Elliott Smith is dead, an apparent suicide. Self-inflicted knife wound. This is something I dearly wish was a hoax, but it's not. Fuck.
This is really depressing news. I don't think I've felt this bad about a musician's death since Kurt Cobain. He was chronically depressed and battled alcohol and drug addiction, but it's such a fucking unfair shame that it had to end like this. I'm thinking now of so many things: the videos of Miss Misery and Son of Sam. Smith performing at the Oscars, dressed in a white tux with nothing but a guitar, as opposed to the lavish production numbers of Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. Realizing only after several months that "I Didn't Understand" is sung a cappella. Thinking that "Waltz # 1" could quite possibly be the greatest, saddest song ever written in the history of man. Bonding with Neva over both X/O and Either/Or, particularly "Waltz # 1" and "Say Yes." One of the last songs he recorded before his death was called "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free."
He had a terrific voice, that could go from a snarl to a lilting, reassuring whisper. He wrote some of the best lyrics I've ever heard/read, and really elevated songwriting for me in that regard. He played with song form and structure. His melodies were heartfelt, catchy, indelible. There's a nice line from the article above: "The songs floated like lullabies, though the lyrics could disrupt sleep for weeks."
Most of all, I'm remembering the night I was lucky enough to see him perform in Boston. It was glorious; I was happy like a kid who'd traveled halfway across the world and got to see one of his favorite musicians. I was standing up the whole evening, the whole day, actually, off to the side near the stage beside a post and a table, not trying to attract attention, alone but delirious. I was so fucking lucky to be there; read the email below for the full (somewhat long) story.
If you've never listened to him, do yourself a favor and get all of his albums; I don't think any of them will disappoint you. The standouts are Either/Or and X/O, though.
In the time before blogs, I sent this to the Heightsers mailing list on May 29, 2000. I was sending them emails about my month-long trip to the US:
HOW I ALMOST DIDN'T SEE ELLIOTT SMITH (or HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE LORD AGAIN)
Monday, May 15 -- The day before today, I wasted in Connecticut. So I wasn't able to reserve tickets, which, actually, I really should have done as soon as I set foot on US soil. Anyway, my family is supposed to be leaving tomorrow morning because my dad has overextended his vacation time, and my mom, working at a school, has upcoming enrolment to deal with. So it's their last day for shopping (and my last day of not paying for things myself). We go to another local mall, and then I'm dropped off at the subway station at about 430. Very early, considering the concert is 9, and doors open at 8. Even then, these things never start on time, and he had an opening act anyway.
My plan was simple. Get to The Roxy (where he was playing) first, get tickets, then go around to this store I knew that was in the area, which sold used CDs. So I took the T (Boston's subway, and first in the country) to Boylston, and come out next to this park where, as luck would have it, I chanced upon the graduation ceremonies of Emerson University. I figure, I'm early enough as it is, I have some free time, there might be a nice photo opportunity here, so I stay a few minutes to watch. The part where they all scream and throw their hats in the air is nice to see firsthand. This is my first time to see it happen, except of course my high school graduation, but that sucked because it was held in the evening and was inside the covered courts anyway. This was a beautiful (albeit cold and slightly windy) day. I must say, they're very LOUD. Screaming abounds, and continues for a good few minutes even after the tossing of hats, and the tumult subsides slowly. It's a very senti moment, because everyone's hugging each other, crying, or jumping up and down in pairs or groups. One girl even kisses me in her delirium, running around the grass. On the cheek, you perverts. After absorbing some more good vibes, I head towards The Roxy. When I get there, there's a small group of people outside of the building. A small knot forms in my stomach. I go up to the least-threatening-looking of the bunch, and ask if this line was for the show itself or for tickets. "For the show" was the reply. A little twinge of panic slices its way into my gut as I enter the Roxy and go upstairs, looking for a ticket booth. The walls are already posted with promotional pictures of Elliott Smith and the new album. When I get to the second floor, I see the ticket booth, with no one there. The lights aren't even on, so I have to go nearer to it to see the sign beside it, which I thought would say when it was open. When I read it, though, my heart freezes into ice.
I'm in shock. Well, I should have expected it. I should have reserved tickets. Shouldawouldacoulda. I can't speak, and inside I'm kicking myself in the head. I go down the stairs with my heart heavy, and it doesn't even occur to me (as it does now) to at least steal a poster. What now, I think. Well, I should come back later, try and see if anybody's scalping tickets. It's worth a try. So, with a few minutes spent in shellshock and the onset of heavy depression out on the curb, I head for my other destination - the used CD store, Looney Tunes.
Turns out it's not in the area after all. Massachusetts Avenue is a long, long road. But I don't care. Depressed as I am, I decide to start walking since I'm really early anyway, and so I begin to walk, wallowing in self-pity. I pass the FAO Schwarz, even stopping by to check out the place. There's an entire section on Star Wars, and the people there just depress me further. It's nothing compared to the New York branch, of course. I walk further and pass 3 different Starbucks, 2 Au Bon Pains, several book stores (some of which I check out), the public library, and when I get to Looney Tunes, apparently it's at the END of Massachusetts Avenue. I figure I've walked about as far as from Ateneo to Greenhills. At Looney Tunes, I am able to get some CDs, then see a big-ass Tower beside me, and check it out too. Apparently, I was already on Newbury Street, though I didn't know it. I get a DVD (Short: 3; it was cheap), since I'm still depressed.
The Tower is beside the subway station so I decide to use that since I know I won't make it in time if I walk again. Besides, my feet were killing me, depression or not. I realize I've walked the length of 3 subway stops, which is pretty far. When I get to the Boylston street stop, I eat dinner at the nearby Subway.
It's a weird thing not to speak for an entire afternoon. I don't think I can really do it. Even if I tried, to spend so many hours just absolutely silent...it's just impossible. I'd end up singing a few tunes from my Last Song Syndrome. Or make up conversations, or at least maybe laugh at some people who look stupid.
Anyway, after dinner I go back to The Roxy, and it's about 9 PM already. I never have a watch so I'm never really aware of the time. It's also a nice excuse to ask pretty girls what time it is, even if you know perfectly well that they don't have watches too. But most of their voices suck. The line is pretty much gone, everyone's already upstairs. There's a cop car outside the place, and some cops hanging around, thinking there might be trouble. I position myself outside the place, trying to look as sad as possible. This is the routine, right? You hang around, and then someone approaches you asking if you'd like to buy a ticket? At least, so I figure. If the cops ask, I'll just say that I'm waiting for somebody to show up.
There are other people hanging around. Two girls, a group of students, and another solitary guy in an orange jacket. He's asking out loud, "Anybody got any tickets?", which was a better strategy than mine, but I somehow couldn't bring myself to do it, especially with the cops around. So I hang around, and the line becomes nonexistent. Everyone's already in, and the show should have started about now. Up until this point, I'd still been wallowing in my self-pity, and I had no intention of letting up. And while I thought I couldn't feel any worse, I was mistaken. As the minutes continued to tock by, I felt worse and worse, and the cold seemed colder. Then, one policeman started walking up to people, asking why were we hanging around here? Were we waiting for someone? Did we still want to buy tickets?
DID WE STILL WANT TO BUY TICKETS?! I ran up to him and asked "Are they still selling tickets?" He looks to the bouncer, who has a radio. He asks, listens to the reply, and says, "There are about five left." So of course I run for the door, bulky backpack and jacket and all, and head up the stairs. I'm stopped at the top by somebody. "ID?"
"Uh, I'm not a resident, but can I use my country's driver's license?"
"Do you have your passport with you?"
"No." I'm panicking, and I stutter out: "Look, I'm 19."
"When were you born?"
"1980. Besides, I won't be drinking anyway--"
"You won't be drinking? Oh, okay then, go right in." I get a red X on the back of my hand.
In my rush to get upstairs, I even accidentally hit someone. But I don't stop to say sorry, as I customarily do. After all, they might want tickets too. I get to the ticket booth, now manned, out of breath. The girl looks at me for a few seconds, and I manage, "Elliott Smith, please." (the booth was for other events as well) She, in turn, looks to the girl behind her, who is apparently in charge of the Elliott Smith tickets and already has her coat on, about to leave, and she says
"THERE'S ONE LEFT."
I slam my 16 dollars on the table and swoop it up.
The gig hadn't even started. Whiskey Biscuit was opening for him, and they weren't onstage yet. Meanwhile, I'm finally able to buy Figure 8. Unfortunately, they don't have Roman Candle, the only other Elliott Smith album not currently in my possession. I'm able to also get a video of the music video of Son of Sam, and steal another one for Quark.
Whiskey Biscuit are good with melody, but their singer needs some work. He's like a punk, but with a hick accent. The kind that's high-pitched and sings about lost loves.
Anyway, he comes on about a half hour after Whiskey Biscuit conclude their set, dressed in a simple black shirt, black cap, and corduroy pants (add respect points). The songs are, of course, mostly from Figure 8, since it's a promotional tour for a new album, and so I'm not able to sing along as I would have wanted. This would have proven awkward anyway, since I was alone. However, he sings some favorites, like "Bled White," "Bottle Up and Explode," and the newer songs are so good that I have no reason to complain. His third song was "Everything Means Nothing To Me," which is basically his voice, and a piano, until the end when the song erupts with drum accompaniment. This was one of my favorite performances, coming as it did after a noisy song ("Bled White"), where he just stopped, and held his guitar to the side while the pianist already began. If you've heard the song, you know how good it is. Don't get me wrong, every song he sang was excellent, and sang well, but some stood out. "Amity," which wasn't always my favorite song, featured a new arrangement and really impressed me. One time, during the fourteenth song, he interrupted himself when he said, mid-song, "FUCK! I CAN'T HEAR SHIT!" and waited while they got him a replacement guitar.
He had an encore, which is famous, I find out later, for being very intimate. This was no different. After a few minutes of the crowd's continuous applauding, he came out, alone, with nothing but a guitar, and sang the more intimate songs.
Here I have to digress a bit and address my appreciation for the crowd. Having been bred on insipid audiences back home who don't know when to shut up, this crowd was perfect. No assholes to shout during moments of silence, no immediate clapping when he ends a sentence. They knew when to be quiet, and even waited for Smith's prompting before they clapped. Maybe it was because he looked so fragile and vulnerable, and we didn't want to scare him away. I know I didn't. But God bless Boston, and its people. They were very well-behaved.
Another aside: most of Boston is young smart people, because it's a college town. In Boston proper alone, there are 19 universities, excluding Harvard, since that's in Cambridge. Perhaps this explains the excellent crowd. Lots of brainy people.
The best perk of the concert was Smith sang 3 brand new songs.
Rest in peace, man. God knows you deserve it.
This is horrible. I really feel like crying.