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Elliott Smith, 1969–2003 

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Photo by Ted Soqui

When singer-songwriter Elliott Smith departed on October 21, he took with him the hearts of many. Some of those privileged to know him share a few thoughts:

Well, I’m sitting in Portland, Oregon, right now, after postponing part of our tour. Here to spend time with loved ones and attend memorial services for our beloved friend. Portland is where I first met Elliott, but I really came to know him in L.A. I feel very lucky to have been a part of his life and he a part of mine. He was so warm and generous. I learned so much from him, not just musically, but in life as a whole. He was inspiring, hilarious, hyperintelligent and completely frustrating.

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But there was always a lesson to be learned from his positives and negatives. I went over to his house so that he could help me out with a song I was stuck on. I needed some chord changes and some help with a melody (so why not ask the best, right?). We sit down at the piano together, go through the tune a couple of times, and began to work on some chords and different melodies. He comes up with 10 different versions almost immediately. I asked him to show me again. And again. I was trying to keep up. He’s a far better piano player than I. Finally he gets frustrated and says, "You know, Aaron, maybe you should go home and work on this some more." I left. I was pissed off. I was pissed at him for not having patience, and I was pissed at myself for not being able to hang. I picked up a six-pack and drove straight to the studio, where I sat at that piano determined to finish the tune. It was great, not only did I finish it, but I used his ideas, embellished upon them and made them my own. The song has become one of my proudest achievements.

But that was his plan all along. He wanted me to get knocked down. He wanted me to get up. He wanted me to do it myself. I learned a lot that day. I miss him very much. And he will be missed by many others. It’s like my friend Scott said, "He belonged to so many people." I think that is a great thing. This was just one story. There’s a million more out there.

—Aaron Espinoza (Earlimart)

Elliott’s passing is a terrible loss for myself and many of my friends, who knew, worked and hung out with him. Needless to say, he was one of the best songwriters of our day and a formidable musician. He was also soft-spoken, intelligent and extremely humble. He had an acute sense of justice. At one of my shows last year he tried to intervene with security who were harassing a kid, and was in turn beaten and handcuffed by them. We knew he’d had his struggles over the years, but I was heartened by word that he was on an upswing and preparing a new album. We had recently talked a few times about getting together and making some music. Nobody could have known what was going to happen, but I am grateful for the times we got to tour and hang out together. He will be missed, and the ramifications of his absence will long be felt.

—Beck

Elliott was very encouraging to me about my songs, and that meant a lot to me. He was a really sweet guy who wasn’t equipped to deal with some of the cards that life dealt him. I’ll always remember walking offstage one night after playing "It’s a Motherfucker" and Elliott walking up behind me in the dark and patting me on the back. That’s how I will remember him.

—E (Eels)

Elliott Smith’s contribution to music will never fade. He was a truly gifted songwriter and musician, steadfast in his "orphan at the banquet" ideals. He was one of the more complex people I had ever met, harsh, funny, fucked-up, jock-hating, fast-picking, paranoid, abused and abusive, worldly, intelligent and insanely generous. One of my best memories of him was from the tour that he took us on in 2001. We were all backstage at the Showbox in Seattle. Russ and I were rehearsing a song, and Elliott started singing along and said, "What’s that one called?" I said, "‘The Western Shore.’" He turned away and said, "I like that one."

In that second he made me feel fucking great. I wish I could have returned the feeling. I wish I’d told him how much some of his songs meant to me . . . I wish he wouldn’t have turned away.

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