Although he was born in Omaha, Neb., and died in Los Angeles, a sizable part of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith‘s musical legacy will always be tied to Portland.
From starting his first bands in town and name-dropping local streets in his early material to the memorial plaque set inside the west entry to Lincoln High School, Smith was shaped by Portland and left his mark on the city with his haunting, poignant work.
Smith would have turned 44 this coming Tuesday, and this October will mark the 10th anniversary of his death. In recognition of these upcoming dates, Smith’s friends and family are celebrating his life and music with four charity tribute shows. Called “No Name #1,” after a track off Smith’s first solo release, the series starts Sunday at the Doug Fir Lounge, with additional performances slated for L.A.; Austin, Texas; and New York later in the week.
The Portland show will be hosted by film director Gus Van Sant, whose use of “Miss Misery” for the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack earned Smith a 1998 Oscar nomination for best original song.
“When I was filming ‘Good Will Hunting’ and my film aesthetic told me that it would be good to incorporate a single musical sound into the film, I thought of Elliot, because of the sound and the way it would blend with the story, and I loved his music so much,” Van Sant said via email. A sometimes musician himself, Van Sant will perform at least one Smith song at Sunday’s show.
Although he didn’t know Smith particularly well, Van Sant finds common ground in their shared connection to making art in Portland. “We both are from here, both of us were transplants during high school, and we made much of our work about Portland and made it in Portland,” he said, “so just the air and the light and the day-to-day life that works its way into something that you create makes it a Portland kind of thing.”
LISTEN – “Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands” by Elliott Smith (mp3)
WATCH/LISTEN – “Last Call” by Elliott Smith
Since Smith’s death, a minor cult has sprung up surrounding his memory, turning him into a kind of indie-rock saint: the depressed artist struggling with substance abuse issues barely able to bear up under the weight of his own gift. Even if he was like this on his rougher days, Sunday night will find the Doug Fir filled with people who knew him differently. Event organizer Ashley Welch — Smith’s half-sister — said “the Elliott that I know was kind, sweet, curious, gentle, incredibly smart, generous, and had a really innocent, oddball but dead-on sense of humor.”
She also points out that Smith was generous with his own time and money, making these charity shows especially appropriate.
“He always did his best to try and help those in need, whether it be stuffing rolled-up bills into the boots of a sleeping person on the streets, or playing a benefit for a needy cause. In fact, I never heard of a single instance in which he turned down a benefit.”
No Name #1: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Elliott Smith
When: Sunday, Aug. 4, doors at 7:30, music at 8 p.m.
Where: Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E. Burnside St.
With: Members of Grandaddy, the Geodes, Rebecca Gates, Joanna Bolme, David Garza,
Sean Croghan, Battleme, System and Station, plus special guests. Hosted by Gus Van Sant.
Note: This is a benefit for Outside In, www.outsidein.org
Tickets: $30-35, Ticketfly.com