By Richard Wink
This is the latest in an occasional series of features where one of our writers reflects on their five favourite tracks by a particular artist. Here, Richard Wink explores his own personal responses to the music of Elliott Smith.
Any sensitive soul who’s contemplated the relevance of their own existence, and in turn sought out Sartre texts from second hand bookstores, who has endured messy break-ups and dribbled red wine down plain white t-shirts to represent all the blood that has metaphorically been shed, has gravitated towards singer songwriters who can aptly soundtrack lost love and internal destruction. I chose Elliott Smith to be my tuneful voice of reason in the midst of such ruinous chaos during my formative years, and up until the present day.
I’ll begin my selections with ‘Last Call’ from Smith’s debut album Roman Candle. The song displays Smith’s ability as a wounded storyteller, as he mines the misery in order to produce something unflinchingly golden.
When I was fifteen I made one last attempt at learning to play the guitar, my uncoordinated efforts and impatient nature meant that I was destined to fail. I suppose we all want to become rock stars, and when you’re a daydreaming teenage boy you naively think that mastering a few Dylan songs will allow you to get lucky. Around that frustrating time I watched the film Good Will Hunting and began to pay Elliott Smith some serious attention, given that he featured so prominently on the soundtrack. Next up, I’d like to pluck two songs from XO, the first Elliott Smith album that I truly fell in love with.
‘Waltz #2 (XO)’ is a heart-breaking work of brilliance, the stand out lyric for me is “She appears composed, so she is, I suppose / Who can really tell?” though written about his “Mom”, the song can be interpreted in numerous ways, which underlines the subtle cleverness of Smith’s lyrics, in that it could also be read as an ode to a stranger. In some ways the person Smith writes about actually was.
For all the darkness found within Smith’s albums, the rays of light tend to sneak through and startle. Here is ‘Bottle Up and Explode!’.
Writing about the music you love and then attempting to explain to others why you feel so strongly is often difficult. You will never know what a song truly means to someone. You won’t feel the moments when goosebumps suddenly form on pale skin. ‘L.A.’ is a song that I love to put on during long drives along winding coastal roads. Regularly I will take these trips when I’m in a negative headspace, and ‘L.A.’ soundtracks the calm serenity which flows through me when I’m behind the wheel. It still gives me goosebumps.
My final selection is ‘King’s Crossing’ taken from the posthumously released From a Basement on the Hill - the song details Smith’s brief encounter with Hollywood after the success of ‘Good Will Hunting’, and his subsequent drug problems as he drowned in the excess that flowed from the perishable drippings of the fame monster.