein it was concluded that the stab wounds were not entirely indicative of a suicide:


On the surface, the two wounds specifically are consistent with suicide. However, there were no “ hesitation wounds”. A victim will not usually kill himself with one stab, hesitation wounds are indicative cuts of the many attempts that incrementally lead up to the one final and fatal stab.


Chiba then went on MTV News with a statement of denial in any involvement with Smith’s death:


This lead to the involvement of Smith’s family (father, mother and step-sister) and through their attorney they refuted the claim Chiba made that “they know the truth.”


This triggered resentment between his family and now former girlfriend all the while the LAPD recognizing the coroner’s findings did not, and to this day have not further investigated the matter.

It would be good to have a show Like 48 Hours or Dateline do an episode on Elliott Smith that might bring the truth to light or at the very least, bring attention to an unsolved case. The family deserves this. Elliott Smith deserves this.

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