This day in music history: Elliott Smith

October 21, 2011. That’s today.
October 21, 2003. That was the day the late and great Elliott Smith died.

As an avid Elliott Smith fan, I need to utilize this moment to commemorate this amazing and extremely talented man. Because when I say avid, I mean ridiculously avid, guys. I have an Elliott Smith shirt and vinyl records and all of the paraphernalia you could ever ask for.

Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith was born in Omaha, Nebraska on August 6, 1969, but he spent most of his life in Texas and in Portland, Oregon. He began his music career extremely early; he started playing piano at age nine and, a year later, picked up acoustic guitar and composed his own piece for piano—titled “Fantasy.”

His burst of childhood musicianship was a definite sign of the skills to come. While studying political science and philosophy in Amherst, Massachusetts at Hampshire College, he was in the band Heatmiser. Smith, Neil Gust (guitarist), Brandt Peterson (bassist) and Tony Lash (drummer) relocated to Portland, Oregon in 1992, and they went on to release three full-length albums titled Dead Air, Cop and Speeder and Mic City Sons and an EP called Yellow No. 5.

Smith started his solo work in 1994, while still in Heatmiser whose last album was released two years later. His firs two albums, his debut Roman Candle and his self-titled second record, were released in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

With the release of Either/Or in 1997, Smith started gaining positive attention and flattering reviews. On this album, his extensive instrumental skills finally became apparent. Though the acoustic guitar was always his number one instrument, he also highlighted his own drumming, piano, bass guitar and electric guitar abilities. (He was also an excellent clarinet and harmonica player, but that was apparently less relevant.)

With the release of his single “Miss Misery”—off the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting—Smith finally emerged as a prominent member of the music scene and was highlighted at the Oscars in 1998. From there on out, Smith was signed to a major record label, DreamWorks Records, where he produced XO and Figure 8. This, unfortunately, was also the same time that his mental state deteriorated. He fell deeper into depression, perpetuated by heavy drug use, and had a diet strictly consisting of ice cream.

By 2003, he had gone to rehab and was doing considerably better. However, at age 34, Smith tragically died from stab wounds to the chest. It’s always been speculated whether or not this was a suicide, as the autopsy was inconclusive. I guess it can be left up to the fans, huh? Two more albums, From a Basement on a Hill and New Moon, a two-disc compilation album, were released after his death.


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