ELLIOT SMITH, MYSELF and FRIENDS OLYMPIA 1995
I started performing solo with electric guitar in the very late 80’s/early 90’s in San Francisco. I began writing what I remember and imagine were pretty awful songs that represented a non-genre that spasmed somewhere between pretentious prog-punk and Billy Bragg style folk-punk. My songs were the product of a train wreck combo of lofty aspiration, low self-esteem, and lots psylocibin mushrooms and alcohol. Wait a sec…maybe I was awesome?!
After moving to Olympia in ‘92 I usually played an acoustic guitar and my songs, though still fueled by the same substances, mania, and demons as before had evolved into more conventional, if somewhat overwrought, pop tunes with pseudo-messianic and covertly psychedelic overtones. I played out and toured quite a bit between 92 and 2000.
In summer of 1995 I put on this show (which was something I almost never did) at The Midnight Sun in downtown Olympia. I thought Elliot’s solo songs were great (He was still usually billed as “Elliot Smith from Heatmiser” at this point) so I got his number from Lois and called him up. He was living in Portland at the time and I promised him we’d at least give him gas money if he could make it up. He was into it.
I billed the show as an “all acoustic oly/pdx convergence!” on the flyer and invited our sisters in acousticity Jen Smith and Sarah Dougher to round out the bill. The Midnight Sun is a black box theater type room that holds about 50 people. I brought a rug down to the venue (the one on the flyer in fact) and made the place look nice. We had a full house and I think Elliot got a few hundred dollars for his trouble.
I finished my set of insanely upbeat, self-help anthems and made funny before handing the mic to Elliot who, before playing a note jokingly said “now I feel bad because I’m going to make everybody sad” He didn’t. He made everyone quiet, some of us a little jealous (no one you’d know) and everybody very glad they were at The Midnight Sun that night.
I’m far from alone in placing Elliot in the very special category of people who were simply touched with that thing. Whatever you want to call it, you know what it is when you see it. It visits a lot of people briefly here and there but the ones that it haunts all the time are the rare ones we say are possessed with “genius”. Elliot Smith was certainly one of those people.
R.I.P. Elliot Smith.
Flyer by yours truly.