Remembering Elliott Smith

Collaborators and friends of Elliott Smith share their favorite memories and songs before a star-studded memorial show.

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg August 1, 2013

October 21 of this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the day the iconic singer-songwriter—and Portland favorite son—Elliott Smith died. But by scheduling “No Name #1: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Elliott Smith” around August 6, the organizers of the four-date, four-city series of Smith memorial shows have chosen to commemorate a far happier occasion: the day Smith came into this world, bringing with him his musical gift. Between August 4 and August 10, over four concerts in all the places Smith lived (Texas, Portland, New York City, and Los Angeles), a total of more than 100 musicians will pay tribute to Smith’s melancholically beautiful work. Each concert will benefit a local nonprofit. (In Portland, it’s homeless-youth services provider Outside In.)

Smith didn’t move to Portland until he was a teenager, and he left for New York in his late 20s, but there’s little debate among fans that the grittier, somehow grayer, Rose City of the ‘80s and ‘90s was where the musician came into his own, first as a member of seminal local rock outfit Heatmiser, then as a solo artist. Forget the fact that his songs contain numerous references to Portland places and happenings (the Rose Parade, Northeast Alameda Street, the MAX Yellow Line)—it was here, at clubs like the X-Ray and dives like Club 21, that Smith met most of the artists with whom he would continue working until his death: Pete Krebs, Larry Crane, Gus Van Sant, etc. 

No Name #1: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Elliott Smith
August 4 at 8 pm 
Doug Fir Lounge 
Many of these friends and collaborators will be performing at Portland’s No Name #1 show, giving our memorial added emotional weight. In advance of the concert, we asked a few of them to share their  favorite Elliott Smith memory and song.

Pete Krebs (of Hazel, the Pete Krebs Trio, and many more) 

Eliciting Elliott: “We were on tour together, somewhere in the South, and went up the road from the venue in the afternoon to grab a drink and play some pool. We got to talking to this girl who was thinking about joining the Army, who seemed kind of lost and unhappy. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out, and by the time we had left Elliott had convinced her to go back to school and follow her dream of being a photographer, instead of joining up. I don't think anyone had ever told her that it was OK to pursue what it was she really wanted to do. He was a good guy.

Smith single: “‘Say Yes.’ I think it’s brilliant both musically and lyrically, and it is the tune I connect most with the person I knew.”


Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy)

Eliciting Elliott: “My music doesn't get too complex in its arrangements, but every now and then I like to plant little sonic Easter eggs in my songs. A few days into our [Grandaddy’s] tour with Elliott, we were hanging out and he brought up a song of mine and mentioned a subtle little sneaky chord change I did on the recording, and it kind of blew me away. I mean, not only had he listened, but he really listened, and the fact that I was even discussing this with him was a big thrill to me.”

Smith single: “Too many to list…but probably ‘Everything Means Nothing to Me.’”

Larry Crane (owner of Jackpot! Recording Studio and editor of
Tape Op magazine)

Eliciting Elliott: “Elliott came over to my home studio, Laundry Rules, and recorded the vocals on ‘Pictures of Me’ because we had the same tape deck, and his mixing board had stopped working. He'd checked out my studio space a week prior, when Joanna Bolme [of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks] dragged him to a party my wife and I were throwing. I had heard his band Heatmiser and his first solo album, Roman Candle, but I hadn't thought too much about his music. "Pictures of Me" floored me, with such a concise instrumental arrangement and perfect vocal layers. I mentioned that it reminded me of the Left Banke or the Zombies and a shot of recognition passed between us: ‘Oh, you like this sort of music?’ Little did I know that in six months, we'd be driving around Portland looking for a building to rent for what became my studio, Jackpot! Recording.

Smith single: “Pictures of Me”

Gus Van Sant

Eliciting Elliott:
In an email, Van Sant simply fondly remembers seeing Smith at EJ's, a now-shuttered bar on Sandy Boulevard.

According to Torment Saint, a forthcoming Smith biography by local author William Todd Schultz, Van Sant listened to Smith's debut record, Roman Candle, while filming Good Will Hunting and put many of the album's songs into the film during editing, before he had even met the musician. "The spirit of the movie is largely Elliott Smith," the director told LA Weekly in 2003.   

Smith single: Van Sant claims not to have a favorite—but how could it not be "Miss Misery," the song Smith wrote for Good Will Hunting's soundtrack, and which earned the musician an Oscar nomination? 

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