We need to read again why J. Chiba sued Elliott Smith’s family and more particularly Marta Greenwald, Elliott Smith’s stepmother. This is exactly the text of the lawsuit Chiba filled on July 30 2004 after saying she began a romantic relationship with Elliot Smith, moved in with him on August 26, 2002 until his death on October 21, 2003.
‘On July 30, 2004, Chiba sued Greenwald for breach of oral contract, quantum meruit, declaratory relief and constructive trust.
The complaint alleged that Chiba and Smith entered into an oral agreement in August 2002. Chiba and Smith allegedly agreed to “live together, cohabitate and combine their efforts and earnings,” “share equally any and all property accumulated as a result of their efforts whether individual or combined,” and “hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife’. The complaint claimed Smith promised to provide for Chiba’s “financial needs and support for the rest of her life” in exchange for her domestic services as his “homemaker, housekeeper, cook, secretary, bookkeeper and financial counselor,” “forgo[ing] any independent career opportunities’.
In a separate paragraph, the complaint also alleged that Chiba had agreed to be Smith’s “manager and agent for the purposes of arranging [his] booking and scheduling [his] appearances for musical performances” and to carry out “the preparation and production of [his] album” in exchange for “15% of the proceeds earned and received.”
Chiba claimed Greenwald breached the agreement by refusing to pay her for performing her contracted services. Chiba attached to her complaint a creditor’s claim in excess of $1 million for the contracted services she rendered to Smith and for the proceeds from his compositions, performances and albums.’
So how the hell this breach of oral contract suddenly turned into something completely different as she declared it at the second Q&A on Sunday May 8th ? This is what was reported she said to explain her lawsuit: Elliott had ‘told her that if something happened to him, he didn’t want his family to have control over his music because they would censor it, change it, and destroy the integrity of it’. Liam Gowing, who was also present at the Q&A, also said it was true.
Obviously the family could not put everything on the album, and when Chiba is talking about censored songs, if she considers that ‘Suicide Machine’ is one of them, I have to laugh at the idea the family censored a song with a line like ‘Everybody’s trying to turn me into a suicide machine’ but included songs with lines like ‘I can’t prepare for death any more than I already have’ in King’s Crossing or ‘A little less than a suicide/The only things that you really tried’ in ‘A Fond Farewell’, or even ‘I know my place/Hate my face/I know how I begin/And how I’ll end’ in ‘Strung out again’. There are enough references about death, self-destruction and suicide in this album to convince tons of people that Elliott committed suicide anyway.
Sure they did not include “Abused’ but this is what Ashley, Elliott’s half-sister, said about it, just after the publication of Liam Gowing’s article in Spin magazine:
‘I don’t know how to answer that. Is not including a song on a particular record censorship? If so, Elliott is guilty of censoring all of his past records too. Sure, there are reasons, (sometimes technical, sometimes opinion-based,) that some songs aren’t on there, but Elliott would have had to make these tough decisions too, and whether or not he had a “finished” track listing in his mind is up to interpretation. Ask anyone who’s ever worked on a record with him. He goes back and forth up until it’s finalized. I can say that I personally didn’t strongly object to any songs that were his own compositions making it. There just wasn’t enough room to include all the songs, so choices were made. Abused is one of those songs that everyone says was censored. Well, I can tell you that that song was recorded well before Figure 8 came out, and Elliott actively chose not to include it on that record. We have proof of that. Did I want it included on this one? I think it’s a beautiful song, and I do hope someday that it gets released, but others in his family may have a different idea. I don’t know, and I can’t speak for them.’
‘Other songs, like True Love, were really meant to be on there, but his vocals were so raw and unclean on the version we had intact that we weren’t sure Elliott would have put it out. We did find out the whereabouts, later, of a cleaner version, and hopefully that can make it out eventually. We’ll see. It literally was found about three days late to make the cut.
Basically what I’m saying is that decisions HAD to be made, and so songs got chosen over others. None of us are conspiring to hide anything, at least I can speak for myself, and as for not wanting to put depressing songs on there, listen to the music. If we were really censoring the songs, pretty much NONE of them would have made it. There wouldn’t have been a record. Elliott’s songs are beautiful, and sad, and touching, and heart-felt, and sometimes very autobiographical, and sometimes more metaphorical. But there’s no doubt that this is a dark record. He was in a dark time for most of the last 4 years. And those dark songs still made it. Because we felt that that’s how he wanted it.’
Basically, they had to make some choices and the clean versions of some songs were not found on time. And I understand why they also did not include ‘See You In Heaven’, simply this song was not finished and no version with lyrics was ever found, ask Larry Crane….
Furthermore, if the family members are not convinced Elliott committed suicide, as many of some of their rare declarations tend to point it out, it is very understandable they might have left out anything with suicide in the title, honestly having a song called ‘Suicide machine’ on a album like this would have been such a stigma, even though the lyrics of this song are anything but a I-want-kill-myself declaration.
There are other aspects to the story, Johan Wohlert, of Danish indie band Mew, wrote on his blog that, he helped in the recording of the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ by Elliott and his father Gary Smith in a Los Angeles studio on 18th September 2001. This song was supposed to be on the soundtrack of the Royal Tenenbaums but was never released for some reason. He was recording with his father, so how could he have been in bad terms with him? How his alleged fear of his family taking control over his music could have been directed toward his father, who is currently making music decisions for the estate? Could his fear have been directed against his label rather?
And I am not entirely done, this sentence from the lawsuit is just bad timing for Chiba’s declaration:’ The complaint alleged that Chiba and Smith entered into an oral agreement in August 2002’. August 2002? Let me quote the Spin article again:
‘After emerging from the Neurotransmitter Restoration Center, and moving in with Jennifer Chiba to recuperate in fall 2002, Elliott Smith was still in tremendous psychic pain.’
So if they really made this oral agreement at that time, when he was hallucinating, thinking white cars were following him (read the article), how could she have trusted an agreement made by a man still in tremendous psychic pain? She cannot have it both ways, he was rational and healthy enough to make such an accord, and he had a serious mental illness?
At the Q&A, J. Chiba also said she ‘regretted not allowing Elliott to write a will because a lawsuit would have never happened, and refused to let him write a will because she thought that allowing him to write one would give him more of a license to kill himself’.
Sure, she can make up any distorted fact she wants now he is dead, I just find laughable she was the one ‘not allowing’ him to make such a decision. Had Elliott turned into a small child who was listening to his girlfriend? I know enough about Elliott to know he was stubborn and was not listening to other’s opinion about what he had to do.
In conclusion, it is a FACT that censorship is NOT the legal reason why J. Chiba sued the family, it was a Marvin lawsuit, and she wanted money for some work she wasn’t licensed to do (and she lost her lawsuit after changing a few times her claim). She now pretends it was for another reason, to gain other people’s sympathy and make Elliott’s family look bad: they are the censors, she is the victim,… give me a break!
Originally published on Rock NYC (May 16 2011)