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Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing

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3.37  ·  Rating details ·  825 ratings  ·  70 reviews
Best known for his Oscar-nominated song "Miss Misery" from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, Elliott Smith was catapulted to the status of indie rock star after performing at the 1997 Academy Awards. Some of his albums, XO and Either/Or among them, would become '90s classics, helping to define an understated aesthetic that owed as much to the melodic emphasis of The ...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published October 4th 2005 by Da Capo Press (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.37  · 
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Matthew Rossana
Oct 13, 2007 rated it did not like it
Elliott Smith has been one of my favorite musicians for many years, and his suicide was very upsetting. When I read about this biography, I was really excited to get an inside look into the life of this artist to hopefully get some answers to his death. Instead, I got a poorly-written "semi-biography" based on stories and tales of people that barely knew Elliott and it doesn't really offer much insight at all.

The most entertaining part is the addition to the end of the book where the author
...more
Lauren
Sep 09, 2007 rated it it was ok
Probably the worst written and poorly fact checked musical biography I've ever read. Hell, if Austin was really only ten miles from Lubbock, the capital wouldn't go blue every time there's an election. But that's just me, and I don't get paid to edit musical biographies that don't even include interviews from the people closest to the person in question.
Jeremy
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who loved his music
This author chose to spend most of his time on elliott's life rather than his tragic death. A good choice considering his death is not yet fully explained. A must read for fans.
Michael
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I wish SOMEBODY would write a truly GOOD Elliott Smith biography. He was fascinating, and a genius, yet nobody has ever done his biography justice.
Jeffrey
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: elliott smith fans
Nobody got very close to Elliott while he was alive, and this book does a good job of painting a fair (albeit distanced) portrait of the songwriter.
El
Nov 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Sonja
May 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
As I had heard way before I finally grabbed the copy this time--the missing copy in the library sysmtem magically was recovered after I put the title on hold nearly a year ago--, no surprise that this turned out to be a piece of garb*&^. I had to crack up asking myself why on earth I wound up reading this poorly editted undergraduate paper--it might not be B+ even for a term paper level. The reason that I sought this out was still clear, though: there were very few documents and even fewer ...more
Scott
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
I just finished this book for the second time, and upped the rating to 4 stars from 3. Why?

This is a very good book, one of only a few out there on Elliott Smith. Smith has been one of my favorite songwriters and performers for years now, and is one of only a few (along with Nick Drake and Daniel Rossen, in my opinion) who can write very intense music on an acoustic guitar. Tomorrow, Tomorrow is a prime example of this.

This book taught me a lot about Smith. Reading it a second time, I was less
...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
I read this on the drive back to Milwaukee from my first visit to Austin. Basically it was not well done. Rather boring. Rather repetitive. Rather overflowing with "tortured-hero myth" tropes.

I remember stopping in Dallas to stretch our legs and see Dealey Plaza, the famed site of the JFK assassination. The strange boredom I felt while looking at, well, nothing but a patch of grass in the middle of downtown Dallas pretty much maps onto how I felt about reading this book. Unfortunately all too
...more
David
Aug 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Based on all of the negative reviews I'd seen, I approached this book with trepidation. But in the end, it turned out to be a satisfying read. Given the fact that Smith's family won't talk about him publicly, there's likely never to be a definitive book on the man -- so this book will have to do the trick. It's got plenty of quotes from old interviews with Smith himself, along with ample input from old friends and musician colleagues. And Nugent's interpretations of Smith's lyrics were ...more
Marissa
Jul 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
There is a reason people who knew Elliott don't want to contribute to to someone's biography of him. If the author wanted to speculate on the lives of musicians and their demises, he would have done better just writing about the patterns and intentionally obscured failures in our governmental system pre Reagan era. There is not enough information in this book to get a real idea of what his life was like.
Dave
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Whispy thin and lacking in song history and analysis. Torrents saint was much better.
Molly Tolsky
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
If it's got Elliott's name on it, automatic five stars.
Brad
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
While this book's has much better readability than Torment Saint, it lacks much crucial information included in the other book. Still, this isn't a bad study of Smith's life.

(view spoiler)
...more
Bad Penny
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
I love Elliott Smith and I was really interested in learning more about him. This book, however, was boring and tedious to read and offered almost nothing (apt title...)
Kathryn Dearborn
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Gives appreciable insight into Elliott's inner life with limited resources.
Desiree
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: rock-and-roll
I remember sitting atop a dryer almost a decade ago riveted to a story in LA Weekly about the life and death of musician Elliott Smith, as some of the description of his personality resonated with me in ways nothing has before or since. I remember feeling naked in the laundromat seeing these things in print, though the sensation may also have been due to the fact that most of my clothes were tumbling around underneath me. The unfortunate denouement is that Smith ends up rampantly addicted to ...more
Brenda Tirado
Oct 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I first decided to buy this book on Amazon, I immediately went to Goodreads to look at the reviews before I went ahead and bought it. The reviews didn't seem so enthusiastic. Nevertheless, I purchased it. In my opinion, Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing by Benjamin Nugent is a really well written book. This book gave me insight into the type of life Elliott lived. Yeah, he did drugs and ultimately lost himself because of the fame and fortune thrust upon him by being nominated for an Academy ...more
Literatemoose
Aug 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
I was excited to read this, as I've always been interested to know more about Smith, but this was a huge disappointment both in content and in quality. The writing was terrible. He jumped to conclusions about what songs were about, even though several people pointed out their meanings couldn't be broken down simply. He made no effort to edit the repetitions or impertinent information out of his interviews, and didn't speak with several key figures in Elliott's life. It glossed over a lot of ...more
Mark Delboy
Jun 19, 2010 rated it liked it
I am adore Elliott Smith, but became a fan after his rise & fall. I really knew nothing about Smith and was interested in getting some sort of background into his life. The best part of this work was the details and slight analysis of Elliott's songs. The methods of recording and musical influences for each album were also interesting. I had to stop reading and go back / listen to his albums to really get a feeling of what the other was talking about, which is highly enjoyable.

Easy read.
...more
Colin Moon
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Informative but shoddy and incomplete. I learned a lot about Elliott, was enthralled with him, as I always was, but I wish Nugent would have reined himself in and waited five, ten, fifteen years, so that the people so devastated by his death would be able to inform the over all biography. It seems rude, really, to rush to this project given the light of what had happened, and I completely feel for the people who did not respond to Nugent's requests for interview--the people closest, with the ...more
SirLordBaltimore
Aug 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Being a big Elliott Smith fan, I was naturally excited to sink my teeth into this biography. This book does contain a lot of quality information about the artist in terms of what happened when, and how things transpired for him. Also, some of the studio information is interesting and valuable in my opinion.

Unfortunately the author just meddles with the magic constantly. I found myself rolling my eyes into my skull time after time. The author states that many people close to Elliott refused to
...more
Amanda
Dec 05, 2009 rated it liked it
As a story of Elliott Smith's growth as a musician and as a critique of his career, this is a well-written and interesting book. However, an in-depth biography this is not. Most of the most important and influential people in Smith's life refused to talk to Nugent for the book, and so instead he has relied on people in Smith's outer circle, even including childhood friends that seem to have no idea what kind of person Smith was from the time he hit puberty. Nugent doesn't make guesses at the ...more
J.C.
Oct 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This book I'd recommend to any fan of Elliott Smith. Most of it is filled with stuff that most ordinary fans would already know, but there are plenty of bits of fresh info in here. My favorite part, and to me was the most interesting, was towards the end when it dove into Elliott's creative stupor over "From A Basement On A Hill", where he basically lived in the studio and supervised over every single little sound on the album. It made me wish he had lived, again, so that he could have finished ...more
Danielle Sciocchetti
Sep 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
good book about a talented, amazing singer/songwriter. although at times gets redundant, and doesn't really dig too deep (probably because a lot of the people closest to him weren't included in the book), it does a good job of not painting smith in the cliched sad, depressed light that one would expect. definitely has sad moments, obviously, and makes his final moments even more depressing when you read about how he was actually a really funny, joking, sweet person for most of his life. a good ...more
Joe
Aug 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: music-biography
The author ,Benjamin Nugent, did research but was unable to reveal a lot of fact as most people wouldn't talk to him. I think it may have been too soon after his death with too many questions still left unanswered. I think Mr. Nugent may have been more successful if he had waited a year or two. Not to mention the fact that Elliott Smith preferred his life to be private, and his family and friends respected that for the most part. I enjoyed it because it was something related to a man whose music ...more
Matt
Jan 31, 2008 rated it did not like it
This really is a bad book. Trust me. I know the material. The author basically took a bunch of rumors, a few random facts and expanded upon them. Kind of like if you took a cliff's notes and wrote the book around that. This is a waste of your time. I recommend instead "Elliott Smith" by Autumn DeWilde.
Robyn
Oct 24, 2007 added it
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in music
Elliott Smith may have been "emo" as today's society would put it, and at times, his depression could seem pathetic. However, somehow the world could have empathy and related directly to his word and feelings. His demise, is no surprise and I honestly think if he hadn't been killed so soon, he would have killed himself with his drug use.
Erin
Dec 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
I love Elliott Smith, but this book was positively awful. It's as if Mr. Nugent simply got tired of the subject he was researching for this biography, the end result being a mundane and strained attempt at capturing Elliott's life. Sadly, it is as dry as a woodplank and as disinterested as a child in church.
Elizabeth Gillingham
I thought this book was very well thought out and put together. The writer did the best he could with the information he could gather, which I considered ample. I think some people get upset because they expected this book to give a precise answer as to why Elliott Smith died. Anyone who places such expectations can't help but be disappointed.
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