Experiencing Disney Hall

Photo by Jack Gould

The Looky-loos

On Saturday, under an unforgiving sun and a sky slowly filling with smoke from the fires that ringed the city, locals and foreign tourists paraded back and forth along Grand Avenue, checking out Disney Hall, the building Frank Gehry had munificently offered as “a living room for the city.” The crowd, lured by the ceaseless buildup for the opening, hoped to experience firsthand what the hoopla was all about. Unfortunately, the building was shuttered to the public. The First Street staircase leading to the state-owned, tree-shaded garden, with its delft-china fountain dedicated to Lillian Disney, was barricaded. The red carpet was closely guarded. The doors were sealed shut. The onlookers had to settle for cupping their hands to their temples and peering through the glass façade to catch a glimpse of the esteemed Douglas-fir interior — and even this view was mostly hidden by a temporary scrim. In the crabbed language of the studios, this was a closed set.

A sign halfway down the block informed: “IN RESPONSE TO PUBLIC INTEREST THE MUSIC CENTER IS PLEASED TO OFFER FREE PUBLIC TOURING OF WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL.” Beginning November 1, that is. The small print read, “Due to a demanding rehearsal schedule the auditorium is not included in the public tour.” A young woman read the sign aloud and said, “Auditorium is not included. That’s the whole point.” Her friend joked, “So, what do you get? The escalators and restrooms.”

That was the mood: a bit baffled that the hall was closed on the very days it was expected to be open. People seemed to be half looking for some kind of official welcome beyond the customary ribbon-cutting ceremony, which, of course, had been carried out on a weekday strictly to propitiate the city’s Plantagenets, movie moguls and big spenders. The hoi polloi, who showed up Saturday without engraved invitations, had to settle for ogling and fondling the stainless steel and snapping family portraits with Gehry’s famous curves as a backdrop. (The handprints left behind by one pioneer led others, in Grauman’s Chinese fashion, to superimpose their own. By midafternoon, one panel was a forensic puzzle.) There was no musical accompaniment, no docents, no speeches, no pushcart vendors plying hot dogs and Cokes. This might well be the crown jewel, the new center of a resurgent downtown L.A., but not yet it wasn’t.

Despite the heat and the closure, people seemed to like what they saw. One little boy, dressed in navy-blue shorts and matching shoes, sporting a nifty crewcut, commented to his father, “It looks like a spaceship.” Gehry certainly wouldn’t object to that characterization. David Fopp, a German studying philosophy in Berlin, and on a rendezvous with his girlfriend, Christine Paul, who is studying demography in Mexico City, said that the building is “smaller than I thought. It’s not that spectacular” — by which he meant that it didn’t pack as big a visual punch as he had expected. But he also wasn’t willing to accept the view of the German newspapers, which “are saying it’s just a copy of Bilbao. I haven’t been to Bilbao, so it isn’t fair to make a comparison.”

Dave Baran, who was seated in the shade across the street, in front of the Colburn School of Performing Arts, where his 15-year-old son was attending a clarinet lesson, had watched the building go up. He had no interest in joining the gawkers. “It looks like bent aluminum foil to me,” he said, adding, “Either you like what Gehry does or you don’t. There is no in-between.” But that won’t keep him away from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “Just because the outside looks ugly,” he said while patiently awaiting his son’s return, “doesn’t mean it’s no good on the inside. I’ll attend concerts.”

At 2:30, security was scheduled to move in and close Grand altogether. No matter. The public had managed to squeeze in beforehand. They had come, they had seen, not all had been conquered.

—Greg Goldin

The Peanut Gallery

Unlike the clothing usually found on male L.A. Philharmonic subscribers, which ranges from Brooks Brothers all the way to, well, Brooks Brothers, there are an awful lot of Japanese suits tonight at Disney Hall — Japanese suits worn with the new short ties and Japanese suits worn tieless with dark shirts buttoned to the top, plus a scattering of $400 silk shirts open just far enough to reveal tattooed dragons concealed just underneath. What we have is a healthy sampling of those citizens of Los Angeles who attend MoMA rather more often than MOCA and BAM more often than the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

I can’t help but think I’ve never seen Dennis Hopper at a Philharmonic concert before, but maybe he tends to come on Fridays. I’m more of a Sunday afternoon kind of guy myself.

And once you pierce the phalanx of LAPD officers surrounding Bunker Hill, charge to the top of the Henry Mancini Family Staircase, around a dozen oblique corners, up enough blind staircases to furnish any dozen carnival funhouses, past the Bettina and Otis Chandler Aerial Walkway and the Toyota Motor Sales North Window Terrace, through the Deloitte Lobby and finally into the Ralphs/Food4Less Auditorium itself, you are rewarded with a view of the orchestra not unlike leaning out of the hatch of a helicopter to peer at a concert taking place directly beneath your feet. Acrophobes need not apply.

It could be different the 20th time around, but the basic result of Disney Hall’s crazy asymmetries is crazy asymmetry. Which is to say that if you sit in the next-to-last row of the auditorium, a mere bassoon reed’s toss from the undulating ceiling, set after set of spruce breakers coming straight at your head, you may feel as if you’ve had your third martini even if you’re sober as a violist.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, the auditorium is finished with what must be a square kilometer of the kind of blond wood favored by proprietors of extremely expensive Japanese restaurants, which gives the appearance, especially with the skewed chopsticks-in-rice look of the organ pipes, of floating atop the world’s largest sushi bar.

Did I mention Disney Hall is beautiful? It is, sort of, in the nutty way that the Palau is in Barcelona, scrappy Mozart among acres of art nouveau, or even Red Rocks outside Denver, where you can go to see Phish or Yanni amid incredible natural beauty.

But tonight, at the second night of concerts at Disney Hall, something is a little . . . off.

The first piece of the evening, Salonen’s own L.A. Variations, is stuffed with obligatory references to traffic noise, Mexican radio and soundstage swoons, but essentially a bricolage of big-orchestra clichés: Coplandesque bleats, sub-Straussian horn riffing, hard-charging Bartokianisms.

L.A. Variations, with its supple contrabassoon lines, the crisp resonance of the brass, the clean separation of high violin and flute sold the virtues of the hall with the finesse of a high-end stereo salesman pushing a $7,500 pair of speakers.

On paper, John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur must have seemed like a great idea, a stew of the neo-Balinese textures of the late California composer Lou Harrison and both the early minimalist technique and the mid-period Sri Camel lyricism of California composer Terry Riley, but the first half of the piece, at least, is mired in the worst sort of 94.7 chinoiserie, in the guise of Tracy Silverman, a true Kenny G. of the electric violin, whose bleats and burps and ululations are reminiscent of the unfortunate East/West experiments the orchestra conducted 30 years ago with poor Ravi Shankar, an essay in hippie mysticism that signals a genteel contempt for the Los Angeles sensibility, whatever it might be.

And then it occurs to me: This is a concert about going to a concert, with a wink that says, “We know you’d rather be home listening to Radiohead — us too.’’ It’s the ironic distance, the mid-’80s aesthetic in which the hall was conceived, in which Gehry was transforming himself from an architect best known locally for his connections in the art scene into an international architect who had absorbed and synthesized the local art scene’s favorite issues. It’s an attempt on behalf of art to make itself “cool” by not taking itself too seriously. It’s a $6.98 CD in $274 million wrapping paper.

Is this to whom that “Wonder-Phil” ad campaign is addressed?

Anyway, thanks for the Lutoslowski Cello Concerto. Awesome. And nice hall, man.

—Jonathan Gold

The Gehry Effect

There’s a certain undeniable

creative charge to Frank Gehry’s breathtaking Disney Hall. Walking past and under its billowing arcs of metal, I’m besieged by vivid surrealist interpretations — “like a giant baby’s first tossed salad electroplated in chrome.” While public opinion and funding for the hall have waxed and waned over the decade of its glacial erection, I’ve always taken pleasure in it and looked forward to its completion — though even if it had remained a rusting skeleton it would have been the best building on Bunker Hill. As an artwork in and of itself, I can endorse it wholeheartedly. But in a broader cultural perspective I have a few reservations.

I already had issues with Frank Gehry’s influence on contemporary culture, even before my neighbor decided it would be pretty hip to tear out the crumbling redwood fence between us and replace it with tacked-up sheets of corrugated galvanized aluminum. Gehry’s own incorporations of bare-ass materials into high-end architectural designs are usually witty and imaginative — and they keep getting better — but the trickle-down effect of several generations of less inventive monument builders has raised ugly to new heights, with cut-and-paste tract homes and cinder-block strip malls festooning their facades with gratuitous fragments of the urban industrial landscape as if to say, “Look at me! I’m postmodern!” Like the vision of the ’80s hadn’t died out but merely gone underground, only to erupt in a thousand coke-fueled points of rain-washed back-alley neon light.

 

On top of this I have problems with architects (not to mention automobile designers and has-been actresses) taking up space in art museums when some painter or video artist earning, oh, about 10,000 times less a year could have filled the slot. Sure, architects make art, but let them build their own fucking museums. That is to say, if building the museum itself isn’t enough, they can pay to build a second one to display their doodles and laundry lists. Or I guess they can just rent one. Which brings us to “Work in Progress,” Frank Gehry’s enormous MOCA exhibition of sketches and models for a dozen current or failed projects, scheduled to coincide with Disney Hall’s opening. Gehry considers himself the artists’ architect, palling around with the Ferus Gallery bad boys back in the day, and recounting tasty Richard Serra anecdotes in New Yorker profiles. His signature aesthetic was always firmly rooted in 1960s sculptural traditions, even as it became perhaps the most widely accepted lingua franca of postmodernism.

Having vented, I am now free to consider Gehry’s work on its own terms, as it deserves. His best buildings, like Bilbao and Disney Hall, are marked by a sense of the flamboyant improvisational gesture frozen in time and rendered monumental. The displays in “Work in Progress,” designed to convey the details of the creative process, succeed in following this strain from Gehry’s initial, almost automatist doodles (among the most artistic of the objets on view) through incremental stages of practical realization, each more faux-spontaneous than the previous. This is the most conceptually fascinating aspect of the show: how a genuinely expressive freeform gesture, through a process of accommodation to externally imposed limitations set by physics, engineering codes and fashion, becomes a marvelously ambiguous monument to ephemerality.

Taken strictly as artworks, there are several highlights in the exhibition — the enormous suspended womblike fiberglass Sculpture for Gallery A (an abandoned project for Gagosian) being the most obvious. The actual building models are charming in their use of low-tech materials and their occasional absurdity, but after the first hundred or so, their idiosyncrasies seem more like consensus, and they get hard to see. The more gigantic ones — particularly the convoluted play structure representing the Ray and Maria Stata Center for MIT — manage to overcome this effect, but some editing of the models would have helped. Curiously, another space-saving strategy results in some of the show’s best visual effects. Several of the site models — to-scale representations of the proposed building in its environs, including adjacent buildings, foliage, streets, etc. — are hung like paintings, and read like surprisingly fresh ones at that. Form may follow function, but once they get where they’re going, function can be ditched without any loss of oomph. The Disney Hall section of the exhibit is strangely undernourished, offering little that can’t be experienced in full-body Sensurround by walking two blocks to experience the actual building.

A couple of Industry yuppies have recently moved in on the other side of us and are busy scuttling the rat-infested charm of Mrs. Keena’s crumbling Craftsman bungalow in favor of some kind of Dwell-mandated institutional slickness. Maybe we’ll luck out when they get around to the fence this time, though, and they’ll install some swooping trickle-down Gehry that my nephews can use for skateboard practice.

—Doug Harvey

Ernest Speaks

Are you happy with the result, Ernest Fleischmann?

“Deliriously,” says Fleischmann.

As long ago as 1969, when the 45-year-old Fleischmann took on the daunting job of general director of Zubin Mehta’s (and Dorothy Chandler’s) Philharmonic, the poverty of sound in the Music Center’s crowning concert hall was recognized and widely discussed. “A highly undistinguished noise,” Fleischmann remembered in last week’s phone chat. “The winds and brass constantly had to overblow ‰ just to make themselves heard. We were never able to hear the bass end of the sound spectrum, and basses are the foundation of any orchestra.”

The Music Center was planned and built as a blatant imitation of New York’s Lincoln Center, and the sound at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion turned out nearly as much of an acoustical disaster as had Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall. “No, our hall wasn’t that bad,” says Fleischmann. “But the Lincoln Center people were at least able to find the money to make a few repairs. We couldn’t. We called in acoustic engineers, but everything they suggested was far beyond anything we could afford.

 

“Actually, we had two kinds of problem. The poor sound was only one of them. The other was what you could call a matter of ‘psycho-acoustics.’ The Chandler was built to house both concerts and stage presentations. That meant there had to be a proscenium, to frame the stage and separate it from the audience. There isn’t an all-purpose hall anywhere that can offer good sound for both kinds of entertainment. The first marvel at Disney — of many — is its lack of proscenium.”

Neither Fleischmann nor anyone else in Los Angeles could have anticipated Lillian Disney’s determination, in 1985, to step onto the Music Center stage with her $50 million gift for a new hall. “I knew Mrs. Disney, of course,” says Fleischmann, “and maybe we had talked about hall problems in a cursory way. But her gift came out of the blue. The Philharmonic was in Europe when the news broke. I was flying back to Los Angeles, and was in the TWA lounge in New York, changing planes, when somebody had me paged with the news. I think I may have finished my flight without the help of an airplane.”

As Philharmonic honcho until his retirement in 1998, Fleischmann played an active role in the Disney Hall planning, pushing hard for the installation of a proper pipe organ — a rarity in Los Angeles concert halls — and in the selection of qualified acoustical advice. “One day — in 1988 or thereabouts — I got a call from the pianist Krystian Zimmerman, a good friend. He was on tour in Japan, and had just played in a new hall in Tokyo, Suntory. He was really excited about the sound in that hall, and urged me to get in touch with the acousticians who had created that atmosphere. I did, and that’s how the firm of Minoru Nagata, and his young assistant Yasuhisa Toyota, came onto the scene.”

The results are now there, for all to see, to hear and to marvel at. Fleischmann’s dream of an audible bass section has now come true. “It’s the first thing you notice, brilliant, warm and sweet,” he reports, “and it goes right to your gut.”

At last week’s inaugural concert, Disney Hall’s immediate perpetrators — architect Frank Gehry, acoustic wizard Yasuhisa Toyota and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen — received their deserved audience acclaim from center stage. In front, over to the left but still in the spotlight, stood Ernest Fleischmann, beaming, fulfilled, deliriously happy.

— Alan Rich

In this issue's A Lot of Night Music: Alan Rich reviews the first two performances at Disney Hall.

Elliott Smith
1969–2003



Misery seeks company.
(Photos by Tom Christie)


Elliott Smith, 34, critically lauded and much-loved singer-songwriter, was discovered at his home in Echo Park Tuesday morning of last week with a single stab wound to the chest. He was rushed to USC Medical Center, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Born Steven Paul Smith on August 6, 1969, in Omaha, Nebraska, Smith grew up near Dallas, where he showed a talent for playing a variety of instruments and a knack for songwriting at an early age. Relocating to Portland after earning a degree in political science and philosophy from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, he formed the band Heatmiser, and began his solo career in 1994 with the release of Roman Candle, a collection of introspective ballads and haunting instrumental work on local label Cavity Search. Switching to the Olympia-based Kill Rock Stars label the following year, Smith earned mounting acclaim for his self-titled second release, and in 1997 achieved something of a mainstream breakthrough with Either/Or, a work whose spellbinding melodies caught the attention of filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who featured several of the album’s songs — along with the Oscar-nominated “Miss Misery” — on his Good Will Hunting soundtrack.

After a brief time in New York, Smith relocated to Los Angeles and made the leap to major label DreamWorks for his next two releases, 1998’s XO and 2000’s Figure 8 — both of which won well-deserved critical accolades and moderate commercial success. But around the time of his disastrous appearance at the 2001 Sunset Junction Street Fair, it became apparent that he was losing his battle with the alcoholism, depression and heroin addiction he had chronicled so candidly in compositions like “Needle in the Hay.” At the time of his death, Smith had been working on a double album, tentatively titled From a Basement on the Hill, with local producer Fritz Michaud.





 

I knew Elliott. But I don’t pretend that I knew Elliott. I met him about a year ago, at the beginning of what appeared for him to be a slow rebirth following years of self-destructive behavior. He was a strange guy, acutely sensitive, but totally sweet. He didn’t say much, but when he did, you held your breath in anticipation of his thoughts, always profound and often witty. He was unflinchingly honest. His brain seemed to operate like a computer designed to accept only truth and produce only beauty. He recognized falsehood instantly, but he rejected it awkwardly, as if it threatened to crash his system. He seemed utterly unaware of his own genius and processed every compliment with total humility.

Like his idols, Lennon and McCartney, Elliott wrote melodies so perfect, so natural, they seemed to creep into the marrow of your bones and permanently etch themselves onto your DNA. As soon as he completed a song, it just rang out as though it had existed forever.

His music was so enrapturing it seemed to infect your ear at the cellular level and metastasize throughout your body, affecting heart and mind in equal measure. And his lyrics were the product of great intellect and limitless imagination. If Elliott never sang a note, he would still have been in the running for poet laureate of his generation. Like Dylan, his words always painted a complete portrait, not simply tailored to his lush melodies but interwoven with them as if they’d been born conjoined twins. Sometimes nakedly confessional, sometimes steeped in metaphor, Elliott’s songs were never works of fiction. Though he exploited artistic license to great effect, it was obvious he knew exactly what he was talking about. His fragile singing embodied those lyrics with a conviction so real it was almost frightening. His voice haunted your speakers, leaving the air around them thick with the unfiltered essence of pure soul.



(Photo by Ted Soqui)

“Mr. Misery,” they called him, and he despised the simplistic tag, but there was some truth to it. As all things in the universe have a resonating frequency, so did Elliott. As a man he was capable of experiencing the full gamut of emotions, including great joy, but as a songwriter Elliott was a sounding board for sorrow and pain. Not that he burdened you with his problems. He confided in you his most personal thoughts, with a sublime generosity. You could commiserate with Elliott. He understood you. If you needed a soul mate when you were upset, he was there for you.

The last time I saw him was at his birthday party at the Roost. I sat across from him at the table with a handful of his closest friends, feeling incredibly privileged to share his special day with them. We talked about Dallas, the town we’d both grown up in, about trends in the music industry and about the new double album he was working on. He was shy and soft-spoken as always, but looked healthier and more upbeat than he’d been in years. I had brought a present for him, a pintsize music box. He took my gift with great care and held it to his ear, turning the tiny crank to the tune that carried my unspoken message of love for him: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.” Elliott didn’t say a word. He just looked at me, grinning like a little kid.

—Liam Gowing

Well, I’m sitting in Portland, Oregon, right now, after postponing part of our tour. Here to attend memorial services for our beloved friend. Portland is where I first met Elliott, but I really came to know him in L.A. He was inspiring, hilarious, hyperintelligent and completely frustrating.

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 sat down at the piano together, went through the tune a couple of times, and began to work on some chords and different melodies. He came up with 10 different versions almost immediately. I asked him to show me again. And again. I was trying to keep up. He was a far better piano player than I. Finally, he got frustrated and said, “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.

—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 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 [Pollard] 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.

—Imaad Wasif
(alaska! and New Folk Implosion)

I had an old boyfriend who knew Elliott, and he had an album of his early songs, Roman Candle, I believe, and I got to be a big fan of this local Portland album and would listen to it when we were shooting Good Will Hunting, to the point that during breaks I would put on Elliott’s music and, by that time, two other solo records of Elliott’s work as well as Roman Candle. When we edited the movie, we put all of the songs into it, so the spirit and sound of the movie is largely Elliott Smith. We edited in Portland, so I finally called up Elliott, through the old boyfriend, and we had coffee and talked, then I showed him the movie on a VHS tape at my house, which was also the editing room. I said, “Now, don’t be shocked too much, because we’ve put a lot of your songs in there. And normally I wouldn’t show you the movie with your songs in it, but they work so well that I want to.” And Elliott seemed to be pleased with what he saw and gave us the permission to use the songs in the movie. He said after everything was over that he was happy with the experience, because his mom had something tangible to say to her friends about her son. That he was on the Academy Awards playing a song that he wrote for a movie.

 

—Gus Van Sant

“Did you hear, elliott smith suicide 10:56AM 10/21/2003.” The terse text message, received via cell phone, was the first of many calls and e-mails I received from friends last week about the singer’s death. My first reaction was an audible gasp — a brief, ‰ sharp exhalation of breath. Like many who loved his five solo albums of melancholia, it struck me more like a death in the family than the death of a pop star.

I can imagine Elliott, sitting in the kitchen of his Echo Park apartment early last week, enmeshed in dark and romantic thoughts. How impossible it was to be gentle in this world. All the cruelties and failures and self-hatred this world bestows on those who just want to be kind. There’s one snatch of lyrics, from his first album, that roil in my mind:

Go home and live with your pain
Leave alone
Leave alone ’cause you know you don’t belong
You don’t belong here
And when I go
Don’t you follow

Because his songs implied so much love for musicians that had come before, it’s hard not to think he considered his predecessors. John Lennon shot dead on his front doorstep. Nick Drake overdosing on antidepressants. And poets, too: the French decadents — Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud. Thoughts long teetering in his mind lock in. He takes up a kitchen knife and plunges it into his own heart. Because that’s where the pain lies, and he wants us to remember his life as something of a piece with his music; to remember that few ever make art so fragile, lucid and clear of purpose.

Was it a surprise? Puzzle over his legacy all you want, but any interpretation would be bleak. Recent, unreleased songs included “Let’s Get Lost,” “A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity To Be Free,” “Strung Out Again,” “Shooting Star” and “Fond Farewell.” His most popular early record, Either/Or, was named after a book by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in which Kierkegaard posited that the aesthete would eventually find himself in a state of despair, brought on by a recognition of the limits of an aesthetic approach to life. It was a despair Elliott could not get past.

I met Elliott Smith once, over two days’ time, for a profile in this newspaper. It was my first cover story, my big break. We met one night at Largo, where he played joyful Ringo-style drums with Jon Brion. The next day we played croquet in the Silver Lake back yard of his then-manager, and ate pizza at an unpretentious Italian restaurant on Vermont Street.

We talked a bit about the word melancholy. He had his own definition. To him it didn’t mean depression. “That word has a huge stigma,” he said. “It is essentially used to mean dark, when I think what it’s actually supposed to mean is a combination of happy and sad.” Over the next few years, I’d spot him in crowds at various bars and shows in Silver Lake and Los Feliz, but he wore an intense shyness, a cloud of privacy I thought it’d be mean to interrupt.

But now I wish I’d said some things. That our cruelties are ours to pay for, not yours. That the existentialists are a bad source of romantic notions. And that while you thought you had to die for our sins and errors and fumblings, all we wanted was for you to sing about them a thousand more times.

And when I go
Don’t you follow

—Alec Hanley Bemis

A memorial benefit for Elliott Smith will be held at the Henry Fonda Theater on Monday, November 3; doors open at 6 p.m. Beck, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Grandaddy, Beth Orton and others are confirmed to perform, and Steve Hanft will premiere his film Strange Parallel, which features Elliott Smith. All proceeds benefit the Elliott Smith Foundation for Abused Children; $20; tickets available at www.ticketweb.com. Info: (323) 464-0808.

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