Elliott Smith: Torment Saint
by Dave Carew
The art of biography extends infinitely beyond recounting the who, what, where, when of a person’s life. Shaped by a truly gifted biographer, it profoundly illuminates the person’s soul, character, desires, motivations, the implications of his art or other achievement. In short, it reveals—richly, with nuance and color—why he or she mattered. That is the unforgettable achievement ofTorment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith by William Todd Schultz.
Simply put, no one interested in Elliott Smith and his deeply affecting music should miss this book. Written dispassionately yet with an obvious love and respect for its subject, Torment Saint is the first biography of Elliott Smith not only to recount the details of Elliott’s troubled life, but to offer profound, sensitive, authoritative insight into the shadowed complexity of the soul that created such indelible, spectral music.
Underground Nashville recently secured the following brief interview with biographer William Todd Schultz:
UNDERGROUND NASHVILLE: Why did you feel compelled to write this new biography of Elliott Smith?
WILLIAM TODD SCHULTZ: It’s actually pretty simple. I was compelled to write the book out of a sort of shock at the magnificence of the music. From the time I first heard it—my daughter was playing it (she went to Lincoln High School [in Portland, Oregon], like Elliott)—I had an instinctive, immediate response. Then, as I listened more—really, truly incessantly—my feelings about his songs became more personal. I felt like he was articulating experiences I knew, in a way that made them more understandable, and definitely more beautiful. As someone I spoke to said, he made suffering beautiful. And I found that captivating.
UN: What do you think will be seen as Elliott Smith’s most enduring achievement as a singer-songwriter?
WTS: I’m not sure. Part of me wants to say that great art lasts just because it’s great. It will always endure. It elevates and sharpens and defines reality in a way that’s unstoppable. His music is intensely powerful, so I don’t see it ever losing that power, as more and more people hopefully discover it.
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