10 Years Later: Elliott Smith To Me

“I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow.” -Waltz #2 (X/O)

When I was 16 I made my first mix CD. It had terrible flow and constituted an abbreviated and elementary approach to creating a real mix experience- rather driven by a desire to have car stereo accessibility to a bright new world of soundtrack for my adventures around the DC beltway. However, there was one artist of those 17 who managed to occupy not one, but TWO different spots on the soundtrack. It was born out of a sudden, “holy shit, who is this guy singing these songs on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack? I need this right now. Now now.” That was Elliott Smith, who passed away 10 years ago today.

Earlier this afternoon, KEXP in Seattle was playing an ES tribute mixing live covers and old gems from Smith. Slate published an excerpt from William Todd Schultz’s Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith elegizing the author’s love and appreciation for Waltz #2 (clip above.) Spin magazine’s Liam Gowing did a reflective piece on Smith’s struggles with addiction and depression in his last years before a death at age 34. There are a smattering of examples today paying tribute, but I felt the need for putting my own personal touch on a muted love for Smith’s music.

Good Will Hunting, sure. I remember doing crunches and push-ups in my basement in high school while blasting “Angeles” or “Say Yes” and trying to sort through whatever girl I was dating or crushing on at the time. A self-depreciative therapy to be certain, but to me and I think likely to a couple other people, Smith was the angst soundtrack of adolescence. His voice was delicate and raspy, which made it honest. His production was as simple as a guitar and a man- music today lacks the visceral nakedness that comes with that, you know? The rawness of it.

So I knew about Elliott, and was proud to have some music downloaded. Again, I was young in my approach to music- I didn’t own an album. But you know that moment (and I think we all have them) of knowing about a band or an artist and feeling like you know some sort of grand secret before the rest of the world knows? I’d argue this was the moment when the rest of the world caught up with the power I’m trying to describe. I mean, as good of a punctuation that traditional Smith puts on the plot of GWH, I find it hard to believe anyone can see The Royal Tenenbaums, ever hear “Needle In The Hay” ever again, and not associate it with the heartbreaking visuals of Richie Tenenbaum’s attempted suicide. For 99% of the world I mean, excluding that 1% that were better fans than I.

I’m not going to make this longer or more drawn-out than it should be- simply wanted to call attention to the passing of one of indie rock’s pioneers (we haven’t heard it yet, but there is some ES in the future of the first round of the tournament.) This guy made some big moments of my youth, and likely made some moments of others’ as well (at least the youths of my contemporaries.) Too soon, Elliott, but thank you for the music that you were able to give us while still here.

About g-mo

The day I was born, Michael Jackson's Thriller album was at the top of the Billboard 200. I've been trying my best to live up to that expectation ever since.
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