We map the record stores, streets, and clubs where our city’s drizzle seeped into the singer-songwriter’s music, with local author William Todd Schultz’s new biography, Torment Saint, as our guide.
1. LINCOLN HIGH: For Smith, the transfer from suburban Dallas schools to the comfortable liberalism of Lincoln was a bit of a culture shock, but he soon found friends—and bandmates—in a group of musically inclined gifted-and-talented types. In Lincoln’s 1987 yearbook, Smith’s “final words” as a senior are Tom Waits’s: “Just let me fall out the window with confetti in my hair.”
2. DJANGO RECORDS: Smith killed hours flipping through LPs at this High Fidelity–esque, now-closed shop. Django even stocked tapes by Smith’s high school band Stranger Than Fiction—and, to the teen’s disbelief, actually sold some.
3-6. SATYRICON, X-RAY CAFE, LA LUNA, EJ’S: These grungy, now-shuttered rock clubs formed the circuit for Smith’s post-college band, Heatmiser. In Torment Saint, Schultz’s sources remember the 1990s Portland scene as a “backwater” where “hookups and drama were commonplace,” but where a noncompetitive, anticommercial spirit bred creativity.
7. ALAMEDA: From the street the protagonist of “Alameda” walks down, “shuffling [his] deck of trick cards over everyone,” to an intersection near where the man in “Needle in the Hay” is “gonna make it all OK” (SE Sixth & Powell), Portland roads pop up like signposts in Smith’s lyrics.
8. ELLIOTT AVENUE: As apocrypha has it, the singer, né Steve, chose his name from this Ladd’s Addition thoroughfare. But according to Torment Saint, the pseudonym was in fact a high school girlfriend’s nickname for Smith.
Check out a playlist of Elliott Smith songs with Portland references: