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Misconceptions About Elliott Smith

There are a lot of misconceptions and myths when it comes to Elliott Smith, and the fact that he died 15 years ago in mysterious circumstances doesn’t help. If the circumstances around his death are still murky in most people’s minds, here are a few misconceptions and plain lies that should be corrected:

– Elliott was shooting heroin: if he was taking a lot of drugs at a period of his life, he doesn’t seem to have used a syringe, at least he was not heavily shooting heroin as we can read on page 6 of the autopsy report:  ‘No track marks or surgical scars are identified’. Since the autopsy was thoroughly done, and does report a abundance of details, we can assume that Elliott was not shooting heroin, because intravenous drug use obviously leaves marks. If you have met heroin users, you know what I mean.

– Elliott was a cutter, and he was harming himself: There’s no doubt that using drugs (and a lot of them) is a form of self-harm, and we know that drug consumption was only heavy in 2001- early 2002. However, cutting and using a tool to harm yourself is a different story. Obviously I can’t be sure of anything, I can’t affirm that Elliott had never harmed himself, but once again the autopsy report was well done and didn’t notice any of the alleged knife cuts mentioned by Robin Peringer in Spin magazine (Mr. Misery, by Liam Gowing, Spin 2004, p 80-92): ‘He had three really tremendous knife wounds on his left arm. They were deep, like he had to go across a couple of times or have the sharpest, biggest knife to do it.’…  and since this episode allegedly took place just a few weeks before his death, we can assume that the scars left by ‘tremendous knife wounds on his left arm’ would not have escaped Dr. Scheinin who did the autopsy. However, the autopsy reveals page 6 ‘multiple ovoid linear and angular nonspecific old scars on the dorsal and dorsal radial left forearm’, which could be old cigarette burns. I remember seeing them on his arm at concerts, and Elliott used to hide them with some Sharpie-tattoo he was drawing before shows. However, it is unsure how Elliott ended up getting these scars as I talked to someone who met Elliott when he was working with David McConnell in a Malibu studio. At this time (around April 2001) Elliott was taking a huge amount of drugs, and this person told me that Elliott had inflicted these cigarette burns to himself during a crack episode, because he wanted to burn insects and worms he thought were crawling on his arm.  And since there is a big difference between injuring yourself because of hallucinations and doing it completely sober in order to harm yourself (as cutters do), we don’t have any proof that these scars could be attributed to self-mutilating behavior.

– Elliott was a junkie his entire life: Of course, there is no doubt Elliott was heavily using drugs at a point of his life, but this does not represent his entire life as people often assume. The heavy drugs only started after his move to Los Angeles in 1999. Of course alcohol (and probably marijuana) were always present in his life, but the numerous heavy drug references in his early songs are often interpreted too literally, whereas Elliott often used drugs as metaphors for love relationships.

And to finish with misconceptions, he had a great distaste when people were associating him with ‘Miss Misery’, the song which made him famous, because it was reinforcing the cliché…  All his career, he fought against the sad-sack cartoon costume and the romantic myth of the tortured artist… don’t believe what you read, Elliott was like you and me, not a sad sack, but happy and sad, and very funny. I will let him the last words: ‘There’s a humor and a ‘fuck you’ insistence in those songs which is also a weird kind of optimism, but people only seem to hear the darker tone.’

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