In a recent article published by the Seattle Weekly, W.T. Schultz complains about some Elliott Smith fans – whom he believes are ‘no more than a handful’ – the kind of fans who insist Elliott was murdered. He then explains that, each person he talked too before writing his bio, has always gone with the suicide theory:
‘I’d talked to dozens of people exceptionally close to Elliott, friends and girlfriends spanning the years from sixth grade to 2003, and almost no one brought up his death. And no one, not a one, strongly believed or even suspected he’d been murdered.’
No One, really? Well, first of all, the family members have disappeared from this list. Secondly, it is obvious that Schultz didn’t interview A LOT of people who were important in Elliott’s life at one point. He got girlfriends JJ Gonson and J. Chiba but not girlfriends Joanna Bolme and Valerie Deerin, he got Pete Krebs, Garrick Duckler, Sean Croghan, Dorien Garry and Shon Sullivan but not Jon Brion, Autumn de Wilde, Margaret Mittleman, Robert Schnapf, or Steven Drozd… There were too many people in Elliott’s life and he only talked to a few of them, so he should not have made some grandiose declaration as if he had interviewed everyone close to him. It’s not the case at all. Actually, at this level he didn’t do much better than Benjamin Nugent (who wrote ‘Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing’ in 2004), anyway, isn’t it always the same people who are talking?
The thing is that Schultz’s affirmation is totally incorrect, there is plenty of people who were close to Elliott at one point and who have expressed serious doubts on what happened, some have even said they believed he did not commit suicide. The first one being recording engineer Larry Crane, who left this comment after one of Iman’s posts back in 2010:
‘Speaking of cleaning up, your facts on Elliott’s passing are incorrect.’
Iman had of course mentioned Elliott’s ‘suicide’ in a post about Larry Crane’s remastering of ‘Roman Candle’. Larry said later he didn’t know what happened, but he was certainly questioning the suicide theory, while certainly being someone who had been close to Elliott. He had equally expressed his disarray during an interview in 2003:
‘His girlfriend Jennifer called me last week and asked if I’d like to come to L.A. and help mix and finish [Smith’s album]. I said yes, or course, and chatted with Elliott for the first time in ages… It seems surreal that he would call me to finish an album and then a week later kill himself. I talked to Jennifer this morning, who was obviously shattered and in tears, and she said, ‘I don’t understand, he was so healthy.’
And Larry Crane is far from being the only one, friend Steve Drozd (one of the drummer on ‘Coast to Coast) had declared several years ago:
‘In my mind, I could totally see it being like, ‘Hey I’m outta here, I’m gonna do a shot and OD – game over, see ya’. But it’s another thing to actually pierce yourself in the heart with a fucking knife. And that’s what we’ve all been talking about. It’s really weird that he would do it that way – or could do it that way.’
So don’t say his friends didn’t question his death, and the violence of the method!
Drummer Aaron Sperske, who played drums on the same track, shared this at this point:
‘Three or four days before his death, it seemed to me that killing himself was probably the farthest thing from his mind. I mean, he was a kind of dramatic sort, so I can imagine that maybe he got swept up in some kind of drama in his mind and it got the better of him. He talked about suicide a lot. But he had told me ‘I still have some more work to do, I’m gonna hang around.’ I always felt like it was probably part of his neuroses and part of what fueled his inspiration was toying with the idea of leaving the planet.’
So there is no certainty about suicide expressed here! Drodz’s bandmate Wayne Coyne dedicated a song to Elliott and declared this during a concert in Los Angeles that I actually attended: ‘We were on tour, I forget it has been a few years now, we were on tour when we heard the news that our friend Elliott Smith had died. And I don’t think we will ever really know if he took his own life or whatever the actual circumstances were.’
Largo owner Mark Flanagan knew Elliott very well, and back in 2004, he declared this on national radio, during an interview with NPR:
‘I don’t believe he killed himself so that’s all I have to say about that, but I really don’t. But, having said that, I wasn’t surprised because he had been through really rough time, you know, and I would see him from time to time and it was not getting any better, and rather than surprised it is really gut wrenching sad, you know.’
Should I add more? Sure Robert Schnapf just said this on Pitchfork:
‘It’s a cool, beautiful record. He wrote it when he was alive. He didn’t write it when he was dead, he didn’t write it after a suicide, or after a murder, or whatever the fuck happened. When he was writing it, he still wanted to live his life.’
Don’t tell me he is not suspicious after such a sentence!…. Luke Wood must have had some similar ideas going through his mind when he said around 2003, ‘He was incredibly optimistic and healthy at the end, and I know he was clean’, the results of the autopsy came in January and Wood was right of course.
Autumn de Wilde declared more recently during a special Elliott Smith NME in 2010:
‘The circumstances surrounding his death don’t sit well with me at all, but there was only other person there, so nobody will ever know. He wasn’t around the type of people where I could know for sure what would happen any more. He was surrounded by sycophants, so who knows what could have happened? He had talked about suicide for many years, but he was always such a chicken about getting hurt! And there had been times in the past where suicide seemed more likely.’
But Nelson Garry is the most surprising of all, he talked to Schultz, and even gave the bio a good review. However, I talked to Nelson Garry too and this is what he said:
‘Elliott was doing so well before he died. It is true that people who opt for suicide are often said to be doing well. The suicides in waiting are happy because they have found the resolve to do what they have wanted to do for a considerable period of time. Even as a counselor, knowing this and knowing that Elliott could be grievously depressed, I do not think he killed himself. I do not rule out that there could have been a fight between the two of them, him and Jennifer. In the end, as I wrote in the article, I do not think it was suicide, but that does not necessarily mean that, without a reasonable question of a doubt, that Jennifer did it. I do think there should be an investigation into the matter, and there is no reason why there has not been.”
Nelson Gary couldn’t have been clearer. Should I add this excerpt from the long article he wrote here?
‘Ten days before Elliott died (with Val, who was a major force in helping him in his healing process, no longer by his side), many of my friends, including Jerry, saw Elliott. By all accounts, he was doing well. He had come out of the darkness to twilight, then his life tragically ended.’
Then, there are the friends who have never talked about his death, I wonder what Joanna Bolme thinks, I know what Valerie Deerin thinks but she doesn’t want to speak publicly. What about Jon Brion? Sam Coomes? And so many others, why aren’t they talking?
Originally published on Rock NYC (October 27 2013)