Wrapped Up in Books: Autumn de Wilde – "Elliott Smith"

The relationship between a photographer and her subject is a beautiful thing – and sometimes, a tragic one. Autumn de Wilde has spent years as a friend and photog to Elliott Smith (as well as luminaries such as Beck and Fiona Apple), and her coffee table tribute to the fallen musician is as affecting as his sourest songs.

In addition to familiar images of Smith in front of Solutions (pictured above – the Figure 8 wall, now a tribute of its own) and various press shots, de Wilde’s photos are an excellent document of Smith’s oft-ignored humorous side. There are the pictures of him and Quasi‘s Sam Coomes, the former Heatmiser bandmate and fellow Portland resident who backed Smith on his later solo tours, wearing Portland Trail Blazers jerseys – a nice addendum to that story about him being a heck of a ballplayer. But de Wilde’s work also reflects the man as an artist. My favorite of the collection is a black-and-white portrait of him standing over Jon Brion at Largo, doubtlessly sharing a musical moment in the wee hours of some post-residency Friday night. It almost made me cry. Brion was initially the producer of what became Smith’s final album, From a Basement on the Hill. Who knows what could have been? [Continue reading…]

The book is also full of “interviews” – conversations, really – between de Wilde and Smith friends, fans and collaborators ranging from Brion and Larry Crane (who worked on this year’s New Moon collection) to Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, no stranger to Largo himself. The conversations are funny and sweet, more focused on remembering Smith’s brighter moments than the darkness that ultimately devoured him. Of particular interest is the conversation with Brion, who relates an exchange that speaks volumes about both himself and Smith:

God, one of the first things he said to me was “You were probably the guy in all the bands you were in when you were growing up…the one who would show everybody else the chords.”
“Me, too.”

Needless to say, folks, you’re going to want this on your Chanukah list. The book is packaged with a five-song set from Largo, a fine enough performance made essential by the presence of a well-recorded cover of Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down.” Here’s a different version, from May 15, 1997.

Elliott Smith – “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down” (live Hank Williams Jr. cover): mp3

(Elliott Smith is out now on Chronicle Books)

Elliott Smith – The Complete Live Covers
Elliott Smith Live – The Definitive Guide


Wrapped Up in Books is a Belle & Sebastian song, and in this case, a book review column. Click below for more.