Most people, at least those not fans of the late great Elliott Smith, would recognize this song from the smash indie hit Good Will Hunting. He is not at his best here in front of a million viewers and he doesn’t even perform the whole song, but is the number one biggest exposure he ever had. He was one of the best song writers of the past twenty years and in my mind that is not even an arguable point.
The thing is, he is so morose. So much that I can barely listen to his music that much anymore because I’m a generally happy man and it can be a super downer to listen to some of this fallen man’s music. This is why I am in fact a lame Elliott Smith fan.
I first got into the tragic singer while a freshmen in college. I had a very strange relationship in high school that made me very depressed at the time of heading off to college. Looking back now, I feel like a fuckin idiot about the whole thing but you know they say hindsight is 20/20 or whatever.
The Elder J was always clutch with the morose songs and for some reason they seem to make him happy. I can kind of dig that, as in not only does this guy clearly feel worse about life than you do but also the deeper idea that we all feel this way sometimes. These guys just put it into words and music better then we can and that is why like it. Just like blues and how the sadness of it makes you feel better.
So my brother played me some tracks and I was a causal listener. In the weirdness of the first semester of college, I ended up hanging out with a dude a year older than me from my high school. I went to a college four hours away specifically so I didn’t have to see anyone from my unhappy high school kids. This kid was different though and I’d never talked to him anyway.
At my college we had what was called Living/Learning dorms and the dude lived in the holistic healing suite where everyone ate vegan everything and did yoga together in the morning. I thought it lame then but it seems pretty cool now. I partied with him a few times and he played “2:45 am” by Elliott Smith once to impress some girls at a party and I thought it was awesome. I vaguely knew the song from my brother and after this, probably also to be cool, I invested myself into being an Elliott Smith fan.
The dude is now also back in the area of our youth and is an organic farmer, something I can totally get into. I want to meet up with him some day and talk shop, as well as tell him that he helped me out a lot back in the day. And for helping me to figure out in my sheltered youth what a vegan was. Before moving on, I think one of the best lyrics of the 90’s was “If you wanna say shit now you do it out loud”. Smith had a way with a words of rejection that very few can really grasp. As morose as it is, it is beautiful in a sad way, like watching an old couple kiss or a controlled forest burn.
The next song I got was within days and was a result of seeing the film The Royal Tenenbaums during a character’s suicide attempt. I am assuming most people who read this blog will know Elliott Smith at least in name, but this could be a wrong inference on my part. He was a very depressed man who also fell into various drug/alcohol addictions throughout his life. Born in the mid-west and living all over the place, he made great songs that were more often than not sad and struggled his whole life with chemical issues. Serious issues, like smoking over a thousand dollars worth of smack/crack at one point and attempting suicide on multiple occasions.
After cleaning up and working on new music, he got into some type of argument with his girlfriend in 2003 and committed suicide by stabbing himself in the chest with a butcher knife. Of all the ways to go, why pick one so friggen difficult? Further, I wonder what his lady friend said to propel him to take such a drastic route.
It is ironic, although I always use this word wrong so please feel free to correct me, that two years before he commits suicide he has a song that is played during a suicide in a film. Granted, from his first release, it was clear that Smith was not the John Denver of nineties sensitive guy rock. I mean check out this song, not exactly “Sunshine on your Shoulders”.
This was another one I soon discovered and the flood gates opened. I was using LimeWire at the time, which was what every college student did to get free music. I searched for Smith songs and downloaded a bunch randomly to feel out who he was as a singer/songwriter. This track, “A Fond Farewell to a Friend”, has another amazing lyric which is “A dying man in a living room”. This struck me right off as being awesome and I just went right into a two month period of heavy Elliott Smith use, even though it scared my roommate and made me feel kind of gloomy. I never even talked to the high school who was in the back of my mind and it was probably the best way to deal with it.
Between all the cheap beer and whiskey of the freshmen year, I got into other music like the Grateful Dead and the party aspect of rap music and my enthusiasm for Elliott Smith waned. I never went back to the holistic healing suite and my buddy from high school ended up dropping out to move home and slowly learn how to be an organic farmer. I really need to get at him someday and see if he is still into Elliott Smith.
Before I sort of moved on from this period, I discovered one song that wasn’t so depressing and it was this one, “Say Yes”. Some say it is one of the few happy songs by Smith and it is in fact my favorite Elliott Smith song. I love it. From the very first line of “I’m in love with the world / through the eyes of the girl / who’s still around the morning after”. I mean, to be honest, I was not getting a lot of girls either at night or the morning after at this point but I was often thinking of the girl I thought I loved for ten minutes back home and this always resonated with me. Even better than the first lyric is the line “Situations get fucked up, turned around, sooner or later”. What a genius way to sum up my entire romantic history in one line of music. What makes me a lame Elliott Smith fan is that this happy one is my favorite.
I rediscovered all my brother’s Elliott Smith cd’s after a show my band played a private party last weekend. The lead guitar player and I ended up having a few beers and trying to write some songs while playing Nintendo 64. I have some new developments in my own personal life and for some reason I kept thinking of “Say Yes” in relation to them and so I found the Either/Or album and played it through until that song. It’s still a great song and so are the others, even if the only happy one being my favorite makes me a lame Elliot Smith fan.
To end, I include a cover by one of my brother’s favorite artists and the advice to listen to some Elliott Smith if you don’t already. Even if your life is happier than it ever could be, it’s always good to listen to somebody like this and gain perspective.