Just Say Yes

Elliott Smith Live at the Riviera Theater

Thursday, May 2, 2002

I love Elliott Smith, but man, he was a mess last night opening up for Wilco at an unannounced show in Chicago. It was really sad. He apparently slept funny on the plane and a couple of his fingers had fallen asleep and would not wake up. He told us this probably 75 times in the hour or so he was on stage. “Fuck! I keep concentrating on my fingers.” He would start a song, play the first few bars, maybe sing one line or two, and then stop, apologize, and tell us he couldn’t feel his fingers. “I keep concentrating on my fingers instead of the song, and I’m not going to play it if I’m not into the song.” I think he played a total of three songs all the way through, no shit. He probably started 30. “Just let me try to think of a song I can play with only two fingers.” If someone taped this, it’s going to be one of those monumentally tragic recordings that show a great artist totally bottoming out.

I kept thinking how that must have been what it was like to see Bukowski do a reading, but without the meanness toward the audience. Just the messiness of someone who’s fucked up.

I seriously hope he’s okay and that he gets his shit together. But it would not surprise me at all if Elliott Smith ends up dead within a year.

69 thoughts on “Just Say Yes”

  1. That really bums me out. Don’t say Elliott Smith’s gonna die in a year, man! No way would he do that! I heard, like probably all of you, that he was into junk at some point. But from what I felt from his music, I just believe Elliott’s spirit is stronger than that. I would feel terrible if he let himself go, especially that way. And so would so many other fans. If you feel Elliott you know what I’m talking about. He could play every show like the one you described, Jake, and still have a fanbase.It had to be his fingers. No other explanation.

  2. Set list according to http://www.sweetadeline.net/ 1. get lost 2. don’t go now 3. division day–a request that was aborted. 4. pretty ugly before 5. between the bars–aborted 6. shooting star 7. independence day–aborted elliott did a riff of Fond Farewell 8. come out now–or beautiful collapsing star9. say yes–aborted 10. true love–aborted 11. biggest lie 12. last call–aborted 13. fond farewell

  3. The whole Chicago office was there. We get calls about shows like this all the time. Remember the Cheap Trick review? That too was a “secret” show. Ah, it’s good to be King…

  4. well, i honestly believe that if you’re that fucked up, you don’t go on stage. it’s not as if it was a scheduled show. hang back stage and pop a few more pills. unless you’re g.g. allen, of course.

  5. Oh, Elliot Smith isn’t going to die. He’s always been like that…If he feels like taking a cigarette break in the middle of a song, he does…or if he just decides he doesn’t feel like playing a song in the middle of it, he doesn’t…geez, I hope he’s ok, though. I don’t know, I just think it’s wierd to see him in such a big venue. I saw him play at Metro a few years ago and he seemed like a fish out of water, or on the Oscars a few years ago…maybe it’s getting to him…

  6. This wasn’t Elliott Smith taking a break. He couldn’t get through the songs…at all.Now, I’d never seen him live before so maybe this is standard fare. If that’s the case, then I’m really nervous for him.

  7. Its not that the show wasnt scheduled or unannounced, the show was setup by and for Northwestern students. It was supposed to be on the NU campus, but they moved it to the Riv and then promoters from the student org put out the word that less than half of the tix were sold because they didnt really promote it, and to just come. No Student ID required. When I got there, they were standing in front of the Riv with stacks of tickets selling them for $15 each. My main point being, this wasnt just some unscheduled show for Elliot Smith to jerk off at, this was for these students and it was supposed to be their Spring “Ball” or something. Regardless, Smith was pathetic. Ive seen him in the past and he is a talent. But he is a clown now.

    1. Damn, it’s crazy reading these comments this far in the future.

      “this wasnt just some unscheduled show for Elliot Smith to jerk off at, this was for these students and it was supposed to be their Spring “Ball” or something. Regardless, Smith was pathetic. Ive seen him in the past and he is a talent. But he is a clown now.”

  8. Listen. Some of you are making all kinds of blanket statements and it sucks. They only announced Elliott was going to be there a few days ago so he couldn’t have known for sure that he was going THAT long.Elliott is an amazing musician who had a bad day. It just happened to be on a day that he had to perform. Get off his back. He’s a real person too. I was there. He looked nothing like a clown.

  9. Sorry, but I can’t help it.Seriously though. There are only a couple of explanations. First that he’s so emotionaly weak that he becomes a freaking wreck on stage. If that’s the case, maybe he should think about doing the XTC thing and become a studio musician. The second possibility is that he was either sick or screwed up on drugs. Either way, he should have kept from making a fool of himself and not gotten up there to begin with.Sounds like a Morrissey maneuver to me.

  10. He didn’t look like a clown (I was there too), but he did look like he was having more than a bad day. As all the fan boards have noted lately, his shows have been sketchy at best and a disaster at worst since at least December of this year.Jake, Johnny and I are all fans of Elliott Smith’s and truly hope he’s ok but to not report that his show was disturbing would have not been fair to the readers of Glorious Noise and not true to our statement to write about what moves us in music. Rock and Roll Can Change Your Life and I hope it saves Elliott Smith’s.

  11. … he was maimed by rock and roll.ok, i can’t speak about the show, because i wasn’t there. though, i have to re-iterate the point i made before and slightly change it. if you’re fucked up on drugs, or you’re too stricken by stage fright to play a show, or you’re sick as a dog… save me the hassle of a lame show. don’t saunter out and give a lackluster performance.

  12. This is REALLY REALLY disturbing. But pleasedon’t say that Elliott will be dead within ayear, contemplating a world without Elliottcreating more beautiful music is something Idon’t want to think about.I wasn’t at the show, but it seems to me thathe might’ve just been having a very bad day,he could’ve not been feeling well, whatever.I know there’s been a lot said about Elliotthaving been on junk at some point, but assomeone else has already stated, I think hehas the strength to stay away from that.It had to be his hand. I hope he gets thattaken care of, I’m really worried about him.

  13. I’m not really sure how this message board works. Is it a matter of people making comments and Jake retorting them? In any event, whoever assessed Elliott Smith as a clown reveals an emotional naivety that I’m not too sure the writer intends to publicize.

  14. Personally, I find junkies to be hilarious! Drunks on the otherhand, are simply no big deal. Come on people, it’s not like he’s Johnny Cash for crying out loud. Set in the right context, it can be pulled off. Shane McGowen for example, wouldn’t be worth watching if he were sober. Willy wouldn’t sound so sweet without a preconcert drag of the herb. But if you want to croon sensitive emotional lyrics over thoughtful guitar work, leave smack out of it. It just won’t due. As far as the music business goes, I believe that a performer owes a paying audience something more than a public display of their mental or chemical problems. When you put yourself up on stage you owe it to yourself and the audience to deliver. Bad reviews are part of the territory, and music fans understand that. Some shows are better than others. It’s a whole other thing when he can’t finish a song. That kind of public display is best handled on the Oprah Winfrey show.

  15. Fair enough. But consider that the pressure of trying to “deliver” to an audience is a major factor in most performers’ substance abuse problems. Which is not to say it’s not their choice.And on the flipside of it, one thing I’m not keen on, is a seemingly strong contingent of enablers in the Elliott Smith fanbase. And this applies to other rockers as well. It seems that these hardcore fans will apologize and shrug off everything Elliott does as a part of his artistry, before allowing that it could be more serious. They say Elliott Smith’s music is like therapy, and it seems that his fans do not want their therapy interrupted, at any cost to Elliott himself.Why do fans have such a hard time letting rockers be people?

  16. Isn’t it weird how any time there’s text on this site that contains something negative, tons of posts roll in that support the artist?Maybe there’s some strange person employed by the major labels who scans the internet for negative articles about their musicians and then alerts the fanbase of their existence in order to flood the site with praise for the artist?Just a little bit of a conspiracy theory. It is monday after all and that’s when I’m the most suspicious, especially of that Scotty character.

  17. I can tell you with all certainty that Scotty is a coporate plant. We’re going to smoke him out, tie him up in a sack, and throw him in a pond.

  18. I think you’ve got a point there, Ryan. There has been a small supply of pop and rock musicians with this type of apologist fan base for a while now. I can’t think of an example prior to the 80s, but definately since Cobain ate lead it’s been common place in the alterna-scene. If I show up for work f**ked up out of my mind and and saying over and over out loud, “my hand won’t work”, I’d loose my job. I’m not saying that the guy should be punished or anything, but why the hell should he get a free pass? The idea that artists are somehow different because they produce art, or that emotional or personal termoil is a necessary part of the artistic process, is just plain dumb. That notion has now become wrapped-up in the new media culture, where public confessionals are not just common, but expected from our entertainment figures. I wish Smith luck. If he really is in trouble it would be a shame to see him loose it for good. But then again, Rivers Cumo went nuts and created “Pinkerton”, so who knows?

  19. My favorite part of a “negative” review is the mandetory posts by people who say (all parahphrased) “You don’t really know so you shouldn’t be critical”, “You know is a real person with real feelings” and then, “You try to get up there and sing your songs like does, I doubt you could”, and finally “Go listen to Britney Spears/NSych/Creed”

  20. ooops – I put the word “artist” in brackets and the html tried to render. So that is why my english looks so poor…sorry

  21. Why you guys always gotta be pickin on Scotty?If all the GloNo listeners knew who I really was, it would BLOW THEIR MINDS! Heck, sometimes I blow my own mind.

  22. I know who you are and it does indeed blow my mind. Especially given your past. Oh, I hope that’s not too much of a hint. We at GLONO repsect the privacy of our readers.

  23. I must agree, it was embarassing to stand there with friends at the show and exchange looks of “Oh No, not again” each and every time E.Smith would stop playing . This is similar to the same horror I feel watching a good friend all f**ed up but still trying to find some feeble excuses for their behavior. Jake, you have amazing powers of lipreading -how could you even understand all the mumbles about his fingers and not knowing how to play his old songs, and then a mumble about not knowing how to play his new songs? The thing that bothered me the most was when someone threw something at the stage and hit him towards the end of his set. He just hung his head and said “I deserve that”. Whole thing was just sad.But Wilco was amazing afterwards.

  24. He said that? That’s really sad. I don’t think I could have sat through something like that.Scotty, I know you say he shouldn’t be out there performing in that state but I think that anyone at his level probably would feel like “man, I can do it. I just have to get in the swing of it and I’ll be fine.” I wish Guided By Voices the last time I saw them would have been at least a bit ashamed of their drunkeness. At least offer some excuse! But no, they kept swilling back booze and acting like frat boys proud of getting fucked up. That was the first show I’ve walked out of due to boredom ever.

  25. Ryan, you have a point there. I noticed the “enabler” trend with Elliott Smith fans(I admit I’m in recovery myself!), and God forbid if you say the “h” word to them, regardless of all the smack and rehab imagery of his latest work. I buried two people in my life(one 30, one 42–which ISN’T OLD you wee ones out there) who just GAVE UP and there’s a little more going on besides fucking up(can we swear?). There’s a self-esteem issue and a family history issue and some people aren’t cut out for longevity, let’s face it. It’s sad to see Elliott shitting where he eats. I don’t understand why people find it funny. Sure, his music and his art touched me like nobody else’s. I’ve encountered so much self-discovery, and I’ve made wonderful friends–maybe Scott might not be one:)–and had terrific adventures because of Elliott, I just wish that he can be as moved by somebody’s art as I’ve been moved by his.

  26. I thought the “I deserve that” bit was just in response to a heckler — I didn’t see him get hit by something — that makes it more depressing. I saw someone in the crowd ask if they could bum a smoke, Elliott telling them only if they’d give them back, and then throwing his pack out into the crowd. They threw the pack over his head a few minutes later. I think I also remember Elliott asking for a lighter and then catching it with one hand, the one with all five fingers presumably.One more thing: I’m starting to feel like a bit of a hypocrite “condemning” him for being all messed up on stage. I posted my piece the morning after the show while struggling with the worst hangover I’ve had in a while from not eating but still drinking too many draft Miller Lites at the show. I could barely work the next day and had trouble keeping my eys open. So who am I to criticize Elliott Smith for fucking up one day on the his job?Nevertheless, I am concerned about him, and I hope he cleans up his act enough to at least release a few more records.

  27. But back to the enabling issue: Is it that fans are so attached to the artist that they can’t face their short comings? Or is it that any seeming criticism is met with defensive idol worship? Elliott Smith, like so many others, has problems and writes songs that expose a vulnerability that connects with his fans. Isn’t that what makes him and his music so engaging? To gloss over those imperfections seems to diminish him as an artist and a human being.

  28. I think it’s even worse when fans glorify the self-destructive stuff, and advance the myth that the self-destructiveness is required to create the art.

  29. I would rather that people keep their problems to themselves and not ever ever ever show them in public. At least then it won’t end up on web sites, tv shows and music mags. Instead, drunken incidents with blow-up sheep would stay hidden in the deep and dark recesses of denial.I don’t believe that some people are just not cut out for longevity. Everyone has a choice when it comes down to it, whether it’s pickling their liver, blowing their life up their nose or smearing their brains across the sidewalk. I have a bad feeling that this guy is one step from ending up like Phil Ochs. And when that happens it will have been his choice all along. Not genetics, not the inevitable tortured soul of an artist, not the hand of his abusive father. It will be of his own choosing. Come on now, stiff upper lip!

  30. I have to say, that when I read my own comments, I really sound like a heart-less turd!

  31. d, jake and scott, you make wonderful points. Elliott’s music is so personal and it gives a lot of listeners a safety hatch to explore issues that might not be so easy otherwise, and he’s not going to hit anyone over the head with them–except for his latest work. A lot of people, as I used too, think that he has the answers, and he really doesn’t. As anyone who saw him last Thursday can attest, he has a myriad of his own. I think a lot of it has to do with, okay, Elliott’s making it, that means I can too. He has to make it. He HAS to. Maybe that’s sheds a little light on the enabler/fan-base.And, Jake, you got that right! Elliott does the very “adult” minded(helped ME grow up.;)) work on Figure 8, and a majority of the diehards would rather have him strung out and acoustic. (Stay away from Miller Lite for God’s sake! And nobody bopped Elliott over the head intentionally or not. I was standing right in front of the dude.) And, Scott, I agree. Life is a series of choices. But, why do people pick ones that hurt them? Obviously you’ve been lucky enough not to know anyone self destructive.I really appreciate our candor. Business as usual, the people on the board I usually hang out with are done talking about it.

  32. Amy, I’ve known a lot of self destructive people. People who’ve done themselves in with ropes and guns, people who’ve simply just screwed themselves up on alcohol so bad that they’ve continued stumbling through life half dead, people who are so emotionally messed up that they drag the people close to them right down into their mental hell-hole. I’ve had friends who’ve tried to hide their crack habit from their me, but finally couldn’t when they ended up in the hospital close to dead for the 3rd time in a month. I know someone close to me who’s been in rehab for the last five weeks. I could go on and on about infidelity, child abuse, coming from a broken home, living in poverty, etc. etc. I tend to avoid spilling my guts in public, mainly because I believe that it’s no one’s else’s business but my own. And I also find that blatent public confessionals are trite. And lastly, it’s just pathetic to see people doing that to themselves. Most of use have dealt with truckloads of serious s**t. But that doesn’t mean that we all have the same touchy feely attitude about it. To me it’s just life, and it’s how you deal with it.

  33. Yeah, Scott. People like that have quite a huge black hole that it’s hard to navigate around. Why would Elliott’s handlers allow him to represent himself the way he was last Thursday?

  34. That’s a good question! Seriously, as a tour manager/band manager, shouldn’t someone have stopped him from performing or called it off?

  35. Do you think he has handlers? I mean, I’m sure he has a manager. But Dreamworks has all but dropped him, so he doesn’t have any label support. I’ve heard this wasn’t the first time (recently, even) that he did this kind of performance. The message boards at http://www.sweetadeline.net/ are full of these kinds of stories (glossed over by fanatical apologists, naturally)…

  36. I’m not sure how it works, and there are people that can answer this question much better, but somehow Elliott is on haitus from Dreamworks. They didn’t drop him, but they gave him time to make an album on an independent label. After this album is produced, he has to return to Dreamworks to fulfill obligations. It sounds farfetched, I know, but that what I heard.Something I’ve been thinking about too is that Elliott may have been given good advice that he chose not to accept either.

  37. I think the Dreamworks situation is very similar to the Wilco/Reprise situation except that the Dreamworks execs were obviously much smarter. Instead of totally ditching Elliott Smith when he turned in an album they thought not commerically viable, they’re allowing him to release it on another label (someone else’s risk, not theirs), but they still retain him and his future albums. If his upcoming album sells, I bet my ass that Dreamworks releases the next one. If it flops, they’ll drop him like a bad habit. Doh!

  38. even a falling star still burns brightly. in that sort of situation, not specifically elliot smith’s, where your major label drops you and you’re out on your own, i have to imagine there still a network of people who would still try to gleem some of the mystique off a celebrity. plenty of star struck addicts with ample supply to junk. just think of sid vicious post sex pistols (via alex cox’s fine bio-pic “sid & nancy”).of course, and i’m sure there’ll be a fair amount of antagonism to the following statement, i believe we may even be missing out on any influence that may be garnered from floating around the same circles of like minded musicians. we tend to canonize tweedy and wilco for all they do, but haven’t addressed the obvious drug references and possible influence they could be under. every article i read about tweedy comments how he’s a thrid party narrator, that he gathers stories from outside of him and is merely a story teller. maybe there’s more to it than that.

  39. Oooh the dirty tricks of the big record execs.I think that a lot of people assume that because a band has a record deal that there is an army of handlers who shephard them around and slap their hands when they get too close to the cookie jar. I really don’t think that that’s always the case. P-Diddliddlie might travel with an entourage of 99 hoes and 25 body gards, but Smith might just have a manager and a roadie or two. Performers are paid attention to with a weight that is in direct proportion to their value at the record label. If they don’t see him as producing a large amount of value, they won’t assign the resources. On top of that, record contracts often factor the cost of those resources into the performers’ take of royalties. The cost of having a manager, a tour bus, a hair stylist, body guards, etc. may or may not be coming out of the performers’ slice of the pie. If the pie isn’t that big, the money for all of that spectacle dries up.Either way, he’s a big boy and he lying in the bed he made for himself. I know a lot of musicians who would sell both their kidneys to be in the position that he’s in. He’s the one who chose to go up on that stage.No apologies from me.

  40. I’m not Iggy Pop, but I have been mistaken for a condiment! That’s as close as you’ll ever get to my superhero identity.

  41. This list has many interesting and concerned points, although I don’t think that a person’s private life is comparable to their profession as a musician or is neccessarily interchangeable. When we talk about a musician as if they owe us some sort of performance as a product, it makes them sound as if they are a running shoe more than a person. I think, and this is just my opinion, that being a pop musician might not be the ultimate plane of social role; rather it is just a more fleeting and temporary version of any other profession, or it serves the same economic purpose anyway. Making money off college students who purchase little plastic discs for twelve dollars does not make Dreamworks any less of an opportunistic business than any other money making scheme. When Elliott Smith does not live up to our culture’s ideal of what a performer should be, it allows us to understand the relationship that our culture has between artists and their patrons. It is simply agreed that any artist needs the monetary support of some higher power. Things are so backward that someone like (to use a poor example) Calvin Johnson felt the need to create an imaginary patron (K Records) to release his own music. The thinking behind this sort of behavior, I think, is that there is an illusion or perception of power or domination over enormous record companies, when in fact that idea of power comes from poor imitations of that system. It is rare to find a musician as talented as Elliott Smith, and it is sad that we are not able to see him perform at his best, since the quality of the music is so great. But we have to understand that in this case I think he is the person that deserves our respect, rather than the audience or the record company, because the music he produces is more important than the illusion of the present.

  42. Absolutely. Elliott has my respect. In fact he has so much of it, that I’m sad I have to let him go and not hang onto my preconceived notions of who he is.(scotty 5000, a condiment? Sounds more like a tissue to me!)

  43. Yeah, our culture’s relationship toward artists is, “here’s some money. entertain me, change my thoughts and help me touch my feelings and excite me, but don’t expect me to give a fuck about you when it’s over.” It’s musical prostitution, rotted to the core by the rugged individualism on which our culture is so unfortunately based. No wonder performers have a hard time when they’re giving the audience a part of their spirit- and not always getting back what they give.

  44. Y’know, some of us die-hard fans just really hoped he’d get better. As a musician, as a person. I cared about him both ways.

  45. I still cant get over this, its been a week today and I cant get over it. He was doing so well, and was so focused on the new album and was clean – what the hell happend? I feel like I have lost a part of myself, even though that seems rediculous. I’m just sorry that i never got to see him live, regardless of his condition, or talk to him.

  46. ok, i have no knowledge on this Elliot Smith dude anyone care to fill me in??? i mean i kno the guy dude but why and how???

  47. my bad that didn’t make sense but what im trying to say is and how did Elliot die and and why? was it cause of drugs or what??? if u wanna instant message me my sn is JLolatinax19

  48. He stabbed himself in the chest..and he was found CLEAN.

    The drug use in the past wasn’t the core of his problems by any means. Just a desperate side effect, with it’s own spiral of problesm. He climbed out of that spiral. His torment remained.

    and regards to the shows where the man came apart…

    my familiarity of Smith has barely scratched the surface compared to his long time friends. I only know of a few songs, so I am not biased.

    Even if I had not been a die-hard fan, and payed $50 to see this show.. All I would’ve done was felt for that man. If someone can honestly empathize with these songs, then this experience should be empathized in the same context..because the context is elliott.

    It is ignorant to assume that when someone comes apart, it’s the drugs. Elliott Smith did not NEED drugs to come apart. Someone can cave in time and time again, with no external influence whatsoever.. it’s not: “well he relapsed today” or “well, he didn’t get any sleep and his girlfriend just left him”. But if nothing happened, then it’s gotta be drugs, right?

    You know what? the other day I was almost taken into custody because I was “caught” having a panic attack while I sat at the lake reading, after a cop insisted on searching my backpack. I’ve never touched an ounce of drugs in my life.

    I must’ve had something to hide though, right?

  49. Elliott is a huge inspiration in my life. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing guitar or recording music. It seems I can’t go a day without listening to his music, or just thinking about him. I love and miss Elliott. XO

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