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Elliott Smith was one of the most gifted songwriters of the '90s, adored by fans for his subtly melancholic words and melodies. He died violently in LA in 2003, under what some believe to be questionable circumstances, of stab wounds to the chest. By this time fame had found him, and record-buyers who shared the listening experience felt he spoke directly to them from beyond: astute, damaged, lovelorn, fighting until he could fight no more. And yet Smith remained unknowable. In Torment Saint, William Todd Schultz...
Elliott Smith was one of the most gifted songwriters of the '90s, adored by fans for his subtly melancholic words and melodies. He died violently in LA in 2003, under what some believe to be questionable circumstances, of stab wounds to the chest. By this time fame had found him, and record-buyers who shared the listening experience felt he spoke directly to them from beyond: astute, damaged, lovelorn, fighting until he could fight no more. And yet Smith remained unknowable. In Torment Saint, William Todd Schultz gives us the definitive biography of the rock star, imbued with affection, authority, sensitivity, and long-awaited clarity.
Torment Saint draws on Schultz's careful, deeply knowledgeable readings and insights, as well as on more than 150 hours of interviews with close friends from Texas to Los Angeles, lovers, bandmates, music peers, managers, label owners, and recording engineers and producers. This book unravels the remaining mysteries of Smith's life and his shocking, too early end. It's an indispensable examination of his life and legacy.
"In Torment Saint, William Todd Schultz has written his own kind of love song—an account of Smith's life that does full justice to his memory and the impressive legacy of his art . . . A persuasive reckoning with Elliott's inner demons and—much more important—a full appreciation and celebration, of his undeniable genius." —Bookforum
"Rigorously researched . . . Offers the deepest, most informative look into the singer-songwriter's tortured life." —BuzzFeed, "Books Every Music Lover Should Read"
"Torment Saint will likely go down as the definitive biography." —PASTE Magazine
"Elliott Smith, whose soul presides over the lives of melancholy indie rockers, gets the wake song he deserves in William Todd Schultz’s Torment Saint." —Vanity Fair
"Schultz brings to his work a deep understanding of how inner and outer landscapes can affect unique and sensitive artists . . . But no matter how dark Smith's story gets, Schultz never loses sight of the beauty of his music." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Torment Saint is a highly readable, headlong dive into the far end of a tormented artist’s head space. It’s a cloudy, gray place at times, but even the saddest, darkest moments contain a beautiful silver lining." —Willamette Week
"Persuasive . . . Exposes surprises across the songwriter's body of work . . . An admirably well-written biography with much to offer . . . Essential for fans of Smith [but] more than worthwhile for any pop music fan." —Library Journal
Posted February 16, 2014
That's it. This IS a product. Tedious product with a ridiculous title. It was allegedly written with "LOVE" and "ADMIRATION", but the result is mediocre and biased. Elliott Smith deserves much better. Nugent only had a few months and he did a better job. Humility matters, when you choose Elliott Smith a a subject. Would-be biographers, the definitive bio remains to be written.
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Posted January 28, 2014
I have been a fan of Elliott Smith since I saw him perform "Waltz #2 (XO)" on Saturday Night Live in the 90's (Lucy Lawless was hosting and Sean Combs still went by the name Puff Daddy). I have every Elliott and Heatmiser album along with having read both biographies by DeWilde and Nugent, respectively, and LeMay's take on the XO album in 33 1/3. In each of those, I have found truth and wisdom to a degree, but I am having trouble doing so with Schultz's work.
Nugent treats his work as a log of his pilgrimage to places Smith was from or been to. Nugent even comes to conclusions, but alerts that he is coming to his own conclusions. He is a fan and has ethical appeal.
LeMay alerts us to his original view of Smith, giving his perceptions before alerting us to the detailed background behind the XO album. It is very well researched and he shows us how the lyrics translate into Smith's life, a tactic that Nugent employed as well. He disliked Smith, but became a fan. Again, there is ethical appeal.
DeWilde, as we know, was the director of Smith's music video for the song "Son of Sam." She has the work connection to Smith as well as a friend. She interviews friends, family, and people who were inspired by Smith's work. DeWilde even leaves the reader with a CD of an unreleased live set. Her book is dripping with ethical appeal.
Schultz, coming to the game ten years after the death of Smith, has a hard row to hoe. He has to write on a topic that has been spoken of many times before, interview people that either don't want to be interviewed or have not credible information about a nearly mythic figure, and ,above all else, this work must be original. Schultz takes a note out of the work of LeMay and Nugent by alternating between narrative and discussion of lyrics; however, he does not do it as well as LeMay or Nugent. Schultz, needing originality and credibility, goes to the one source that nobody has thought to look: Jennifer Chiba (the woman that locked herself in bathroom crying for hours while Smith misspelled his own name on his suicide note before stabbing himself twice in the chest...SUSPICIOUS). While I give Schultz props for this bold move, it was also a slap in the face as a fan considering how she is the primary source for the bulk of the information provided and, when discussing home life, Ashley Welch, Elliott's sister, is not interviewed. Instead, Chiba delivers the majority of info on Smith's childhood that she had not been part of. Just throwing this out there, nobody would believe a biography on John Lennon or J.D. Salinger if the primary source of the information came from Mark David Chapman rather than Colleen, Yoko, or Paul (respectively).
The only originality that Schultz provides to us are a few new pictures and a few minor quotes from high school friends. While I give the man kudos for attempting to tackle such an important subject, his work paled in comparison to that of his predecessors. If you want enjoyment that is honest, seek out DeWilde, LeMay, and Nugent instead.
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Posted August 11, 2014
"one of the most gifted songwriters of the 90s!"
talk about damning with faint praise. really, we don't want to hear your opinions - find some other dead celebrity to write about will you?