The Four Times I Met Elliott Smith

When I say to people that I have met Elliott Smith a few times, they always get curious and unavoidably ask me, how was it? I know, it’s quite understandable, and, living in Los Angeles, I had the chance to meet him four times without even trying very hard. It has been more than 10 years now, so memory naturally fades away a bit, but I will do my best to remember about these moments for the sad 10th anniversary of his death.

I met Elliott for the first time in 2002, it was after his come-back show at the Echo in October. The club was really packed to the roof, but I had managed to get in the front. Elliott was still weak from his detox treatment but he was getting there, in good spirit, and at everyone’s surprise, he started the show with ‘Miss Misery’, a song he was not playing very often. After the show, a few girls were waiting outside to meet him and I decided to wait with them. Elliott came out of the Echo with J. Chiba not very long later on, and everyone asked him to sign something. He signed my ‘Figure 8’ booklet, and he didn’t say too much. At the time, it didn’t strike me too much but I now remember that Chiba was doing all the talking to the fan girls. She asked about the setlist, which had been stolen from the stage and said it would probably end up on eBay soon. She also said she had come up with this setlist herself, something quite unusual for Elliott, but I didn’t know this at the time.

We walked with him along Sunset boulevard, and the girls asked him if he was planning to go to Largo soon, a club he used to play very often, and Elliott answered on a bittersweet tone, ‘I don’t go there anymore’, and again I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know that Elliott was not in good terms with Jon Brion and the whole Largo crowd.

Not very long after this, I met Elliott again. He had a benefit show at Spaceland mid January 2003 for ‘Clean Needles Now’, an association providing clean needles for heroin addicts. Elliott was wearing a ‘Dog Racing Now’ red t-shirt, and had a giant sharpie-tattoo ‘Kali the destroyer’ on his left arm. It was very easy to get backstage, nobody was there to tell you you should not be there, and there was a long line of fans asking for pictures with Elliott, and he was graciously posing with each of them. I didn’t ask for a picture, and may be I should have! I just wanted to talk with him a few minutes and I made him sign an XO card for my cousin who was a big fan too. ‘Ah Dorothy’ he said as he first couldn’t really get the French version of her name ‘Dorothée’. I didn’t have much time with him, but he was very nice and shy. I think I asked him if he was planning to tour soon and he said yes.

I saw Elliott a few more times, at the Henry Fonda theater, at the Detroit Bar, at the Belly Up Tavern among other places, and I met him again at the Derby in May 2003. This time he was not playing solo but he had a full band with him, people from Earlimart and Grandaddy, I even think there was some kind of release party for one of Grandaddy’s side project? I forgot… Elliott came last, he played only 6 songs (‘some song’, ‘
a distorted reality is now a necessity to be free
’, ‘hooray for tuesday
’, ‘strung out again
’, ‘a passing feeling’, and ‘
coast To coast’) but he was in great shape compared to the previous shows I had attended. He covered the Minders’ ‘Hooray for Tuesday’ and was jumping on stage, looking happy with a huge sharpie tattoo reading ‘More Pricks than Kicks’ on this left arm. Again it wasn’t difficult to go backstage at the Derby, I followed two girls who wanted to take a picture with Elliott. Once again I didn’t ask him for a picture. Sound engineer Fritz Michaud was there, Robin Peringer was there, and the two girls asked Jennifer Chiba to take the picture of them and Elliott. I remember her hesitating, a bit uncomfortable. Elliott was very quiet, I was just amazed to be there, and I did talk a bit to him, asking him about his new album and when he would tour in Europe again. Elliott answered he had first to finish his album before touring, but he was excited at the idea of touring and funding his charity for abused children. And Europe? His face lighted up when he thought about it, ‘Paris is my favorite place when I tour in Europe’ I remember him saying. ‘Really?’ asked J Chiba who had suddenly joined the conversation. Soon after, he told me she wanted to leave, but at the time I didn’t find this too weird as I was already so glad to have had this conversation. Of course I now know Elliott had had a girlfriend in Paris.

The next time I saw him, he was playing at the same place, the Derby, where a Kinks tribute show was held for no apparent reason, early August 2003. I was living very close to the Derby, and I walked to the place with my aunt who was visiting me. While we were waiting for the doors to open, we met a guy from France who had come especially from Portland where he was in vacation; he was a super fan and had met Elliott many, many times before. The Kinks tribute show was fun, and I don’t remember much about the other bands which played before Elliott. Once again he had his full band and I almost didn’t recognize him first. He was looking a bit fuller, in really great shape, jumping behind the drum set at times, moving fast, looking quite different from the weak Elliott I had met at the Echo in October. After the show, I talked to him once again, I guess it had become a habit! But this time, Elliott was hanging out outside with his musicians so it was even easier to talk to him. The French super-fan was there and he had told me, ‘Elliott won’t probably remember me’. He was wrong of course, Elliott said ‘Hi François’ without hesitation. It was the last time François and I saw Elliott.

Many of these shows have been recorded and can be downloaded from this page

Originally published on Rock NYC (October 21 2013)

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