‘Overwhelmed by the emotion of the day, feeling hyped up and anxious from the earlier medical appointment, Chiba locked herself in the bathroom. It was something she’d done before. It was her way of getting some distance, a temporary respite. On other occasions like this Elliott had called Ashley, who came by to mediate, to talk Chiba out. This time, in the moment, he did not. He knocked on the bathroom door. He told Chiba he was sorry. He asked her to come out. He told her he knew he was crazy. He apologized for what he had said. But Chiba wasn’t ready. Impulsively, she told him to leave her the fuck alone. She was sick of the paranoia.’
This is how W.T. Schultz describes the scene, just before the terrible event that would end Elliott Smith’s life on October 21st 2003. Jennifer Chiba described a similar situation in Gil Reyes’ documentary, and I will relay on the notes I took at the time I saw it: ‘After locking herself in the bathroom, because she was ‘going crazy herself’, Elliott was knocking on the door, saying he was sorry and loved her, but after she stayed there for 5 or 10 minutes, she heard a terrible noise coming from the kitchen’.
I would like to concentrate on this moment when Elliott was allegedly pounding/knocking on the bathroom door, begging her to come out. According to several articles, Chiba said Elliott had threatened to kill himself the same morning: ‘Like most of Smith’s close friends, Chiba was used to him making melodramatic threats about ending his life. […] Chiba ignored him and locked herself in the bathroom,’ writes Alexis Petridis in The Guardian.
‘His girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, who discovered the body, reportedly told friends that less than an hour before his death Smith had threatened to kill himself. Used to melodramatic threats from her boyfriend Chiba ignored his remarks and took a shower – only to discover later he had stabbed himself,’ writes Marty Dodge on Blogcritics.
Thus Elliott was in a total suicidal mood, he wanted to kill himself, but he was nevertheless pounding on Chiba’s door? Doesn’t this sound like two opposite states of mind? If he wanted her out, he wasn’t thinking about suicide at this point, as he wasn’t going to stab himself in front of her! And if he had decided to kill himself, why did he continue knocking on the door saying ‘I’m sorry’? These feelings (wanting to end his life and telling her he was sorry they had fought) seem like two antagonistic moods very difficult to reconcile in such a short time (she said she stayed no more than 5-10 minutes). If it was an abrupt mood swing, it happened very fast and impulsively and once again, it is very difficult to make sense of the suicide note…
But there is something else equally bizarre at this point. It was not an uncommon situation, it had often happened before, ‘I’ve been at their house when they would get upset with each other and she would lock herself in the bedroom,’ recounted Elliott’s drummer Scott McPherson. ‘On other occasions like this Elliott had called Ashley, who came by to mediate, to talk Chiba out,’ writes Schultz in his biography. So there was nothing unusual about this day, they just had a violent fight – ‘they fought on a regular basis,’ told me one of Elliott’s friends – and it was her way to retract from the scene.
But just imagine yourself, knocking on the door and begging someone to come out just after a fight… Would you do this? Why did Elliott want J Chiba out so badly at this moment? Remember, she said she had been there only for a few minutes and this is something I don’t really understand, why was this an emergency? I never had a fight with someone to the point to make this person lock him or herself in a room, but I imagine I would certainly wait a bit until the anger has calmed down before seeing this person again. What could have been Elliott’s motivation to talk her out, immediately after the fight? Why was he even calling Ashley to make Chiba come out of the bathroom? Could it be because Chiba was threatening to do something there? May be killing herself? Let’s switch the roles for a moment, Chiba saying she wanted to kill herself and Elliott desperately trying to prevent it and it all makes sense…
Originally published on Rock NYC (February 5 2015)