Wednesday morning, I ran flustered into my first class of the day, 10 minutes late and desperate to slip quietly into my seat unnoticed.
“With a knife? My god,” a girl towards the head of the table said.
While awkwardly slipping my bookbag under the seat, I inquired as to what my peers were discussing.
“Oh. How Elliott Smith killed himself yesterday,” another student said.
In an instant, it was just like those films where the slow-mo kicks in and everything becomes eerily visceral. Tears quickly burst from the corners of my eyes, and my words became staggered and frayed.
“I… what? I need… to go to the… bathroom,” I blurted, while the entire class stared with wide eyes. In an instant, I was sobbing into a ball of toilet paper, trying unsuccessfully to collect myself for the next hour and forty minutes of class.
Having driven the painfully slow 4 1/2 hour drive back from the Bay Area on Monday , I had entertained myself with Smith’s two most recent releases, Figure 8 and XO, as I often do on the winding curves between King City and Buellton. It had occurred to me, as I listened to my favorite Smith song, “XO Waltz (#2),” that it might just have slipped into my top five favorite songs ever. In a nutshell, it reminded me of those first intense feelings from my first relationship, feelings I hoped I would hold onto forever.
“I’m so glad that my memories remote / cuz I’m doing just fine hour to hour, note to note… Tell Mr. Man with impossible plans to just leave me alone / In the place where I make no mistakes / In the place where I have what it takes / I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow.”
Yet here it was, two days later, and Elliott Smith, one of my most cherished singer-songwriters had been found dead by his live-in girlfriend just hours earlier in his L.A. apartment, unleashing a torrent of grief from fans and admirers like myself. The most grippingly tragic element to the tale of Elliott’s final moments has to be his chosen method of suicide: a single stab wound to the chest. A knife through his heart. Sweet, dark poetry come to life… or rather, death. The absolute self-loathing and despair one must suffer through to choose such means of self-destruction is truly unfathomable and more than most could bear to process. Though Smith was hardly the poster child for optimism or giddy jubilation, his suicide has still managed to shatter and jolt fans like myself and bubble up those ever-plaguing thoughts concerning the underlying selfishness of taking one’s own life.
While waking dazedly around campus after class, a conversation I had with a friend a year earlier sprang to mind. I had been quietly listening to “Figure 8” when he said, “Okay, his stuff is really good but, c’mon, this is such suicide music.” Slightly offended, I retorted, “What? It’s hardly peppy, but it’s not that sad.” “All I know is that, to me, that’s definitely suicide music.”
As awful as it sounds to recount, I couldn’t help but nod today and admit my defeat. The horrible irony of the moment coming back to slap me in the face only added to the stinging sensation I felt, having lost a beautiful, treasured artist. Goodbye, Elliott. I’ll miss you. Rest in peace.
Bio: Elliott Smith garnered a strong following beginning with his 1994 release, Roman Candle, continuing through his ’95 self-titled release, with Either/Or in ’97 and reaching more mainstream heights with his Academy Award nomination for the song “Miss Misery,” featured in Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting.” Though he didn’t take home a trophy, his subsequent releases “XO” and “Figure 8” brought him even more critical and commercial success, bolstered by songs on the soundtracks for “American Beauty” and “Rushmore.” Having just won the L.A. Weekly’s “Best Rock/Pop Songwriter/Composer” award, Elliott was at work on his sixth studio album, From a Basement On the Hill, to be released later this year, and was scheduled to appear at the All Tomorrow’s Parties Music Festival in Long Beach next month. Smith was 34 years old. For more information on Elliott Smith, visit www.sweetadeline.com, www.pitchforkmedia.com or allmusic.com.
Quotes from fans:
“Hate’ll sing the ending that love started to say”
I think that is my favorite quote of Elliott smith. And it fits today, upon hearing the tragic news. Last night, I listened to XO, not for the first time, but it sure felt like it. I got the feeling: the nervous anticipation for the next song, the butterflies in the stomach from the melodies and the need to press repeat when the album finished. This morning I found out that he died. It is a sad day, and I am left wondering why of all the chances to hear XO in such a fashion, it had to be on that night.
– Rob Simonsen
Today is a sad, sad day. Not wanting to live any longer, his body gave up after dark. I love Elliott Smith and will treat him as if his passing were one of a close personal friend. No single artist has accompanied me or been a companion to my life like Elliott has. He is the headline player to the soundtrack of my life. Such a unique and acute artist… it’s so uncommon to have someone so talented be so marginal to the pop psyche. He’s one of the few artists you can really truly call your own, only to share with those who were already aware of his existence. He was and will remain the standard by which those who love him gauge others based on their reaction to his tunes. Elliott Smith is the new music you got excited about that never gets old.
– Eric Gross
We will miss you, Elliott. We will miss the eloquence of your music and all that it provoked. We will miss the sticks of your suffering because you beat us with them, and that is what geniuses do.