Every publication from Rolling Stone to Salon sang his praises, crowning his music with glorious descriptions like "beautifully orchestrated pop," "vivid, emotional storytelling," and "Nick Drake for a new generation." Elliott Smith was, indeed, the embodiment of all these things. His music was borne of the fragility and emotion of music from the '60s, beautifully articulated both lyrically and harmonically. He embraced the melodic sense of The Beatles but in voice and style was an artist of unique dimensions.
For all of his talent, the world hardly knew of him. Here, the life of Smith is laid out in striking detail, his growing up in Omaha, listening to The Beatles and Rush and Pink Floyd and coming to grips with a music that would forever drive him - and ultimately kill him.
When Thoreau spoke of "quiet desperation," he must have been listening to Smith's music. Or at the very least, hanging out with him. His bleak description of the life some people lead is tailor-made for Elliott, someone on an Eternal Search, looking for something he knows he'll never find, and only working harder to track it down.
The narrative tells us he fell into the grip of narcotics and drink and was never quite able to loosen the stranglehold. Friends, those select and special few with whom he could feel altogether comfortable, tried to comfort him and keep him from harm. But they failed.
On October 21, 2003, the musician was discovered dead in his apartment, two knife wounds in his chest. It was tagged as a suicide, and those who knew him, though reluctant to admit it, believe he did take his own life. How disillusioned with life, how unbearably lonely and miserable, does one have to be to kill himself in such a fashion?
This is the question the book tries to answer. Or rather, we're told the tale and then with all the facts we're left to our own musings and devices.
Elliott Smith was on the verge of true celebrity. All there is left of him is an album, various bits of music scattered about, and the memories of friends and acquaintances. You'll never hear him sing live or even bump into him in a mall somewhere. This book is all you have, and it's worth reading. It's as close to him as you'll ever get.