Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith

Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith

William Todd Schultz

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 1620407841

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Elliott Smith was one of the most gifted songwriters of the '90s, adored by fans for his subtly melancholic words and melodies. He died violently in LA in 2003, under what some believe to be questionable circumstances, of stab wounds to the chest. By this time fame had found him, and record-buyers who shared the listening experience felt he spoke directly to them from beyond: astute, damaged, lovelorn, fighting until he could fight no more. And yet Smith remained unknowable. In "Torment Saint," William Todd Schultz gives us the definitive biography of the rock star, imbued with affection, authority, sensitivity, and long-awaited clarity.

"Torment Saint" draws on Schultz's careful, deeply knowledgeable readings and insights, as well as on more than 150 hours of interviews with close friends from Texas to Los Angeles, lovers, bandmates, music peers, managers, label owners, and recording engineers and producers. This book unravels the remaining mysteries of Smith's life and his shocking, too early end. It's an indispensable examination of his life and legacy.

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just knocked it out of the park. All arpeggios. All over the keyboard. Hitting it with a lot of flourish. I was stunned and flabbergasted.” Pickering humbly reciprocated, trying out the ’70s instrumental “Music Box Dancer,” or perhaps, as he remembers it, the theme from Chariots of Fire. The feeling even then was that nothing measured up to what Elliott did, what he was capable of. His talent, the effortless way he learned and played, set him miles apart from all other practicing young musicians,

for making sense of these commonalities. Milieu is one, the prevailing mid-1980s zeitgeist. Smith and Cobain played and hung out in the same clubs and bars, they absorbed similar punk, indie, anything-goes aesthetics. Satyricon, for instance, named after the Fellini film, was opened in 1983 by former cab driver George Touhouliotis in Portland’s Chinatown, a “real shithole” of a neighborhood with open drug dealing, fights, knives, guns.3 “A mere attempt to walk the sidewalks … required a helmet

marijuana appeared to affect his perception of time. He was into the phenomenology of the altered states experience. He approached it almost philosophically. When not scheming to get high the boys reverted to the usual ways of passing time. They shot hoops. They went to the Red Bird Mall. They also snuck into R-rated movies. Denbow recalls seeing Johnny Dangerously with Elliott, also The Outsiders. But this was all down time. The true mania was for getting the band back together, rehearsing and

Duckler, calls him “really, extremely deep and intelligent.” He was, according to Gonson, a “lifelong friend” of Elliott’s, and unlike some of the other friendships from earlier days, this one was “not optional” in the least. It was essential. Relations inside Heatmiser, however, were fraying. Roman Candle had not been threatening to the band initially, and Elliott always wrote songs of his own concurrently with Heatmiser tunes. In that way things were status quo. But Heatmiser’s vision, where

first version he’s competing with a guy for a girl; in the final version he’s competing with himself for the image (that sells “personal hells”). The song thumps to a close and the chorus repeats as if to fade, but its bottom drops out; there’s a musical descent like a fall, like sound hitting an elevator shaft. “Everybody’s dying just to get the disease,” Elliott sings three times. It’s a chilling final observation. The disease is the big blue screen of fame—which Elliott predicts with “Pictures

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