I need all of you reading this to listen to Elliott Smith, immediately. If you already listen to him, then I implore you to pull up a few songs on your playlist right now. The troubled troubador has been dead for over 10 years now; it's almost certain that he killed himself by stabbing himself in the chest, but homicide is still a possibility. There's little question that he went through some things, ranging from addiction to traumas from his childhood. Listen to any of Elliott's songs from any album and you'll hear both his pain and his brilliance. As a musician and songwriter, this man is without compare. I could list dozens of songs you should listen to, but instead I'll share my most convincing reasons to listen to Elliott Smith.
One main reason to listen to Elliott Smith is because you've felt this way too. Pick an emotion and you'll find a song. Heartbreak? “Somebody that I Used to Know.” (No, not THAT version.) Depression? “Needle in the Hay.” A toxic ex? “Miss Misery.” At least, those are my go-tos, but you'll find soulful tunes that speak to you as well. Just flip through his discography, and I promise you'll be captured within the first five seconds.
Elliott Smith wasn't just a songwriter, he was a writer; there is pure poetry in his lyrics. His songs are masterpieces. Sometimes it's simple, such as the scheme in “The Biggest Lie” – “Oh we're so very precious, you and I / and everything that you do makes me want to die.” Sometimes it's more complex, such as in “Needle in the Hay,” which is my favorite song. “I'm taking the cure so I can be quiet whenever I want” is hands down my favorite line, to the point that “taking_the_cure” was my email handle for the longest time.
In many ways, Elliott exorcised his demons through his music. He said in many interviews that his songs weren't necessarily confessions that people could always empathize with, but that they were often the result of ephemeral dreams and shapes. Listen to any song, however, especially those in which his rage is a barely-restrained whisper over the strings, and you'll hear every issue he ever tried to deal with.
Every musician has inspirations, of course, and some of Elliott's are not just understandable but expected. He loved the Beatles, for example, and Bob Dylan. However, one of the reasons I fell hard for Elliott's music was due to his literary influences. He found inspiration in T.S. Eliot, one of my favorite poets, and writers such as Samuel Beckett and Dostoyevsky. The man was a book nerd, and that is just inspiring.
It's really inspiring, because his love of literature unquestionably had an affect on his lyrics. He was more than just a songwriter, he could turn a phrase like nobody's business – see, again, “taking the cure.” “Needle in the Hay” is my favorite example, for the third time, but you can find reflections of his favorite writers and their works in any song. He knew the value of writing lyrics that got under your skin and made you think.
Today, it's far more common to come across artists who rely on backup bands and songwriters. I'm always a sucker for someone who writes and performs their own work. I won't say they're better than a singer who belts out someone else's song, but in some ways I think they're more authentic. Elliott Smith was like a Renaissance musician, and his ability to play his own instruments and write his own songs allowed him to tell stories through his music.
Finally, listen to Elliott Smith because his songs are haunting. Give me a song that causes a visceral reaction, and I'm hooked. The first time I heard this man, I honestly got chills. I heard his music in my nerve-endings. That, too, is sadly rare, so when you find an artist who causes that kind of reaction in you, then you have to hold on tight.
Elliott Smith remains one of my favorite musicians. His music touched me so deeply at such a transitional time in my life that I still miss this man daily. Have you ever been so deeply touched by a musician? Let us know which one, and please share some of your favorite Elliott Smith songs as well.
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