The albums of Elliott Smith
Category: Sad quiet indie lo-fi folk rock music. Bit specific there. But Elliott Smith is a very distinctive musician. By which I not only mean he has a distinctive, recognizable sound, but also that he has a pretty established reputation as one of the sadder artists out there. Here's a scenario for the lads out there: you're at a party, talking to a girl to whom you're sexually attracted. The conversation turns to music. The girl mentions that her favorite artist is Elliott Smith. Let's face it: there's probably very little chance of you seducing this girl. More likely than not, the night will end with one or both of you weeping (a very common occurrence in my life, but for different reasons). There is a slim chance that the girl will demand that you punch her in the stomach. No matter how you slice it (no pun intended, oof) it's not gonna end well.
As an experiment, I fired up the Pandora and started an Elliott Smith station. Here are the first ten songs that came up:
1) The Shins, "New Slang (Live)." Not really all that sad, I guess. I mean, It's a good thing I listened to this song. It changed my life.
2) Beck, "End of the Day." From one of my favorite albums ever, the 2002 breakup masterpiece Sea Change. I really should write about that album. So far, so good/sad.
3) Iron & Wine, "Naked As We Came." I don't really know Iron & Wine, other than that cover of "Such Great Heights" that made me want to kill myself. That about sums it up.
4) The Shins, "Girl Sailor." Not a lot of diversity on this station, huh? It's like the Tea Party of Pandora stations. ZING.
5) Alexi Murdoch, "Song For You." I'm familiar with this guy from his work on the Away We Go soundtrack. Nice and acoustic and melancholy and all of that.
6) Jose Gonzalez, "The Nest." Friend of the blog Zaree Gliddon put a Jose Gonzalez song on a mix for me one time. It was very sensitive. That's all I've got for this one.
7) Peter Bjorn and John, "Young Folks." Alright what the shit. This is like the happiest song ever. I'm bobbing my head back and forth as I type this. Man I wish I could whistle. I call shenanigans on Pandora for this one.
8) The Morning Benders, "Morning Fog." According to this Pandora bit, this band which I had never heard of is equally indebted to the Shins (duh) and Brian Wilson. This song annoys me.
9) Nirvana, "Oh Me (Live)." From that famous Unplugged they did. For those of you who have never watched VH1, the lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, killed himself because too many people liked his music. That's sad.
10) Bon Iver, "Skinny Love." OMG I can't listen to this yet. An upcoming Taste My Sad post, featuring guest commentary from friend of the blog Emily Rosenwasser, will be devoted to this album, which I have never listened to. Although just from the title of this song, I can tell I'll be able to relate to it.
None of these songs/artists are remotely as depressing as Elliott Smith, though. Pandora no doubt picks up on the sadness (or at least the whispery vocals/acoustic guitar shit), and yet can't find anyone who matches it. So that's saying something.
My familiarity with this person/music: I know the basics of his life, thanks to a careful reading of his Wikipedia page. His real name was Steven Paul Smith, but he changed it (not legally, as far as I can tell) to Elliott after graduating from high school. I can relate to this, as I often give Elliott as a fake name when making reservations at restaurants. True story. And then he grew up, and started a band, Heatmiser, which is a cool name. And then he went solo, did his thing, wrote a song that got nominated for an Oscar (“Miss Misery,” on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack), did his thing some more, got sad, and (allegedly) killed himself in 2003. I say allegedly because there are some who believe there was some kind of foul play involved, although he did leave a suicide note, so. Oof.
Music-wise, I’m decently familiar. I really like a number of his songs, most notably “Needle in the Hay,” a song I came to love after it was featured in a pivotal scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, one of my favorite movies. I’ll listen to that song, and a few others of his, on occasion – by which I mean I won’t skip past them if they come up on shuffle. I guess I don’t really listen to him that much because of his reputation of being really depressing, although I don’t think “Needle in the Hay” is all that depressing when not accompanied by images of someone cutting off all their hair, saying, “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow,” and then immediately slashing their wrists with a razor. (Great scene.)
But somehow, I find myself in possession of all of his music. (By this, I mean the five solo albums he released during his life – Roman Candle, Elliott Smith, Either/Or, XO, and Figure 8 – and From a Basement on a Hill, the album he was working on at the time of his death, which was released posthumously. I don’t have the two other posthumous compilations of rarities and B-sides.) Throughout college and afterwards, I went on binges of burning lots of CDs from the Oceanside Library, stealing music from friends/kids in the hall, etc., to get lots of music that I still may have never listened to. I don’t exactly recall how I got all of Elliott Smith’s albums, but here they are, waiting to be listened to in one weekend for a ridiculous blog post.
So here’s how we’re going to do this: I probably can’t listen to all six today. But I’ll do at least three. Check back here throughout the day/weekend and see how I’m doing. Elliott Smith Day/Weekend begins… NOW.