TORMENT SAINT by William Todd Schultz


The Life of Elliott Smith
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Heavy psychological examination of the life of melancholic indie-rock troubadour Smith.

Published to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Smith’s tragic suicide, “psychobiographer” Schultz (An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus, 2011, etc.), known for his analytical acumen in exposing the inner lives of artists like Truman Capote and Diane Arbus, gives the same head-shrinker treatment to the long-lamented singer/songwriter. Smith is probably best known for his melancholic song “Miss Misery,” used in the Academy Award–winning film Good Will Hunting. Yet he was such an introverted, enigmatic figure that even the hundreds of hours of interviews Schultz conducted with friends, loved ones and acquaintances still barely make a dent into what made Smith tick and what made him ultimately take his own life. The author traces Smith’s troubles ostensibly back to childhood and vague hints of emotional abuse at the hands of his stepfather. Schultz skillfully interprets Smith’s laconic quotes and makes broader interpretations of how his thought processes work. The author ably covers Smith’s childhood growing up in Texas and Portland, Ore., through his high school and Hampshire College years, his initial brushes with midlevel fame in Heatmiser and then his bigger success as a solo artist. In the end, however, Smith’s descent into drug addiction and ever-increasing depression doesn’t seem too far removed from the same morbid sensibility and inability to come to terms with fame that drove Kurt Cobain to suicide. Although Smith can certainly be a sympathetic figure, by the final chapter, readers are no closer to Smith psychologically. What we are left with, however, is the unpleasant fact that he willfully dragged his friends and girlfriends through his own empty existential hell, which isn’t exactly a redeeming quality.

A well-researched biography in which the subject still remains elusive.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60819-973-0
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2013


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