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White Suit, Blue Collar

Indie god Elliott Smith joins Dion, Yearwood in bizarre Oscar sandwich

Posted Mar 24, 1998 12:00 AM

The 70th Annual Academy Awards got about as fresh as they were going to get when Dustin Hoffman paused after mentioning that the number 69 held a special significance in American culture. The Best Original Song contest had the potential to provide the evening's only real upset, with former ditch digger-cum-Kill Rock Stars artist Elliott Smith going up against the platinum divas Trisha Yearwood, Celine Dion, and Michael Bolton.


Of course, if you're looking for musical innovation, you'll head to your favorite club, not turn on the Oscars. But this year's awards held a dim spark of promise with the shocking nomination of genius singer-songwriter Elliott Smith for his "Miss Misery," off the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. Smith's third solo record, Either/Or has sold just more than 20,000 copies; the Hunting soundtrack, which features six of his tracks, has sold under 70,000. Compare that with Titanic's 5.6 million and, well, you get the picture. Perhaps the members of the Academy wanted to carry on with the film's kid-from-the-sticks-makes-good tradition.


Looking more like Lady McGoth than Veronica Electronica, Madonna introduced the final three nominees for the award. In one of the strangest billings since Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees, Smith had to perform sandwiched between 1998 Grammy winners Yearwood ("How Do I Live?" from Con Air) and Dion. After Yearwood's histrionic, over-the-top production, Smith took the stage alone in a simple white suit with only an acoustic guitar to practically whisper through a plaintive "Miss Misery."


The Portland, Oregon native -- the only nominee who had actually written the song he sang -- was scarcely off camera for a heartbeat when clouds of smoke pummeled the stage to signal Dion's entrance. Wearing a full body suit that even the Heaven's Gate members probably wouldn't have been caught dead in, Dion belted out the ubiquitous song with all the restraint of a pit bull.


If any question remained in viewers' minds as to which song would win, it was erased when the refrain from "My Heart" played as Smith, Dion and Yearwood walked off the stage after the trio came out to bow in unison. Smith could barely contain his smirk during the curtsey. Even Madonna acknowledged what a farce the competition was by inserting a "What a shocker" before announcing that "My Heart Will Go On" was indeed the winner.


Maybe when Smith's next album is released this summer on Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks label he'll stand a better chance at winning an Oscar, but it hardly seems apriority for him. In an interview before the ceremony, he was asked how he felt about "Miss Misery" being nominated and attending the ceremony. "Mainly I just want to go so I can wear my white suit," he replied, "I always have a great time when I wear my white suit."

ERIC HELLWEG



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