I found out about Elliott Smith a little late – the first song I heard by him was Needle in the Hay on the “Royal Tenenbaums” soundtrack. I immediately ran out and bought his self-titled album. He had already played at the Oscars by then, but his music still felt like some kind of secret to me. Some songs connect to you so personally that it’s hard to believe other people can even hear them. I was fifteen or so, and I had never heard my own loneliness or self-loathing explored in such beautiful depth.
Elliott Smith is on my mind today because last night I went and saw “Heaven Adores You,” a documentary about his music. There was a certain point that his friends and former band mates came back to again and again: his lyrics were “not a diary,” not his sum total. I felt like I was being called out when they discussed fans who may have over-connected with him through his songs. He was a person. There was more to him.
So I guess this post isn’t about Elliott Smith the person. I never met him, never even got to see him play. But his lyrics have combined with my own experiences over the years to form this sort of other person in my head. Someone who may capture a little of the best of me, and the worst.
The thing is, no matter how hard I work or how much better I get, there is a part of me that is just irrevocably sad. A little, broken, fifteen-year-old part. Elliott Smith’s music goes right to that part and tears it out through my chest. It makes me feel like an atom in a cold void – alone, and beautiful.
Because that’s the good part – the part where you take suffering and scrub it until it shines. Find a use for it. Make it worthwhile.
Elliott Smith’s music enhances the worst in me, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
My favorite of his songs are:
- Waltz #2 (XO)
- St. Ide’s Heaven
- Memory Lane
- Say Yes
- King’s Crossing
- No Name #1