El's Reviews > Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing

Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing by Benjamin Nugent
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's review
Nov 20, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: cultural-studies-and-other, radio-ga-ga
Read in November, 2007

I was considering even reading this biography as other reviews were rather negative about the whole concept. After sitting down with it, however, I wonder if those people are out of their minds.

This is the first biography about Elliott Smith; granted, it was published a year after Smith's death, so there could be some question as to the motivation behind the publication, or question as to whether or not it was too early to write a biography about a relatively unknown man to begin with. Outside of magazine interviews (which I feel should be taken with a grain of salt in any case) during Smith's life, there is very little published material on his life and the process he went through to create his music. As Nugent describes in different places of his biography, there were limited resources to turn to in order for him to be able to provide as complete a biography as he wanted. Smith's family and nearest-and-dearest friends would not discuss Smith's life or death with Nugent after many had been burned by publications immediately following his death. Nugent was confined to talking to what many consider "obscure" friends, which I find unlikely - my perception of these of the "obscure" is that there were a few ex-girlfriends and exceptionally close friends from Portland, New York and Los Angeles, and a handful of special friends that were with him through all of his moves, from his musical beginning in the band Heatmiser all the way until his final performances.

A heartbreaking read in many parts when reading about Smith's demons (the ones that others new of in any case). Besides that it was a great read about Smith's process as a songwriter and musician. One of my favorite periods in music history is the Northwestern movement of the 90s such as Smith, without whom we would not have singers like Cat Power or Joanna Newsom today, which Nugent is kind enough to point out.

What drops my rating down a star are the pieces of interviews with the artist and ex-girlfriend of Smith's, E.V. Day. Someone seriously needs to edit her brain.

Go in reading the book as though viewing a documentary - perhaps that is the medium it should have taken initially, but I still think it was a wonderful read.
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