Ten Years #32: Elliott Smith

Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
32. Elliott Smith (946 plays)
Top track (95 plays): Southern Belle, from Elliott Smith (1995)
Featured track: St. Ides Heaven, from Elliott Smith

This October will mark ten years since Elliott Smith’s tragic death. I remember hearing the news only a few months after I started listening to him. The Royal Tenenbaums was my favorite movie at the time, and I picked up his self-titled album after hearing Needle in the Hay in the suicide scene. As if the album’s lyrics weren’t bleak enough already, the relevance of my first experience of Elliott Smith to his death added a whole new weight. It’s a pleasant if odd coincidence that the album soon became intimately tied with one of the most positive experiences of my life.

Smith died in October, and I shipped off to basic training the following month. Music deprivation–the only really challenging aspect of the whole three month process–came to an end when I was marched out of my barracks with my confiscated cd collection back in tow and shipped off to my year-long advanced training. I hopped on a plane in a bitter sub-zero St. Louis February and fell back off in the palm-tree coastal paradise of Monterey, California. Elliott Smith was spinning all the while, and it kept on playing until I left that strange and beautiful place for good. Something about the juxtaposition of Smith’s depressing lyrics and ethereal performance perfectly captured the simultaneous homesickness and bewilderment that I experienced as a rural 19 year old alone and out of his element with an enormous Army pay check, left to roam the hills of one of America’s most affluent coastal cities every night. That otherworldly vision of a serene Pacific bay surrounded by city lights will always go hand-in-hand with this album for me, and I can’t bring myself to listen to any other Elliott Smith recording without being overcome by a desire to put his self-titled back on, close my eyes, and relive the experience. It might not be exactly what Smith had in mind when he recorded it, but I would rather like to remember him for the beauty lying beneath his depression than for his death.