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Elliott Smith, Five Years Later


Five years after his death, we’ll listen back to Elliott Smith’s music and chart the people and places that inspired his songs.

Ten years ago, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith appeared at the 70th Annual Academy Awards to play his Oscar-nominated song Miss Misery, from the soundtrack to Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting:

For many viewers around the country, it was their first introduction to Smith. But for many Oregonians, Smith’s was already a familiar face. He had been living in Portland on and off since he was 14 years old, and his music bore the imprint of the city. His lyrics were littered with references to various Portland locations and landmarks.

His early music was hushed and intimate; many of his songs were simple, lo-fi recordings featuring his complicated acoustic guitar picking and whispery singing. The sound was a stark contrast to Seattle’s grunge scene that was then gaining national attention, but his lyrics were often dark and hinted at his struggles with alcohol, depression, and drugs.

Smith died in Los Angeles in 2003. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office established the cause of death as stab wounds to the chest. The mode of death was listed as undetermined.

On the fifth anniversary of his death, we’ll listen back to Elliott Smith’s music and chart the people and places that inspired his songs.

Here’s one to start with — a rare early song, Coraliza (2.6 MB MP3), by Elliott Smith and Garrick Duckler, recorded in 1988.

Are you an Elliott Smith fan? Is he an old favorite? A relatively new discovery?

Where do you hear his influence in Portland’s music scene — or in your own musical career? How does Eliott Smith reverberate today?

Editor’s Note: This post was updated to reflect corrected information about Elliott Smith’s death.

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