I read the words on Elliott’s fan maintained but somewhat official website; “Memorial service to be held for Elliott Smith…” I was checking to see if he was going to be playing in Ireland, which he wasn’t. He wasn’t going to be playing anywhere, ever again.
I had been an Elliott Smith fan for about a year at that point. I was already aping his songs. I probably have been, to some extent, for the entirety of my “career” as a musician. I was young, only sixteen. I still am young I suppose, but it seems like a very long time ago. I feel like a different person, but still the same. I was always slightly melancholy, without even trying. I vomited effortless cynicism and sarcasm.
To that extent, I had found my music. I had found someone who had managed to do the “one guy with a guitar and the truth” thing, and do it sincerely, beautifully. It felt like a piece in a musical puzzle that was defining what I was supposed to do or be. It sounds delusional now. It probably was.
The day I read that he had died, I don’t believe I cried. I probably have done since. I did curse the world, and whatever fates had conspired to end his life. I listened to all of the songs I had downloaded. I had hunted for a year for his work in music shops nearby.
Of course, after he died, they stocked him, in a gesture of rock star myth perpetuation. Why the fuck are people suddenly interested in an artist when they die? All I see are lost albums. I see a man who was thirty six, only eight years older than I am currently, a man who was in the absolute prime of his musical life, despite extreme adversity that included a serious drug habit, and all of the demons that torment so many of us. A guy who could create the bones of what would become “From a Basement on a Hill”, which I would argue is the best posthumous release of all time.
Did I find his songs so sad before he died? Did the allusions to mortality ring so true? I’m not sure; it’s hard to remember. I definitely didn’t think “Needle in the Hay” was a happy song. All I knew was that it was the most beautiful music, not music, sound I had ever heard. It hurts that he will never compose another song, and that countless mediocre bands will live into their seventies. There is no justice in popular taste.
The new documentary, “Heaven Adores You”, will give you some insight into the man. It doesn’t bother with the myth, talks directly to the people who knew him best without becoming too gratuitous. Nobody wants the details on his addictions, bar tabloid trash websites. Find more information on http://www.heavenadoresyou.com.