Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith

Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith by William Todd Schultz

Book: Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith by William Todd Schultz Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Todd Schultz
wouldn’t feel comfortable in his own skin until he moved out entirely, made his own world, one he could possibly live in and manage, but that was several years down the road. And as Pickle noticed, Elliott was just plain gone a lot: “He had a level of freedom and independence that surprised me, and he was able to handle it well, especially for a high school freshman.” A solution to turbulence at home was to not be at home, it seems. Elliott may have been too young to pursue that remedy in Texas—at least for most of his years there—but in Portland he was up for it, and it appeared to work.
    That first spring break with Pickle in tow there was skiing in active snow at Mt. Hood, which Elliott enjoyed—he’d apparently received instruction during January and February—and a large amount of aimless wandering around, to places like Pioneer Square. On the first night of Pickle’s visit Elliott took him to meet a few of his new friends. In the car on the way over he proposed a ruse he figured might be amusing. Pickle was to talk with a “big, huge, ridiculous Texas accent.” “He fed me phrases,” Pickle says. “He wanted me to refer constantly to jumper cables and pickup trucks.” Then there would occur, at the end of the evening, a theoretically hysterical reveal. The Texas act would abruptly stop. But even though his throat hurt from all the strenuous voice work, Pickle says no one noticed. The joke was a dud, and therefore even funnier. Texas wasn’t so out of place in Oregon after all.
    Another day the two were downtown again—the thrill of public transportan ongoing, pleasant surprise for Pickle (“You would not want to ride the bus system in Dallas!”)—walking the streets and blowing whistles issuing a goofy sound. They passed a number of street dealers with lexicons of drug lingo—“Hey kid, you want to buy some used furniture?” Out of nowhere a car pulled up packed with older boys intent on hassling them. “We were not having it,” Pickle says. “They were stuck at the light. We told them to screw themselves.” Later that evening, at Clackamas Town Center, the same boys miraculously rematerialized near the food court. “It was four versus two. It scared the hell out of us. Pure panic, pure adrenaline.” The confrontation escalated; Elliott and Pickle got backed up against a railing, the ice rink one floor below, its Muzak filling the mall air, skaters executing endless figure-eights. Pickle just started talking. He launched into a non-stop, free-form monologue fueled by fear and desperation, and before long the older boys were “in stitches.” They wandered off shaking their heads. Disaster successfully averted.
    But by far the main activity, the one that never stopped making perfect sense, was music. For Elliott, an early, transient, adolescent fireman dream was out—there was some sort of physical impediment having to do with height or weight. Being around his father now, he also imagined becoming a psychiatrist. He says he would have liked to have “done the same job.” And he’d read a lot on the subject, especially Freud. But he figured he wasn’t the type. Plus, as he put it, “I don’t have enough to offer other people.” 5 Back in Texas he’d considered training as a mathematician even, but he wasn’t sure how independent he could be—whether he’d need to work in a business or an organization or university. So the subject “what to do” always came back around to what Elliott was actually already doing. Writing songs, learning instruments, figuring out how to record, and with whom.
    Pickle had brought along his electronic keyboard, the Lowrey, which he set up in Elliott’s room. Elliott pulled out a flyer advertising a legitimate recording studio, and what he wanted to do was find a way to get over there. The rate was hourly—fifteen dollars per—and Pickle can’t recall where the money came from, but the two boys made their way, hauling equipment up a skinny

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