The circumstances surrounding Elliott Smith’s tragic story are still murky, there are still holes in the story, and I never miss an opportunity to talk to people who may bring some parts of the puzzle and connect a few dots. There is still a strong interest in this story as I regularly stumble on discussions on the internet on diverse social media. This is a sort of compilation of a few unrelated conversations I had with different people in the past few weeks, and some of them show that many people in Elliott’s circle were very suspicious early on.
Last week, I had an exchange with a person (let’s call him D.), a successful TV producer, who, according to his profile (including his Linkedin page), has been responsible for many popular TV series such as Dynasty, About a Boy, 3rd Rock From the Sun…He told me that he met ‘a good friend of Eliot’s [sic], another prominent singer from around the east side of LA who used to hang with Eliot and his wife.’ The fact that he misspelled Elliott’s name and called Chiba ‘his wife’ revealed he was not someone close or very knowledgeable, but he had no reason to lie about the rest. This friend (who unfortunately stayed anonymous in the conversation) told him that Elliott and Chiba ‘had crazy fights all the time,’ something we have heard many times before. However, this friend told him that Elliott ‘would often grab a knife and threaten to stab himself, as if to say ‘is this what you want? You want me to kill myself? Fine, I’ll kill myself.’ D. said that Chiba told this friend that what happened on October 21st, ‘was a horrible accident.’ Chiba told the singer friend that, this time, Elliott had done it in a fit of rage and had actually stabbed himself. The friend was obviously not present at the scene but had been convinced of the story that he found consistent with Elliott’s behavior.
If it is a scenario that I had never excluded – it’s entirely possible that Elliott threatened to kill himself on this tragic day – the fact that this ‘detail’ was completely removed from several other versions provided by Chiba herself is very puzzling. This ‘detail’ is effectively not included in the police report or the narrative in ‘Torment Saint.’ You would think that this would have been one of the first things told by Chiba to the police! Why wouldn’t she have said to the police that Elliott was threatening to kill himself with a knife at this moment? Why wouldn’t she have said the same thing to Schultz? In ‘Torment Saint,’ the tragic event is summarized as follows: ‘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 yet. Impulsively, as she’d said before, she told him to leave her the fuck alone. She was sick of the paranoia.’ Paranoia and thinking the house is bugged is one thing, but Schultz never mentions Elliott was pointing a knife to his chest in a threatening moment. Who knows if the singer friend really witnessed Elliott ‘grabbing a knife and threatening to stab himself,’ or if he also heard it from Chiba.
If anything, this conversation just confirms one more time that Chiba told different stories to different people. TV producer D. sounded really convinced of what he told me just after a few minutes of conversation, and this proves that unreliable versions of the event have infiltrated the entertainment industry.
A Los Angeles recording engineer, who lived in Echo Park in 2005-2011, wrote the following story regarding an encounter with Chiba a few years after Elliott’s death. One of his friends was dating her, and being a tech geek, she approached him to get some help for her computer as her hard drive had crashed.
‘On it, I guess, were emails containing evidence he [Elliott] wanted to leave her his gear, not his family, whose estate was suing her to collect what was legally theirs,’ he said. As everyone should know, the real story is blatantly different as it was Chiba who was suing the estate represented by Elliott’s stepmother Marta Greenwald, and not the opposite. As for the alleged emails containing evidence Elliott wanted to leave her his gear, this looks like another useless lie: firstly, her lawsuit was not about his gear but about getting money in exchange for her domestic services as Elliott’s ‘homemaker, housekeeper, cook, secretary, bookkeeper, and financial counselor’… secondly, why would Elliott have written emails to a person he was living with and why would he have left such a will if his suicide was sudden and impulsive?
The recording engineer described Chiba as ‘a sweet person, and frantic about fixing the drive.’ He remembers: ‘She said if I could fix the drive she’d give me vs880 tapes he had of a bunch of demos he was working on. Also, he had a Trident series C console in storage in Van Nuys she’d sell to me for cheap.’ He declined to fix the drive because it was too risky, but Chiba was ready to bargain a few demos and the Trident in exchange for the repair of the drive, which means there was probably valuable stuff on it. According to the recording engineer, Chiba also mentioned ‘she couldn’t work as there was an open (FBI I think?) investigation against her.’ Another half-true declaration: if the LAPD investigation (not FBI!) is effectively still open, this was not preventing her from working. Her therapist license had expired in 2001, she did not renew it before late 2005, and I am still wondering where her money was coming from at the time.
The recording engineer still wanted to help Chiba but changed his mind after a conversation he had with an Echo Park band who was in Elliott’s circle. This band said to him: ‘He TOLD us he was concerned that she was becoming obsessed/possessive with him and was fearing his own safety if he were to call it off. He finally called it off.’ Despite his pleasant encounter with Chiba, the recording engineer decided to stay away. ‘She did it. Seems to be the universal opinion. I stayed away. She was really nice, and Echo Park hipster attractive. And her new band project was kind of cool. But, knowing the backstory I thought it best to steer clear.’ How did she manage to transform the ‘She did it. Seems to be the universal opinion’ into the current mainstream story of ‘the doomed depressed singer-songwriter who stabbed himself in the chest’?
Finally, someone who worked at epitaph/anti (let’s call him M.) was willing to tell me a few other things about Elliott. M. said that Elliott had just struck a deal to get him on the artsy label with Tom Waits and Neko Case just before his death. As a matter of fact, the label put out Elliott’s posthumous album ‘From A Basement On The Hill’ which he almost completed in 2003… M. said that Elliott had amazing plans. ‘He and Neko would have been a great tour,’ he said. When Elliott died, M. was horrified, as he and a few other employees were really into his music and were completely crushed. Puzzled by his sudden and tragic death, he tried to find out more details while working at the label but couldn’t get any more info. To him, it was a strange feeling, ‘It was the fastest death process I’ve ever seen. Literally within a week it was over and done and everyone just moved on…’ he also added there were ‘immediate battles over journals, unreleased music, and of course… the master tapes. The fact that within 2-3 months it was done and wrapped made no sense… then the rumors started.’ When I asked him about these ‘immediate battles,’ M. added: ‘I couldn’t get a clear, precise answer on it but my friend who did the album art was super pissed and said, ‘she fuckin tried to take everything’ and I know his family wanted nothing touched until they were able to arrive. I’m jaded, so I think she tried to take anything of value.’ Whereas M. and many other people were still in shock, everything was wrapped up very fast: ‘all the communications and instructions came down as ‘okay, this is what happened; time to move forward.’ I never spoke to any of his reps, but we all talked about how insane it was.’
Needless to say, M. has been suspicious since 2003, aware that J Chiba took stuff from Elliott’s studio: ‘There was a great deal of stuff being collected, moved, missing, etc. then she left town. Many of us thought this was a crime, but back then, you didn’t just pop-off at the mouth without evidence like people do today. It looked, sounded & quacked like a duck.’
To these three different conversations, I also could add the one I had with someone (let’s call him De.) who knew ‘Elliott professionally and a bit personally.’ After his death, he attended Elliott’s celebration of life, organized by Christopher Cooper of Cavity Search Records. He said that Chiba showed up, uninvited: ‘As my partner at the time put it, ‘she brought darkness’ to the celebration,’ he said. ‘There was only ONE person that didn’t seem affected or saddened.’ He even added that Chiba was ‘downright cheery and laughing.’ ‘It was unsettling and odd to the rest of us that were absolutely shocked.’ De. also heard many rumors regarding this tragic day, that he was willing to share: ‘I’ve heard all kinds of things regarding that fateful day (he had/was going to break things off with her because she was so controlling), but unfortunately, as she is the only survivor of that relationship she ultimately has the ability to control the narrative… for now.’ […] ‘I’d also heard about the fight they had that day, which is probably the biggest reason besides her starfucker status that I question ANYTHING she says. Clearly her lawsuit against his family and estate shows her intent. She couldn’t manage herself out of a wet paper bag let alone manage his career.’
Despite fans’ usual leitmotiv – ‘it doesn’t matter, we should only focus on the music’ – De. added a few points which support my conviction that knowing the truth is very important in this story: ‘It’s not likely to ever be ‘solved,’ but it’s a worthy cause that absolutely needs attention from people with Elliott’s best interest at heart. So many friends have been affected by the cloud that hangs over his memory and legacy, it feels as if that has kept so many of us from being able to have closure and acceptance. I don’t think one even had to know him personally to feel this isn’t right. He deserves peace.’
Once again, all these conversations confirm two things: many people in Elliott Smith’s circle were very suspicious early on and still are. This is something I will never assert enough times at the risk to contradict many misinformed opinions: many people were very suspicious early on and still are. Then Chiba lied and tried to manipulate other people who had no close relationship with Elliott. It’s just a mystery to me that many people still stay silent and let her control the mainstream narrative.
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – June 1975 (Volume 7, Number 1)
Smith’s final freelance contribution to Creem.
putting Nigeria on the map
back at # 1 for a third non consecutive week
not a dreamer but a steely eyed businessman and pop musician
Willie Nelson will play at the Palomino fest on Saturday
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1975 (Volume 6, Number 12
Elton John came across as completely engaging
by episode nine, season four, the bastards finally got me sick of Kate!
some hooky and wildly inspired tune
Harry has the summer of his career!