How Did Jennifer Chiba Meet Elliott Smith: Did We Get The Truth?

In his book ‘Torment Saint’, W. T. Shultz wrote about the first meeting between Jennifer Chiba and Elliott Smith (page 260):

‘At Spaceland, he first met Jennifer Chiba. He had wandered in just as she’d finished a gig – Chiba played bass in a band called The Warlocks. Mutual friend Steve Hanft was there too, and Elliott asked for an introduction. He and Jennifer talked some, about compassion and Russian literature, about the Ferdinand story, one of Chiba’s favorites from childhood too, both staring at their shoes, both smiling shyly. To Chiba Elliott seemed ‘really uncomfortable,’ his usual transient awkwardness showing. He had just moved to LA – he didn’t even know his phone number – so he asked for hers, then gave her the number of Mittleman’s assistant.’

Schultz obviously got all this from Chiba herself. Elliott moved to LA in 1999, and the date is very important for the rest of the story.

The French Magazine VoxPop published an article about Elliott in 2010, and it was also question of the first meeting between the two, again narrated by Chiba:

‘We briefly met at Rockfest festival, but later, when he had moved to Los Angeles, I asked my friend Steve [Hanft] to introduce me to him. We were both shy and were smiling while looking at our feet. He offered me a drink and we talked about Russian literature. We were both fans, especially Dostoevsky. This led us to a discussion about compassion, depression and hospitalization. A rather deep conversation to have with someone you’ve just met! But it was natural. He said he would come to see my band, The Warlocks, later in the week. And he came!’

May be it just me, but I love details, and when it comes to the first meeting with the guy, the guy you are gonna fall in love with, I would expect more consistency? So did Elliott ask for an introduction or did Chiba ask? Was the first meeting at Rockfest or Spaceland? Okay details, details you’re gonna say, as long as they are talking about Dostoevsky in both versions, this is consistent!

Yeah, may be… but the problem is that I got a totally different version coming from other sources. I talked to a few people, including someone who worked closely with Elliott, and he had a completely different story:

‘Chiba got Elliott drugs early on, then stopped as I understand it. That was her way into his life. But being with him probably meant you were scoring for him/with him anyways.’ This person didn’t want to publicly share his/her identity but he/she was very direct and honest.

Jerry Schoenkopf, Elliott’s drug counselor told me basically the same thing: Chiba entered Elliott’s life by providing him drugs. He said she started things as Elliott’s drug dealer, she was one of his connections, and this is how their relationship started. Elliott went up living with her and she became his girlfriend. ‘Usually it is the women who move in with their drug dealers’, he said, ‘but in his case he was a man moving in with his female heroin dealer’.

A few years ago, I also met someone who knew Chiba very well when she was briefly part of the band the Warlocks, and this person told me that Chiba was trying to sit on Elliott’s lap at a party around 2001 (or early 2002). This person was very clear, they were not together then, although Chiba was trying very hard to get Elliott’s attention. So what about the romantic meeting which had supposedly happened in 1999 at Spaceland? Around this time (2001), Elliott was going to the Telesis Foundation, a rehab facility in Van Nuys, and this person told me she never saw Chiba driving him to the center once, which would have been logically the case if they had been together. But, the most important part is that this person (who had been involved with drugs for a long time) told me that Chiba asked her to score heroin for Elliott several times.

So why are these very reliable sources totally contradict Chiba’s romantic story? Even Liam Gowing in his ‘Mr. Misery’ article published by Spin in 2004, wrote:

‘But is she in some way responsible for his death? Possibly, according to Smith’s friends who lost touch with him after he began using heroin and crack heavily in Los Angeles, and to those who knew Chiba from her bleakest days, when she played bass with the notoriously drugged-out psychedelic rockers the Warlocks. These people blame her for enabling Smith’s romance with heroin.’

He then explained she rather helped Elliott in his rehabilitation, but when I talked to him on the phone a few years ago, he basically admitted they probably were drug buddies… And this totally fits with the statement made by Sean Organ, the label owner who was about to release Chiba’s debut recording with her band Happy Ending:

‘Smith wasn’t the easiest persona to work with because of his problems. The worst thing ever to happen to Happy Ending was Elliott getting involved. The production of the single became the focus of all of Smith and Chiba’s relationship problems: people began to speak of their relationship as furiously difficult, similar to the infamous and ultimately disastrous liaison between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen’

There is no doubt that drugs were a big component in Elliott Smith and Jennifer Chiba’s relationship. Valerie Deerin, Elliott’s Scottish girlfriend, also blamed Elliott’s drug use on Chiba. No matter how their relationship evolved later on, this is how she came into his life and Dostoevsky or Ferdinand the Bull have little to do with it.

Originally published on Rock NYC (September 4 2014)

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