Rhett Miller Of Old 97’s On Elliott Smith’s Death: “cottage industry of lurid speculation”

Elliott Smith, Rhett Miller, William Todd Schultz,… Elliott Smith’s story is a complex story and anything I read brings its dose of heartbreaking snippets, but also uncertainties and inaccuracies. William Todd Schultz just wrote ‘Torment Saint’, a book about the life of Elliott Smith, and Rhett Miller wrote this review of the book.

I had my own ‘encounter’ with Schultz, on Twitter, a few months ago. I criticized him for pre-selling his book on Amazon with a synopsis declaring that Elliott had died from a single stab wound. He has changed it since, but at the time I was just questioning the inaccuracy of such a statement because the autopsy report was clearly reporting two stab wounds, both fatal per se.

In his review, Rhett Miller is praising the book, I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say anything but Miller brings some insight regarding Schultz’s point of view about Elliott’s death: he may have completely avoided it. This is what Miller says: ‘A less sensitive writer might have sensationalized the details of Elliott’s death, customizing it to appeal to the rubberneckers. But I’m glad Schultz took the high road and put the controversy to bed without belaboring it’

Schultz told me he spoke for three days to Dr Scheinin, who did the autopsy… and he doesn’t bring any new insight? He doesn’t put the controversy to bed, he ignores it.

I can only take offense of the way Mr. Miller is talking about the ‘ridiculous internet rumors’ and the ‘cottage industry of lurid speculation about the circumstances of the songwriter’s violent death in 2003’… Is he aware that I talked to one of the closest persons Elliott had in his life? The facts I know are not rumors, and the term ‘cottage industry’ does not honestly represent what we are trying to do. Schultz and Reyes are trying to make money of their book and film, we haven’t sold anything!! rock nyc and I myself have gained zero through advocating the police to either investigate or close the case. Perhaps if Chiba sat for a lie detector test, much of the speculation surrounding her would be lifted.

Of course, I knew Schultz had been in contact with Jennifer Chiba, and this is what Miller wrote about it:

‘Schultz interviewed Elliott’s girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, who was in the house at the time a kitchen knife punctured his heart and ended his life. Naturally, she has been the focus of the most speculation. Her story seems so simple and so sad, though: They fought, she locked herself in the bathroom to get a moment’s peace—and then she heard Elliott scream. She found him in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of his chest, and she pulled it out. Schultz believes her story and renders it in a way that makes it hard to doubt.’

Why do all men believe that woman without questioning her story a second, is beyond my comprehension. Believing is one thing, but where are the evidence? Why doesn’t he ponder about the lack of hesitation marks, the possible defense wounds, the stabbing through the clothes, and the removal of the knife? Aren’t all these facts enough to, at least, question her guilt-free story?? Anyway, Miller contradicts himself because he says at one point:

‘I have friends who knew Elliott who, to this day, maintain a very skeptical attitude about the widely accepted view that his death was a suicide. I have no firsthand information but have always wanted to believe that it wasn’t a suicide. Too many of my heroes have killed themselves, and I didn’t want Elliott to make that list.’

We can’t have it both ways, the friends who question the circumstances of Elliott’s death and Chiba’s story which is hard to doubt? Doesn’t the confrontation of both ideas make your brain explode a bit? Why are people so uninterested by the truth? Schultz doesn’t  ‘gracefully navigates a notoriously delicate question’. As a bibliographer, he shouldn’t have avoided the truth or at least the quest for the truth.

Rhett Miller writes he was surprised by ‘Schultz’s insights into Elliott’s kind, protective nature’, and this tells me that Miller kind of knew Elliott, but didn’t really know him. His story at the beginning of his article is touching, but he also said he had encounters with Elliott when he was smoking heroin and crack and taking tons of prescribed drugs. But he wasn’t really Elliott then. I talked to someone who met him at the time and he painted the worst picture over,… nobody is him/herself when on drugs, and so Miller’s admission of being surprised by Elliott’s kind nature, shows he didn’t know him at all.

And I want to end with this declaration: ‘During the last months of his life, Elliott stopped taking all or almost all of the drugs, legal and otherwise, that had destroyed a good deal of his life for a couple of terrible years. In this ‘precariously drug-free state’,…’

Elliott died with normal doses of… a lot of prescription drugs. He had stopped illegal drugs for a year, but was taking his medications at a regular dose, and he was taking several of them: Amphetamine (Adderall), Atomoxetine (Strattera), Mirtazapine (Remeron), Buprenorphine (Buprenex), Clonazepam, Gabapentin, you just have to look at the autopsy report! So this is not accurate. Depending on people, drug abuse or drug cut have been said to be the cause of Elliott’s death,… one more time, we can’t have it both ways, and once again my brain explodes.

Originally published on Rock NYC (September 08 2013)

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