There’s a mythology that encircles artists. Our society accepts and even revels in the twin ideas that depression breeds great art and that the only way to escape those demons hitching a ride on your back is through self-expression built of brushstrokes, couplets, or carefully arranged pitches.
Elliott Smith embodied and concentrated that mythological pain and brilliance. As one of the musicians performing in A Fond Farewell remarked during a rehearsal, even when he writes a happy tune, his lyrics can’t seem to join in the fun. But the music and the poetry were always there, a wash of blue like an aural Monet.
Despite growing up in Portland, my first memory of Elliott Smith is his appearance at the Oscars in 1998. His nomination for “Miss Misery” in Good Will Hunting was clearly deserved and even more clearly out of place. Dressed in an awkwardly memorable white suit, he laid his quiet sincerity bare before the audience. His hair looked like it had just been tousled by an uncle, and he stayed self-consciously glued to the mic. Everything about the experience was intimate, despite his surroundings.
And then Celine Dion glided across the stage and belted “My Heart Will Go On” while backlit and surrounded by fake smoke. Madonna scoffed and announced Titanic’s song the winner as the obvious defeated the subtle.
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It is one thing to observe Elliott Smith’s music as a piece of the man and the myth—shy, maudlin, wise through his pain. It is another thing entirely to consider his music simply as a brilliant body of work. In this show, we’re working with Hand2Mouth Theatre to do both.
The incredible cast of composers Team 3A commissioned to arrange and reimagine Elliott’s music—Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein, LJ White, and Scott Wollschleger—has sucked the marrow from each song and allowed it to live again. This show is dynamic and through-composed, taking the listener on a journey past a club, a cathedral, and every form of the sublime in-between.
If you love Elliott Smith’s music, you’ll love this show. If you love feelings that reach down into your gut, you’ll love this show. If you like insightful staging and visual beauty that enriches the concert experience, Hand2Mouth has you covered and you’ll love this show. And if you just want to hear a bunch of kickass vocalists and instrumentalists stretching their classical muscles and their rock muscles in one giant downward dog of beauty, you’ll love this show.
I have teared up at rehearsals more than once, particularly in those moments when it feels like the music breaks out of his mental prison. This production is, quite frankly, stunning in every sense of the word. I hope you’ll join us at the Alberta Rose Theatre and meet our friend Elliott as he is freed into every possibility of a life deeply lived.