The sadness of the ten, then the twelve anniversary of his death have now passed, every music blog and magazine has done its homage to Elliott Smith, from Pitchfork to Spin and Rolling Stone,…and now what? We are back to the unknown and the speculations about the way he died. Not that I expected the mystery to be solved any time soon, but there were many articles, and many people suddenly speaking like in this Pitchfork piece, which was the most refreshing piece ever since there was no question of Jennifer Chiba or W.T.Schultz, who are usually all over the place, omnipresent, selling their case ad nauseam.
Schultz chose to believe J. Chiba and everything she had to tell him, just like Gil Reyes, and I just wonder why they were so easily convinced of her total innocence. I still don’t know what happened, contrarily to these guys who are convinced Elliott killed himself, but I am aware of the numerous contradictions, and discrepancies in this case, and this is very important since all of them seem to be totally ignored in Schultz’s book. How can you believe the only witness, when so many questions are still in the air? Another example is Spin magazine, which reposted Liam Gowing’s 2004 article for the anniversary, when so much has been said since!
Elliott’s death was first reported as a suicide, because of Chiba right away declared to the police that he had suffered from depression all of his life, had a history of multiple narcotics addiction and alcohol abuse, engaged in self-mutilating behavior, would burn himself with cigarette, had a history of one possible suicide attempt and a consistent history of verbal suicidal ideations and planning.
This is exactly what is written in the police report, and it seems like a laundry list of the perfect candidate to suicide. Let’s go back to this lame point that Elliott was a cutter, it was already brought up in the Spin article, once again discussed in Reyes’ documentary and Schultz’s book, but it should be questioned one more time. I don’t know if Elliott was a cutter, but first of all, being a cutter has nothing to do with being suicidal! Schultz is a pay and should know this. But this point became a convenient explanation for the possible defense wounds. All I can say is that Dr. Scheinin said the possible defense wounds were not typical of self-cutting at all. So why is Schultz bringing this back again??
In the book, page 315, Chiba said she came back from the screening of ‘Lost in Translation’ and found Elliott with cuts, ‘superficial ones’,…. Really? So why were they described as ‘really tremendous’, ‘deep, like he had to go across a couple of times or have the sharpest, biggest knife to do it’ in the Spin article? Again big discrepancy.
An interesting thing is that, after the Q&A, Reyes tried to give me another explanation for these cuts (Elliott could have cut himself when falling on the balcony!). It sounded like a desperate new story cogitated to find a new explanation, because the other one wasn’t so good after all?
As for the cigarette burns he had on his left arm, and mentioned to reinforce the self-harm pattern, a musician told me in person that he witnessed Elliott burning himself when he was high and working with David McConnell at the Malibu studio. The guy, who had a band called Plastic Soul, told me Elliott was hallucinating and was trying to burn ‘insects’ running along his arm. We can’t be sure he was or wasn’t harming himself, but if he was, these burn tracks are a totally different story.
Regarding the possible suicide attempt, can we put this cliff story to rest once for all? Even Schultz writes in his book that Dorien Garry said it was not a suicide attempt by no means (page 214) as Elliott was drunk, and didn’t realize what he was doing, ‘there was a drop-off at the end of the cul de sac that Elliott did not even see, no one could see it’. Even though Schultz goes at length in the following pages to interpret this slightly differently, he recognizes it can’t be called a suicide attempt but rather a fall, an accident.
David McConnell pretends Elliott tried to OD several times while he was working with him at Satellite Park in Malibu, but McConnell said a lot of things, and he was also doing a lot of drugs with Elliott at the time. There is a photo of the two of them in front of many prescription bottles and this was apparently some crazy time, not in a good way. In any case, the only possible suicide attempts were attempts to OD on drugs while abusing them, but it was more a fuck-let’s-see-what-happens than a desire to kill himself. Schultz seems to quote the article published in Magnet magazine in 2005 at this point, and probably didn’t talk to McConnell. Ben Nugent, who has many more details about this troubled period, quotes McConnell telling that Elliott was saying, ‘I’m going to do my record and I’m going to do as many drugs as I want, because art is not about being sober and it’s not about being some society figure, it’s about art’… if this was the attitude, it had little to do with suicide. By the way, Elliott never shoot heroin, he was smoking it and the chances to OD are much less (meaning you have to smoke a lot of it to die). So again there are obvious discrepancies with Chiba’s declaration to the police as it is not clear if Elliott ever attempted to commit suicide, at least he never did when he was clean.
Then there are more discrepancies when it comes to the actual events of October 21st. In Schultz’s book, it’s totally puzzling to think Elliott could have killed himself after the kind of fight described page 318: Chiba had an appointment to her psychiatrist, Elliott had to drive her because she had a DUI, and as Schultz writes ‘this was up for discussion’, then Elliott expressed some paranoia ‘Don’t talk out loud in the house because it’s bugged’; they fought a bit while Elliott was on his computer, she locked herself in the bathroom, and she heard a scream? She exited and saw him with the knife in his chest? It is so bizarre, the fight seems so tamed down in the book whereas it was a violent episode according to the neighbors.
For what is worth, I once read the following on a forum, but this is not the only account of a violent fight: ‘The wife got it first hand last night. she’s known his girlfriend for sometime. first, she’s a fucking manic nutball. second, she and elliott have had this emotional, dramatic table turning, door slamming, screaming “i hate you” type of relationship. typical for a manic and a depressed individual right? The wife has witnessed it herself in a bar one night. well. they were having one of those episodes. He had been making strides as of late, was off the depression pills and really on the upswing. during this episode she was really pressing him, for one reason or another. she, in her manic fury locked herself in the bathroom. he, went to the kitchen, got a steak knife. KAPUT! After some time (after her lithium kicked in?) she came out, found him, removed the knife, and drove him to a hospital on the other side of town. She may have been able to save his life if she called 911. pulling the knife out expedited his death most likely.’
Note that this person never said she did it, but I have read so many variations of this story my head is still spinning. However:
– According to a few neighbors, what preceded his death was a much more violent scene than what is described in the book.
– What she exactly did inside the bathroom is not clear at all, as there were reports that she was taking a shower, that she was calling her therapist….
– Then Elliott walking away and both of them crashing onto the balcony is extremely weird: why was he walking away so much? Robin Peringer said he had to clean blood throughout the house. Why did she ‘tackle him there’? It has never been explained anywhere.
There are also Chiba’s affirmation that Elliott had decided to go cold turkey, when we know he had a therapeutic dose of meds in his system, her declaration that he was ‘so healthy’ when she later declared he was totally mentally ill, her ever-changing lawsuit (she was his manager, his bookkeeper, his financial counselor, his music savior), her declaration that they were romantically involved since 1999 when she admitted alter they were just friends at the time, her declaration that he had proposed to her, something which completely vanished in Schultz’s book and Reyes’ doc
Ten years have passed, magazines have published their homage, people have made movies and books but nobody is facing all these discrepancies, and Schultz and Reyes have chosen to believe one version when the story presents so many contradictions they refuse to see.
Originally published on Rock NYC (November 5 2013)