too much typing—since 2003


Elliott Smith

I'm just numb. That surprises me; I'm more affected by Smith's death than I thought I would be. I like his music, but it's not a touchstone of my musical life. Yet I spent today shuffling around gloomy, distractible, and listless. Perhaps it's the sense of huge waste: early Heatmiser albums gave no hint that Smith could write the intense, focused, barely-there songs on his first two solo albums, with hushed singing that forced you to listen. Still less did those albums prepare you for the melodicism and textured orchestration of his last two albums, as if Simon and Garfunkel collaborated with Lennon and McCartney.

That sense of waste grows from that capacity for surprise: who knows where Smith's music might have gone, what it might have achieved. And I'm sick, just sick, of stupid decisions: not only the stupid - but unfathomable and hence difficult for me to condemn - act by which he ended his life, but the stupid decisions about heroin. The truth, though, is that it's hard to say who made that decision. I don't know whether Smith suffered from what we're nowadays pleased to call a "chemical imbalance" - as if the hell of clinical depression can be lessened by giving it such a bland name - but it seems likely, and having known enough people in similar situations, I know they often feel that decisions are things well beyond them. And I'm not in any position to judge the truth of such beliefs. All I'm left wondering is how much you have to hate yourself to stab yourself to death - and where that self-hatred comes from.

I'll tell you what I don't want to hear: I don't want to hear journalists blathering about suffering being noble, about addiction fostering art, and about the glory of outsider cool. I don't know if anyone could have helped Elliott Smith - but there's the rest of us, and if some of us can't be helped, at least we're not as far beyond help as Smith is now.

(Death must be clearing the decks of musicians this year - my grimly humorous attempt to deal with it here.)

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