XXV. "My Elliott Smith, Again"
About 26 months ago, still in college, I was walking back to my apartment from my job at a coffee shop. I ran into a friend of mine who asked, oddly: So is life for you just falling to shit right now? As a matter of fact, life at that time was, for the most part, already just a million tiny pieces of shit, throwing themselves at my face every day, as though I were the windshield of a fast-moving car driving through a swarm of mosquitoes.
Why? I asked.
Well, the whole Elliott Smith thing, she said.
She knew I loved Elliott Smith, and so I asked if he had killed himself. She said he'd stabbed himself in the chest with a kitchen knife. I didn't believe her — or maybe I did, I can't be sure. I believed her later when I got online and found it buried in online news magazines, and plastered in blog upon blog on music sites. I remember thinking it sounded more like a murder than a suicide. A knife; a kitchen.
At the time I was a music columnist for the school paper. I wrote a column about it the next day, about what Elliott had meant to me; it resulted in pats on the back and a couple of "nice column, dude" from buddies.
That was the year when I was already clinically depressed, taking meds, trying to find a reason for things that I later decided didn't have reasons or answers — Why am I sad right now? was one thing that didn't have a reason. Making it out of depression, for me, was a combination of a failed suicide attempt (medication X 10, wine) and listening to a lot of Elliott Smith, wondering if there was a reason for someone so beautiful to die.
Tonight I went over to my girlfriend's apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We've been dating for over a year and a half and I'm very much in love with her — so, for the most part, life is good. Getting back to my neighborhood after watching the West Wing and eating Chinese takeout, I went to my local bar to have a pint before going to bed. It was empty, except for the bartendar, Sinead, a wonderful woman from Ireland. I glanced through a copy of today's New York Post, reading an article about John Lennon's murder; this Thursday is the 25th anniversary of his death. It reminded me of Elliott Smith. Elliott, for me, was what John Lennon was for the generation before mine. It reminded me of how I thought Elliott's suicide seemed more like a murder than a suicide.
This is my original manuscript from the article. According to my computer, I finished it on October 23, 2003.*
Musician Elliott Smith died Tuesday as a result of a reported self-inflicted stab wound to the chest. He was 34 years old.
My Elliott Smith did not die last week.
My Elliott Smith is still alive, and is singing to me right now out of my stereo; he was there last week, and he'll be there next week.
My Elliott Smith is still alive.
My Elliott Smith is the music I first heard when I fell in love with the song in Good Will Hunting. Not "Miss Misery," the song for which he received the Oscar nomination. I fell in love with "Angeles," the song playing as Mini Driver boarded a plane and Matt Damon sat outside on a park bench in the cold.
My Elliott Smith has a knack for telling me how he feels at the same time that I am feeling the same way.
My Elliott Smith has a tendency to be sad a lot of the time, even though he doesn't try to be. I've always felt like if I ever met the real Elliott Smith, he and I could have a good conversation about books.
My Elliott Smith still sings to me late at night when my pills don't help my depression and I am crying in bed, feeling and almost believing that I am completely and utterly alone. Then I count on Elliott's breathy and soothing voice, whispering "Everything means nothing to me, everything means nothing to me…" and I know that I am not the only one who gets like this sometimes.
My Elliott Smith is always there for me.
My Elliott Smith is there to remind me of home when the Pacific Northwest seems every bit of the three thousand miles away. Then, I can listen to "Rose Parade," and for about three minutes I am back – watching the annual parade of roses go through downtown Portland on my TV three hours north in Washington on a Sunday morning with the comics in the Tacoma paper and with my dog us both lying on a pillow by a gas fireplace.
My Elliott Smith gives me hope when he sings "Between the Bars." Hope; he will stay up with me and help me forget about all the pressure of days, the images stuck in my head, and the people I was that I don't want around any more. If I do what he says, he'll make me okay and drive them away.
My Elliott Smith and I laugh some nights when friends are over and we listen to the song "2:45 AM" at just about 2:45 AM. Sometimes it's just us; it's still funny, just then.
My Elliott Smith is there every week of my freshman year when I would watch Good Will Hunting like church on weekends, just to make sure I didn't stress myself out too much.
My Elliott Smith has a hard time with relationships. When he sings "You're Just Somebody I Used to Know," I think of the ex-girlfriend who says that song is how she thinks of me now. She knows I love my Elliott Smith.
My Elliott Smith teaches me how a guitar should be played on "Say Yes."
My Elliott Smith tries to teach me how a piano should be played on "In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach)."
My Elliott Smith's song "Miss Misery" lost to Celine Dion at the Oscars, but it somehow seemed even better afterwards. The real Elliott Smith didn't play it very much at concerts after that, but My Elliott Smith will play it for me if I ask.
My Elliott Smith sings "Easy Way Out" and reminds me of a high school best friend I wish I could've talked to one more time before he decided to leave. Then I always feel like I need to talk to some of the friends I still have around. He makes sure I am not alone. He doesn't let me do what my friend did.
My Elliott Smith is the same Elliott Smith that so many other people turn to when they don't think they can make it through another one, when they feel like giving up on everything, or when they just feel like taking a break from the real world and listening to some good music.
My Elliott Smith didn't die last week.
My Elliott Smith will help me get through missing Elliott Smith.
* Some grammatical changes were made, if only because I ended several sentences badly (prepositions) and also said "than" instead of "then".