Los Angelinos have been up in arms over the past few days thanks to the partial destruction of what’s generally considered to be a musical landmark. The site in question is a mural on the wall of an electronics shop called Solutions Audio-Video Repair, halfway between the Silver Lake and Los Feliz neighbourhoods, on a particularly ‘meh’ stretch of Sunset Boulevard. The wall reached some kind of cult architectural status after the cover photo for Elliott Smith 2000 album ‘Figure 8’ was shot there and since Smith’s death in 2003, the old shop front has become a defacto pilgrimage site for the troubled singer songwriter. However, at the end of 2016 it was reported that a swanky new bar would be opening there. Last month it was revealed that work had begun and half of the mural was decimated to make way for a big old thick glass window. Cue the sobs of many a vinyl-loving indie kid.
But before you start blubbing too at the pile of dust and concrete that no doubt already been swept up from Sunset Boulevard, remember that the power of Elliott Smith never came from that painting, it came from his music and his poetry.
I used to live just around the corner from the wall and when I moved to LA it was one of the first local landmarks I wanted to see. To my disappointment, when I got there it was a total and utter mess, covered in graffiti and barely recognisable from the iconic image snapped by Autumn de Wilde. Over the years I lived in the city the mural would occasionally be done up and occasionally ruined all over again. Soon, I came to realise that the wall wasn’t as big a deal as I’d once thought. If I wanted to remember Elliott Smith I’d put on my favourite of his records, 1997’s ‘Either/Or’, and let his fragile vocals wash over me while I walked the sunny streets that he used to stroll along himself.
After I left Los Angeles, someone seemed to be more dedicated to the upkeep of the wall and for the past few years it looked in better shape that it had done in an age. Sadly, the sprucing up of the wall dovetailed neatly with the rise of the selfie, and soon the mural became just another spot for eager Instagrammers to check off their list, alongside a casual, Smith-referencing hashtag. What was once a site to pay tribute was now just another fashionable spot to check in and show off your new clothes before moving on to the next photogenic location and the next new outfit. What Elliott Smith would have wanted? We doubt it.
The history of Smith isn’t being entirely wiped from the wall either. In fact, the bar that’s opening is well aware of the history of the spot, and is paying tribute in its own way. From the pictures we’ve seen so far, part of the mural still remains, while it looks like they’ve transplanted the rest of the mural inside the bar. ‘Bar Angeles’ is even named after an Elliott Smith song, the tender ‘Angeles’. In any case, isn’t there a bigger wall we to worry about in America right now?