I was camping up in Mendocino County this weekend and played the album that Elliott Smith was working on when he died, “From A Basement On The Hill.” Someone asked, which album is this? I’ve never heard it. Another said, it’s hard to believe he killed himself. I said, I thought he was murdered by his girlfriend.
One thing led to another and no one was certain of the details, so I made a mental note to look up the story when I returned to civilization. Its been over four years since Elliott Smith died and at least one journalist and a lot of fans, including myself, don’t believe that Smith committed suicide. The details in Elliott Smith’s autopsy suggest homicide. His girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, who called police, seemed all too eager, at least by police accounts, to explain that Smith was suicidal and had a history of drug abuse. Of course, it didn’t hurt that his music tended to be dark and introspective.
Who would stab himself in the chest, not once, but twice?
Why would someone misspell his name in his “suicide” note, or did the police just get that detail wrong?
It’s easy to over analyze Smith’s lyrics, especially on his last album, but I wonder if he’s talking about Chiba in “Don’t Go Down.”
I met a girl/ Snowball in hell/ She was hard/ And as cracked as the liberty bell
And I got her to/ Come on and move in with me/ And I said I’ll find a better place/ Where we can spend eternity
But don’t go down/ Don’t go down/ Stay with me, baby stay
She had a dream/ Woke up in shock/ She had seen/ Her own body outlined in chalk
And I split the scene, the globe’s been spun/ And her ghost beamed down to kiss me/ With a message from the sun
As of last October, a judge denied Chiba’s claim to Smith’s estate. As far as I can tell, nothing else has come of the case.
Elliott, wherever you are, I hope you’re resting in peace.
Note: You’ll find live recordings of Elliott Smith — 104 as of 1212/29/2010 — on archive.org.