Tag Archives: Elliott Smith

Wednesday Morning Earworm – “Independence Day”, by Elliott Smith

In keeping with the A to Z Challenge this month, today’s earworm is “Independence Day” by Elliott Smith. Again, I did not want to change my regular Wednesday theme of posting the song that pops into my head the moment that I woke up, but I put a little forethought into this earworm for the sake of the challenge.

I have posted a lot of Elliott’s music on my blog–I mean a lot–like here, and here, and I have already used him as aWednesday Morning Earworm, so it should come as no surprise that I am posting more Elliott. It’s an Elliottpalooza around here!

He is one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, and his songs have always been the envy of mine. He writes such beautiful melodies that hearken back to The Beatles (especially George Harrison), Big Star, Tim Buckley, and Nick Drake. My songs go on too long like wannabe Grateful Dead, Neil Young, or Led Zeppelin songs, but Elliott had a natural knack for writing both simple and complex pop songs that rarely exceeded four minutes in length. I always wished that I could write like that.

Anyway, since today is brought to you by the letter “I”, the first song to pop into my head was “Independence Day”, from his brilliant fourth solo album, “XO.” I could list about 30 of Elliott’s songs as my “favorite”, but this is the indisputable champion of them all.

It’s an odd song, with no real hook, and a bizarre chord pattern written for an open “C” tuning on the guitar, and it warms my soul like no other. The lyrics make me think of someone recovering from some sort of loss, and knowing that they will come out of the crisis a new, beautiful, person.

Anyway, why blather on, when you can just listen to its beauty?

Here it is. I hope you enjoy. Happy Wednesday!

Oh, and to reinforce my creepy obsession with this song, I’ve decided to post both the original studio version and my favorite live version of him playing it solo. Pick one, or watch them both!

On this live video, the careful listener will catch Elliott responding to a heckler shouting out “Freebird!” with an almost inaudible, “fucking Freebird!”

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Wednesday Morning Earworm – “Happiness” by Elliott Smith

All I used to be will pass away, and then you’ll see

That all I want now is happiness for you and me

One of my personal favorites of about 30 Elliott Smith songs that I could call favorite.  This is such a beautiful song, and it gets stuck in my head quite often.

The lyrics are typically vague, but I always felt that this song is a straightforward narrative about one lover telling their former lover that whatever the reasons for their failings, he just wants peace and happiness.

This song was released about a year before my former-wife and I split up, and I used to listen to it a lot after the fact.  I still always think of her when I hear it.  Not out of nostalgia, or anything, but just because we had changed, and we had to deal with it.  I think that is what the song is about.  The lines…

Oh my, nothing else could have been done

He/she made his/her life a lie so

He/she might never have to know anyone

He/she made his/her life a lie, you know…

…perfectly describes the way our marriage fell apart, and the way we tried to hide from it before finally facing it.

Even though we are more than a decade beyond it all, I still just want to tell her that I just want us to be happy–wherever that leads us.  Probably just the song pulling on the old heartstrings, but you get it.  We share a son that we both adore, so we will never be too far from the other.

By-the-way, it’s been like 13 years since I first heard this song, and I still cannot do that impossible finger-picking that Elliott does.

Anyway, I know that I have posted a lot of music stuff lately, but I will get back to some serious writing very soon.  Life has gotten very busy for me lately, and Sundays through Tuesdays are my busiest days.

Happy Wednesday, Everybody!

joel

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The Saddest Songs I Know

Happy Sunday!  Please allow me to bum you out.  I get to thinking about the weirdest things sometimes, and today, it’s all about sad songs.  Well, let me preface that by explaining that I wrote a bit of flash fiction a few weeks ago based on a song I wrote called Plastic Smiles.  A friend of mine emailed me soon after that post and said it was the saddest song he had ever read (I have never played it for him).  I then explained that I could think of several songs that were far sadder than Plastic Smiles, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

I compiled a list of roughly 13 songs that hit me personally every time I hear them.  Some are old, some are new, and some are very old.  Since it is Sunday and I don’t want you all moping about on the last day of the weekend (even if I am working all day), I will narrow it down to only five.

These five are songs that make me well up with tears, or make me feel like I’ve been beaten up, every time I hear them.  They also happen to be five of the most beautiful songs I know.  There is something to be said about the connection between sadness and beautiful melodies.  I guess Elton John was right: Sad songs do say so much.

I have intentionally left out a few of the more commercially known songs like REM’s Everybody Hurts, Nirvana’s All Apologies, and Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt.  Well, that last one was hard for me to explain, since Johnny Cash’s version is so much more painful than the original.  I didn’t want to deal with that, so I am skipping it.

Anyway here we go:

5)  Soundgarden – Blow Up the Outside World

Well, this was a pretty big hit for Soundgarden in 1996, and it still gets radio play.  It is a heart-breaker, plain and simple.  The poor guy just wants a peaceful existence with the one he loves, but she turns him away, and he becomes sullen and tries to talk her into staying, even though he knows that she wont.

I’ve given everything I need, I’d give you everything I own

I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone

I’ve given everything I could, to blow it to hell and gone

Burrow down in and blow up the outside  world

When he sings “I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone”, my heart just shatters.

4) Pink Floyd – Your Possible Pasts

Most people do not know this one due to it being on the largely forgotten album, The Final Cut.  It was the last album with Roger Waters, and it still gets mixed reviews from the fans.  Your Possible Pasts is about a man who has gone to war, and returns to a wife who has lost all love for him.  He is still carrying the war around with him, and is now lost without his love.

Do you remember me? How we used to be?
Do you think we should be closer?

That chorus just kills me, and the pain in Roger Waters’ voice fills my own heart with a deep sorrow.

3) Grateful Dead – China Doll

It is hard for me to associate the Grateful Dead with anything but pure joy, but the truth is that this song is terribly sad.  Immediately after a person commits suicide, he or she holds a conversation with God.

Yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground

All I leave behind me is only what I found

In the end, the person tries to convince God to take him or her in anyway.  The soul is not permanently damaged, only “fractured” and “nervous”.

“Take up your china doll
it’s only fractured – just a little nervous from the fall”

Pretty heavy stuff for a bunch of hippies.

2) The Cure – Bare

This one always tears me up.  On the surface, it seems to be another break-up song for which The Cure are so famous, but it has always made me think that Robert Smith was speaking to his fans, rather than a lover.  He seems to be saying that The Cure will finally hang it up after this album and tour, and that he is terribly sad about finally saying goodbye, (he is notorious for threatening to quit after each album, and they are still touring to this day).  He may even be singing to a band member (Simon?).  Whomever he is singing to, it always breaks my heart, and I always feel punched in the gut when I hear it.  As gorgeous as this song is, I rarely listen to it because it stirs so much inside of me.

We should let it all go
It never stays the same
So why does it hurt me like this
When you say that I’ve changed?
When you say that I’ve aged?
Say I’m afraid

And then…

So if you’ve got nothing left to say
Just say goodbye
Turn your face away
And say goodbye
You know we’ve reached the end
You just don’t know why
And you know we can’t pretend
After all this time

Maybe I am only projecting my own emotional baggage to this one song.  I do have some personal history with this particular album.
1) Elliott Smith – Strung Out Again
And finally, my beloved Elliott Smith, because, of course!
Seriously though, this is the saddest song I know.  The self-deprecation and awareness of someone losing control of his drug habit is too heart-wrenching to not break my heart.
I know my place, hate my face
Holy crap!  He hates his own face.  How can it get any sadder than that?
I have written about this song before in my review of his posthumous album, From a Basement on the Hill, but I have to mention it again in the context of the saddest songs I know.  Sure some may find other songs that they feel is sadder than this, but I’m not buying it.
Waving at my lost reflection again
But the tide’s coming in
And I’m strung out again
Breaks my heart to think that anyone could ever go through that.
So, there you go.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll post my five happiest songs ever.  Happy Sunday!

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Why Gotye is My Mortal Enemy

I know that hatred is a wasted emotion; it does nothing to serve me, and it can be both physically and emotionally toxic.  However, just as Richard Nixon had his enemies list, so, too, do I have a few people that I will never forgive.  For example, Dwight Clark robbed the Dallas Cowboys of the NFC Championship in 1982 with “The Catch”, and it took the ‘Boys ten years to recover.  Will Clark hit a grand slam against the Cubs in the NCLS in 1989, which pretty much ended the Cubs’ great season right then and there.  Finally, Glenn Ballard created Alanis Morrisette, made Aerosmith a joke, and stripped away everything unique about the Dave Matthews Band and turned them into every other band on mainstream radio.  These things are unforgivable.

I used to have Dick Cheney on this list, but since he is a demon, and sucks the souls of the innocent, he cannot be held to any human standards.

However, I have a new enemy, and the fact that he is the darling of the music world now because of his treachery makes him the worst of all.  I am referring to Gotye.

The face of evil!

The face of evil!

I know I should love him because he is Belgian, but no, he committed the most heinous crime of all:  He ripped-off Elliott Smith.

The face of a saint!

The face of a saint!

Long before that techno-wannabe-poser got famous for the song, “Somebody That I Used to Know”, Elliott Smith recorded his own song of the same name.  Gotye copied Elliott Smith in title only, but it was a unique title and response.

When Elliott Smith recorded his original version of “Somebody That I Used to Know”, it was an original sentiment.  It was clever, and the perfect burn on an ex.

            I had tender feelings that you made hard

            But it’s your heart, not mine, that’s scarred

            So, when I go home I’ll be happy to go

            You’re just somebody that I used to know

 

            You don’t need my help anymore

            It’s all now to you, there ain’t no before

            Now that you’re big enough to run your own show

            You’re just somebody that I used to know

 

Elliott pours his heart into the lyrics, all while trying to pass off nonchalance.  He acts as if he does not care, but he clearly does.  His internal pain is evident, even if he tries to shrug her (?) off.

 

Compare that eloquence to Gotye’s boring sentiment.

            But you didn’t have to cut me off

            Make out like it never happened at that we were nothing

            And I don’t even need your love

            But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

            No, you didn’t have to stoop so low

            Have your friends collect your records and then change your number

            I guess that I don’t need that, though

            Now, you’re just somebody that I used to know

Those look like lyrics an 8-year old might have written.

As if that is not enough for me to spew my contempt and spite toward Gotye, he stole the title of another Elliott Smith song, from the same damned album!  Is he intentionally stealing material from Elliott’s album, Figure 8? Makes me wonder who else he is ripping off.

The other song that I refer to is Easy Way Out, and it is another beautifully crafted song by Elliott.   Gotye’s song is, of course, a cheap piece of crap.

There can be no forgiveness.

I know that Goatse will be hurt by my words here, but he needs to learn that cheaters never prosper, unless you consider winning Record of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammy’s prospering, then he totally can.

One last thing, “Best Alternative Album”?  Alternative?  Really?

Fuck you, Grammy’s!

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Ten 90’s-Alternative Love Songs

Regulars here know that I have a thing for the early Alternative Music scene of the 1990s.  That is not all that I listen to, of course; I listen to the Grateful Dead, Phish, Canadian Indie, Classic Rock, Progressive Rock, and a whole variety of other things.  I guess I have just been on a nostalgia kick with the Grunge/Alternative music from the early 1990s lately, and I have been resurrecting some of my old favorites via the new-fangled MP3 player.

I know I am a week late for Valentine’s Day, which is why I am posting this now.  My contrarian nature would never allow me to honor such a mainstream holiday, but I do love me a good love song.  Part of what makes music such a life force for me is that it triggers certain heartstrings.  I can get overly emotional with any type of song, but love songs are special.  They bring you back to a certain time when you felt a deep amorous love for someone.  These songs mean a little something extra to me.

And, they are good songs, to boot.  There were about 25 million love songs that came out in the 1990s, but most of them were crap, and most of them were not Alternative Rock.  Since most Alternative/Grunge bands were mewling and whining throughout the 1990s, the Alternative Rock love song is something of a rarity.

I have chosen ten songs that I remember having a special fondness for that come from the 1990s.  I have tried to use only happy love songs, but as I just mentioned, a happy Alternative song from the 1990s is rather exceptional. There were a few that came to mind that I wanted to list, but after more careful consideration, I realized that they were either from 1989 or 2000, and that would never do.  I’m a stickler that way.

So here we go:

10) The Cure – Halo

This song was a B-side to the single “Friday I’m in Love”, which was released in 1992.  “Halo” did not make it onto the album Wish, and it did not receive much radio play until around 1994.  It was later released later on the 2004 compilation album, Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978–2001 (The Fiction Years).   This beautiful and playful song brings images of young lovers dancing around in a field or beach.  It has the feel of new, young, love, and has the hopelessly naïve lyrics:

I never felt like this with anyone before, You only have to smile and I’m dizzy.

9) The Jesus and Mary Chain (with Hope Sandoval) – Sometimes Always

“Sometimes Always” was the first single from the Jesus and Mary Chain’s fifth studio album, Stoned and Dethroned.  It is also a beautiful duet with the sultry-voiced Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. The song tells a two-sided story of one lover who walked away, and the other who was left behind, but still welcomed him back.  The interplay between Sandoval and Jim Reid is fun and quirky, adding a realistic element to the song. 

8) Mazzy Star – Fade Into You

And speaking of Mazzy Star, you couldn’t get very far without hearing this song on the radio in 1994.  “Fade Into You” was first released on Mazzy Star’s second album, So Tonight That I Might See, in October, 1993, but not released as a single until April of 1994.  It is a gorgeous song, and features Sandoval’s soft, whispery voice over a three-chord musical drone.   Lyrically, it tells the tale of two lovers so deeply intertwined that their bond could never be so easily broken.  It is haunting and almost sacred.  Simply stunning!

7) Ween – Springtheme

Okay, after the seriousness of “Fade Into You”, I wanted to add something a little silly.   Alright, it is very silly, but a love song nonetheless.   “Springtheme” tells the story of very young love—probably teens—who are new to the whole love and sex thing.  Lyrics like “Can I touch you on the boob?” probably will never be taken seriously, and rightfully so, but just try to think back to when you were a young teen, fumbling around and trying to figure out how to get to second base.

By-the-way, you can find this masterpiece on Ween’s third full-length album, Pure Guava, released in 1992.  Ween is one of my favorite bands, and their subversive nature in recording and writing songs cannot be matched!

6) The Lemonheads – Into Your Arms

Hey, remember this one? Here is another song that drowned the radio waves and MTV back in 1993.  “Into Your Arms” was a hit single from the Lemonheads’ sixth studio album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads.  It has a warm and charming pop feel that might remind you of a more innocent time.  In stark contrast to the heavy drone of the Grunge era, or the post-Goth sadness of many Alternative bands at the time, this song is light, refreshing, and playful.  I have never been a big fan of the Lemonheads, but I cannot resist this song.  It is one of the songs that I associate with this time.

5) Elliott Smith – Between the Bars

Ahh, Elliott, I love you, man!  One of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters,  Elliott Smith still finds his way into regular rotation on my iPod.   On the surface, “Between the Bars” is a love song, and a deeply heartfelt one at that, but it is also a little sad, which one expects from Elliott.  The protagonist professes his love for someone and tells her (?) that he will make everything okay. It is one of the most co-dependent love songs that I have ever heard.  The sentiment is true and loving, but the relationship is messed up!

Drink up one more time and I’ll make you mine
Keep you apart, deep in my heart
Separate from the rest, where I like you the best
And keep the things you forgot

You can find “Between the Bars”, on his third solo album, Either/Or, released in 1997.  It is also featured on the Good Will Hunting movie soundtrack.  I like this video taken of him performing the song in his bathroom.

4) Elliott Smith – Angeles

You didn’t think that I could stop at only one Elliott Smith song, did you?  I had both of these songs in mind and decided to include them both.  Just about everything I said about “Between the Bars” is applicable to “Angeles.”  It is heartfelt, touching, heart-wrenching, co-dependent, and unhealthy.

I could make you satisfied in everything you do
All your secret wishes could right now be coming true
And be forever with my poison arms around you

However, it, too, is a gorgeous song.  You can also find “Angeles” on Either/Or, and on the Good Will Hunting movie soundtrack.

3) Dave Matthews Band – Crush

I almost did not include any Dave Matthews.  I used to love his stuff, but we had a falling out about 13 years ago when he started to make shitty albums and write mediocre songs.  I do not ever listen to the Dave Matthews Band anymore, but I do like to hear his solo work with Tim Reynolds.

Anyhoo, I guess I could have used “Crash Into Me”, but I like this one better.  No one could ever accuse Dave Matthews of lacking in passion.  His lyrics, while non-traditional, are still very heartfelt.  I imagine that he was thinking about his lover and sung a sort of stream of consciousness rambling while recording the song.  Lyrically it has little form, but hey, when is love ever formulaic?  The words are fiery and adoring, and he belts them out with urgency.

“Crush” comes from the 1998 Dave Matthews Band album, Before These Crowded Streets.  But this video is just Dave and Tim.

2) Smashing Pumpkins – Drown

I am not sure if this is a love song or not, but I have always thought that it was.  It reminds me of the Cure’s imagery of drowning as a metaphor for losing oneself in someone else.  Lyrically, I guess is akin to “Fade Into You.”

“Drown” comes from the Singles movie soundtrack, and was Smashing Pumpkins’ breakthrough hit.  To me, this song takes me right back to 1992.  The tone of the music; part psychedelic and part metal, sums up the early 90s perfectly for me.  You can decide if it is a real love song or not.

1) Stone Temple Pilots – Still Remains

            This is the perfect Grunge-era love song, and it was the soundtrack to when my former-wife and I fell in love back in 1994.  Many years and a divorce later, I still look back fondly to this song and how I felt at this time.  “Still Remains” comes from Stone Temple Pilots’ second album, Purple, and remains a classic in their live repertoire today.

Lyrically, the song presents images of lovers who can take the passion and beauty of their bedroom out into the rest of the world.  Scott Weiland is, at times, oblique with his metaphors, but that only heightens the sense of young, blissful, love.

Pick a song and sing a yellow nectarine
Take a bath, I’ll drink the water that you leave

The lovers share everything, and never want to leave each other’s side.

If you should die before me
Ask if you can bring a friend

So, those are my ten favorites from this era.  What about you?  Do you have anything to add to the list?  And please do not say Lisa Loeb!

No!

No!

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Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill

Most people who know me know that I have a nearly unhealthy obsession with Elliott Smith.  As a singer-songwriter myself, I have admired his skill as a songwriter since I first heard him in 1996.  His songwriting skills matched the melodic and lyrical beauty of some of my favorite songwriters: George Harrison, John Lennon, Neil Young, Nick Drake, etc…, and I tried to model my own skills after his.   I never could; I am more of a Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, or Trey Anastasio type of songwriter, but I always tried.

Even if you think that you have never heard Elliott Smith, you probably have.  The movie Good Will Hunting has 3 or 4 of his songs in it; one of which earned him an Oscar nomination (he lost to Celine Dion).  Also, The Royal Tenenbaums has a scene in which “Needle in the Hay” is played.

Elliott Smith constructed short, pop melodies, and could put them in both gentle acoustic ballads and in louder Grunge-style rock songs.  He was a skilled finger-picker and could play piano at a classical level.  He also had a beautiful voice that I envied, and that voice carried his soul across every song he sung.  He was a perfect blend of George Harrison’s beauty, Neil Young’s sadness, and the Grunge-era’s self-loathing.

He recorded these songs in a hasty, lo-fi style that added urgency to his sound that enhanced the troubled lyrical content.  His was a troubled soul, and his songs often reflected his self-loathing and suicidal mind.  It was common for Elliott to throw in self-deprecating remarks even in a touching love song.  Take “Amity”, from 1998’s XO: “Amity, Amity, God don’t make no junk, but it’s plain to see He still made me.”

I first heard Elliott Smith in 1996, after my downstairs neighbor saw him at The Press Club in Sacramento.  My neighbor (I can’t even remember his name anymore), bought Elliott’s self-titled second CD and made a tape of it for me.  I listened to that until it wore down to nothing, and when his new album Either/Or came out in 1997, I bought that CD, and then his first two.  Later, I would buy XO and Figure 8 as soon as they were released.

As much as it might have brought horror to Elliott if he knew this, I idolized his songwriting skills.  I tried to write 3-minute pop ballads, but I could never stop short of 5- or 6-minute ramblings.

I finally got to see him live on December 18, 2001 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.  That show was a mess.  Elliott had clearly lost control of his drug habit, and was reportedly locked-up in his home, freebasing crack and heroin non-stop.  I saw him on a very brief tour. It was clear that he was not up for a major outing.  He walked on stage looking like a ghost.   Pale, greasy, and thinner than usual, he played a string of brand new songs that no one had heard before stumbling through a few old classics at the aggressive prodding of the heckling crowd.  He kept forgetting words, and even how to play some of these older songs.  The crowd got restless, and Elliott’s discomfort became more and more evident as the show went on.

The best part of the show was when he did a tribute to the recently passed George Harrison by playing “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).  It was beautiful.  If you want to hear this train wreck of a show, you can hear the entire thing here…

http://archive.org/details/esmith2001-12-18

The show was so shocking to me that I stopped listening to Elliott for about 10 years.  When he died in 2003, I was so distraught that I couldn’t even think to listen to any of his beautiful music.

But I’m here to talk about his last album, From a Basement on the Hill.  Fellow blogger Dusty Henry wrote a piece recently on Elliott Smith’s album, Either/Or.  I am not trying to cop his style, but this exactly the kind of thing that I think about All.The.Time.  I nominated him for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award because his post inspired me to write this very post.  Go check him out.

Anyway, back to this…Released posthumously, this album was pieced together by Elliott’s old producers who basically tried to create songs out of numerous incomplete takes.  The result is a rough and raunchy sounding album that is clearly unfinished.

Elliott began recoding these tracks while he was in the darkest depths of his drug addiction, and after he cleaned-up and got healthy, he reportedly wanted to throw everything away and start over.  And then he died.

So, all the record company and producers had to work with was this mess of rough and incomplete recordings.  Ultimately, it is a difficult album to listen to, but I call it Elliott’s dark horse.  It is really one of my favorite albums. It certainly contains some of his best songs, even if the lyrical matter is darker and more depressing than anything else he had ever written.  Maybe I only like it so much because I only listened to it for the first time in 2011, but I still enjoy it quite a bit.

By-the-way, I do not own any rights to these songs.  I am only posting links to share them with my readers.  If I offend some record or publishing company in any way, I will gleefully remove the links.

For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss my personal favorites from this album.  The album begins with “Coast to Coast.”  This rocker is an odd opener, since it is the roughest mix of the whole lot, but the song itself is fantastic.  With the hook, “Anything that I could do, would never be enough for you”, it is unclear if he is talking about a lover, a friend, or record company executives.  Played in his drop-C tuning, this is a dark drone with a driving beat.  Like the other songs on this album, it is Elliott at his most honest.  He tells his side of the conflict in the most stirring way he can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAvqZsRhjwk

The next song is one of my favorites to play.  “Let’s Get Lost” is Elliott at his loneliest.  The lyrics tell how a person just wants solitude.  “I’ll burn every bridge that I cross to find some beautiful place to get lost”, also suggests his penchant for hiding out in his home and doing drugs all day.  It is a beautiful song that I could imagine Neil Young writing during his dark period in the early 1970s.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRkGl4J0I94

“Pretty (Ugly Before)”, is another tale of self-loathing with “sunshine” and “pretty” being code words for drugs and being high, respectively.  It is a beautiful song, and his voice just aches and makes the listener immediately want to give the guy a hug.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wymViayJyG4

“Don’t Go Down” is a fantastic rocker that tells the story of a lover begging the protagonist to either not kill himself, or to quit drugs…either way, it’s all the same.  It sounds autobiographical, but it could very easily just be another song.  I get the sense that it is the kind of song that is true in the heart of the songwriter, but could easily be passed off as a work of fiction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GUaiHH4xRE

“Strung Out Again” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  Moreover, it is also the saddest song I have ever heard. Before his hibernation into crack and heroin land, he played this song a few times with his band, and it was a slightly less depressing love song called “Struck Out Again.”  Later, when he had clearly lost control of his habits, the lyrics changed.  This song can be seen as a sort of sequel to “Needle in the Hay”, another horror story about addiction.

I love this song so much.  I play it in my living room a lot, just because it is so gorgeous.  He usually played this song acoustically, but I love the production on the album.  Very powerful.  Probably the best produced song on the album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVIao_zpCco

“A Fond Farewell” tells the story of a friend watching a friend deteriorate.  After seeing Elliott’s demise, it is easy to imagine this is autobiographical, but who knows?  This is a fan favorite, even if it is not one of my own favorites, and it is a wonderfully constructed song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nabO_UXb6MM

“Twilight” is another beautiful song, however sad.  It is a love song, and not entirely self-deprecating.  The production on this song is sparse, and I would have liked to have heard Elliott complete it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA5l1Xz14f4

“A Passing Feeling” is a wonderful song that sounds like something from The Beatles’ White Album.  The production is disjointed—obviously, only a few usable takes were available for the producers to use.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fountdff72I

“Little One” is so gorgeous it sounds like a lullaby.  However, it is a song about a junkie taking another hit and nodding off.  I do love it.  Take the lyrics away and one can just float along the clouds with this one.  Still, the lyrics are telling of Smith’s condition at the time: “If I seem to be reckless with myself, it’s the fault of no one. All things have a place under the moon as well as the sun.”  In addition, on an album filled with simple chord structures, this song is one of his more complex, and hearkens back to the more difficult songs on Figure 8 and XO.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZppOjnhG24

The other songs on the album, “King’s Crossing”, “The Last Hour”, Memory Lane”, and “A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free”, are okay, but not up to the standards that I have set for his songwriting.  “A Distorted Reality…” is a fan favorite, and I do not understand why, but that it just me.  “Ostrich & Chirping” is not even Elliott, and it is a mystery to all involved how it landed on this album.

Most Elliott Smith fans would probably point the new listener to his other albums before suggesting From a Basement on the Hill, but that does not mean that this album should be ignored.  If one can get past the rough production quality and depressing lyrics, they might discover some gorgeous gems.  Perhaps it is because this album is still relatively new to me, but I find myself listening to it more than the other ones these days.

I think that these are some of his best songs ever.  If he had not died suddenly and tragically, this could have been his best album yet.  Even though the songs are unfinished and the production is rough, I train my ears to listen to it as if it were a completed work.  His greatest work.

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Music and Life

Music is the best medicine for me.  My entire life has had music right at its center, from my Dad teaching guitar to me at age five, to coming home from school in the third-grade to my mother blasting the Beatles.  My Dad taught me a more folksy style of playing music, as was his style at the time, but when I discovered Rock and Roll, I had really found my Balm of Gilead.

I get into obsessive stages of what I liked and what I want to listen to.  When I was in grade school, all I knew was the Beatles.  I took possession of my mother’s old LPs and played them until I wore the grooves down to nothing, or until I scratched them into oblivion.  My mom still has those original US pressings of those albums, even if they are worthless to any collector.  They were an integral part of our family.

I remember on the last day of fifth-grade that my class had a party.  My very cool teacher said we could bring in any records that we liked.  My classmates brought in some odd bubble-gummy pop crap that was fashionable in 1979, and I brought in the Beatles.  My teacher loved that I brought in The White Album, and confessed that “Rocky Raccoon” was his favorite song.  My fellow students thought that it was all weird, especially me.

Later that year, as I grew older and wiser in the sixth-grade, I started listening to the radio more and more.  My older sister turned me to a lot of great Rock and Roll, but she also liked Disco, which at the time was forbidden in my circle of friends.  We fought over the Rock station in Sacramento, KZAP, and the Pop/Disco station, KWOD.  She usually won, by right of being older, but my friends and I found a lot of great music in the process.  In the fall of 1979, I discovered Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Supertramp.  In the spring of 1980, I discovered Genesis, Yes, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Aerosmith.  My super-Christian parents rediscovered their love for Bob Dylan during his “Born Again” phase, and I heard his music frequently during this time.

The older I got, the more I discovered.  There was Jethro Tull, the Band, the Who, the Police, and Billy Squier.  Then, I discovered heavier music like Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, the Scorpions.  Then I discovered Metal at its nascent stage with bands like Metallica, Venom, Slayer, Mercylful Fate, Saxxon, and Exodus.

And then, oddly enough, I discovered the Grateful Dead.  This joyous music would come to transform and define me as a musician, and as a person.  I would go on to see them in concert seventy times, and then discover the new wave of Jam Band followers like Phish, the Spin Doctors, moe., and the Disco Biscuits.

I fell in love with the Grunge movement of the early 1990s, itself a hangover of the old “College Rock”/Punk music of the 1980s in which I would dabble.  In my early-to-mid-twenties by the time Nirvana changed the music world, I saw most of the concerts I would ever see in this brief 2-3 year period.

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I did not only listen to music; I played it in bands, and I wrote songs, and I saw concerts, and I became a sort of historian for bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish, Neil Young, or any of the Grunge bands.  I read every article I could find in fanzines like The Golden Road, or Relix, or in major publications like Spin, or Rolling Stone. I collected every bootlegged live concert I could get my hands on.

I have always found that music has ability like nothing else in the world to bring peace to me.  It can also bring darkness to my soul that I did not invite.  Therefore, I can only listen to certain music at certain times.  I have written before about my history of depression and anxiety, and music plays a key role in that.

A perfect example of this is Elliott Smith.  He is absolutely one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and he can construct the most gorgeous melodies this side of George Harrison.  However, his lyrics are often sad, angry, and filled with self-loathing.  His melodies, while beautiful, can be dark and haunting.  As much as I love his songs, I cannot listen to him when I am feeling anxious or depressed.  The same is true for Soundgarden, Nirvana, or even Wilco.

When I am feeling particularly anxious or depressed, I will usually go for the Grateful Dead, or Phish, or the Beatles, or the Flaming Lips, or Ween—something uplifting, or even silly.  When things are going well for me, I will put on Elliott Smith, or Wilco, or The Cure, or anything else with a darker tone to it.

I mentioned before that I get obsessive about the music I listen to.  It started with a 2-year run with the Beatles, followed by another two-year run with Led Zeppelin.  There were lengthy bouts with the Rolling Stones, and then eventually, the Grateful Dead.  Of course, I would listen to other music during these bouts, but certain bands dominated my record player/tape deck/cd player/mp3 player during those times.  I have had lengthy spells in which I only listened to Wilco, or Elliott Smith, or The Cure, or the Smashing Pumpkins, or Nirvana, or the Flaming Lips.  Recently, it was St. Vincent and Metric.  I guess I have moments in my life in which only one particular band or artist speaks to my mood.

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I must be especially mercurial at the moment because I am bouncing around quickly from the Flaming Lips, to Ween, to the Strokes, to the Shins, to Dinosaur Jr.  I think that is my twelve-year old son’s influence on me.  We have spent these past two years learning different songs on the guitar.  I would teach him something, and then he would go to his mom’s house and learn new something on his own, and then teach that to me.  He has similar tastes in music as me, but he has also developed his own tastes as well.  I see a similar, yet somehow healthier, obsession of music in him.

So, what are you listening to right now?

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