I am honored as Christopher O’Riley, renowned pianist, classically trained and host of NPR’s From the Top, has shared with me his review of W.T. Schultz’s book, ‘Torment Saint’. He posted it on Amazon, with his real name for everyone to see, so I think he will not mind if we repost it here! This book needs more of this type of reviews, and I will not even apologize. It is always great when a talented and famous musician, who has a clear insight into Elliott Smith’s work, speaks up his mind the way he does, as so many other people remain silent, probably too concerned by their own career? It’s always hard and courageous to take a stand, but Mr. O’Riley, didn’t hesitate. Here is his review of ‘Torment Saint’.
‘lionizing the last person it should, October 15, 2013
By Christopher O’Riley “blackstar”
i’m impressed with the author’s clear passion and depth in discussing and analyzing Elliott’s work, and the wealth of anecdotal material from all eras and aspects of his tragically short life. but i can’t recommend the book as a whole, as it clearly idolizes someone central to the end of Elliott’s life. i can’t recommend a book that makes a hero out of someone who those of us who know better than to categorize his death as a suicide was arguably not an innocent.
i should have known from the start of the book that essential persons in Elliott’s life were not forthcoming and would not be included. that should have been sign enough to just put it down.
consider your source.’
Chris O’Riley has interpreted, arranged and recorded some of the most important pop-rock music of today, and released two albums of his transcriptions of Radiohead songs ‘True Love Waits’ in 2003 and ‘Hold Me to This: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead’ in 2005. In 2006, he released ‘Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute’, his own piano arrangements of eighteen Elliott Smith’s songs, and his most recent CD interprets the work of Nick Drake. He has said that his renditions have introduced modern music to classical audience and vice versa, as his public now consists of Radiohead or Shostakovitch’s fans! He usually interprets both types of music at the same concert. He has called Elliott Smith, ‘the most important songwriter since Cole Porter’. This is what he wrote for Stereogum to describe Elliott’s music, and I asked him the permission to repost it here:
‘I never got to meet Elliott. I only knew him through his music. As devotees might tell you, Elliott was his music, music was his lifeline, he was a lyric crusader for truth and a performer who sought perfection, but quietly, without shouting over the footlights. He invited you in, to hear his hard truths, he drew you in with his whisper. Everytime an Elliott tune comes up shuffling, i am hearing it like the first time, hearing it like it was written yesterday. If it’s a live track, I hear not just Division Day for the 100th time, but the song as sung by Elliott on that day, in that state of mind, sung for that particular group of new friends. I’ve played a lot of Elliott’s songs, and continue to play them in concert, always introducing him as the most important American songwriter since Gershwin, and giving them a head’s up on the incomparable irony of the title, True Love, its stunningly beautiful musical tapestry undermined by perhaps Elliott’s most tragic lyric. No one has ever matched his perfect poetic sense of personal confession wrought into universal metaphor; no one offers the same intimacy; no one has ever been so quietly compelling. That’s why his music always sounds new. That’s why the music, and therefore Elliott, still lives.’
I saw Christopher O’Riley at the Getty Museum in April 2006, where he played a moving tribute to Elliott Smith and it is not a mystery that he met there Elliott’s father Gary and stepmother Marta, who greatly appreciated his work. You can listen to his subtle and emotional rendition of ‘True Love’ below.
Originally published on Rock NYC (October 17 2013)