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Music / Elliott Smith

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Mister Misery, himself

People, you've been before, that you don't want around anymore
— "Between the Bars"

Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith (August 6, 1969 – October 21, 2003) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, commonly associated with the Slowcore movement of the 1990s. He rose to mainstream prominence when his song "Miss Misery" — included in the soundtrack for the film Good Will Hunting — was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category in 1998.

Smith suffered from depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction, and these topics often appeared in his lyrics. At age 34, he died in Los Angeles, California from two stab wounds to the chest.



Tropes associated with Elliott Smith include:

  • Abusive Parents: Smith was reportedly sexually abused by his stepfather, and this was reflected in the lyrics of "Division Day", "Waltz #2" and, to a lesser extent, "Christian Brothers".
  • Adam Westing: The short film Southlander features Smith obsessing over an infomercial for a robotic hand that will allegedly make him the world's greatest guitarist.
  • Alliterative Title: "Between the Bars", "Division Day", "Miss Misery", "Baby Britain", Some Song", "No Name #1-6", "Good to Go", etc.
  • Ballad of X: "Ballad of Big Nothing".
  • Broken Bird: The woman (commonly assumed to be Smith's mother) described in "Waltz #2", with her eyes of "a dead china doll".
  • Broken Record: In the song "Last Call" he repeats "ask for more" twice in rapid succession and then "I wanted her to tell me that she would never wake me" seven times.
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  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Christian Brothers" has a lot of F-bombs for an acoustic ballad.
  • Cool Shades: The videos for "Coming Up Roses" and "Miss Misery."
  • Cover Version: "Because", "Thirteen" and '"Trouble" note  with the latter two specifically created for Thumbsucker.
  • Domestic Abuse: "Southern Belle", "Waltz #2".
  • Downer Ending: "Bye", an ominous, somber instrumental piano piece. It is the outro to Figure 8, his last album before his death.
  • Freudian Excuse: He was sexually abused by his step father when he was young.
  • Garage Band: Many of his early songs were recorded in his basement on a FourTrack.
  • In Name Only: "Ostrich & Chirping", a short interlude included on From a Basement on the Hill was neither written nor performed by Elliott Smith: The track consists of David McConnell, who recorded some of the album, looping sounds made by a toy bird. The piece was on the same reel as some of Elliott's songs, and producer Rob Schnapf decided to put it on the album.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Either/Or, titled after the Søren Kierkegaard book of the same name.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Amity", "I Can't Answer You Anymore", "I Didn't Understand" and probably others.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Division Day" is a cheerful-sounding, uptempo song about parental abuse.
  • Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: The songs are usually ranked around 8-9.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: He ranged from an acoustic 1 (Elliott Smith, Either/Or) to a power poppy 3. (XO, Figure 8)
  • My Nayme Is: The coroner's report mistakenly referred to him as "Elliot", which is the more common spelling of the name.
  • Name and Name: "Punch and Judy".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands" is about an intervention staged by Smith's friends which set off a chain of events that lead to him being committed to a mental institution in Arizona.
  • Never Suicide/Always Murder: Due to some irregularities in his autopsy some believe that his girlfriend at that time, Jennifer Chiba, murdered him.
  • No Title: "No Name #1-6," of which four are on the same album. Other song titles are equally indescriptive, like the B-side "Some Song."
  • One-Woman Song: Subverted with the Two Woman Song "Cecilia/Amanda."
  • One-Word Title: "Clementine", "Satellite", "Alameda", "Angeles".
  • Precision F-Strike: "Christian Brothers", "I Didn't Understand", "A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to Be Free".
  • The Runaway: Smith ran away from home at the age of 14 to live with his father; the incident forms the basis of "Division Day".
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Smith was a far better harmonist than a lead singer. See the acapella "I Didn't Understand" and his cover of The Beatles' "Because".


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