Either/Or (1997) :: Elliott Smith
There are about five musicians who hold such an intricate and vital place in my heart that they have become part of my make-up, and their music subsequently, part of my life soundtrack. There are artists whose songs stand the test of time for me, and no matter how my life changes, or how I change, the songs still remain relevent and meaningful, and deeply personal to me. Elliott Smith is one of those artists.
I have written countless times on what his music means to me, and how much of a heartbreak his absence in this world is. His music speaks volumes to me, of sadness and loneliness, yes, but also of hope and love. Elliott speaks of a Los Angeles that I know, he sings of consequences and mistakes that play all too familiar in my heart and mind, and he gifted these blink and you may miss it moments of redemption and belief in something better that add to the heartache I feel over his death. I honestly believe he had dreams that his life would be more, and that he had so many more stories and songs within him that we will never hear.
More than that, though, I wish he had more life to live, and that he could have reached a time in his life where he felt happy and safe and at peace.
In his absence I hold dear the music he did give to all of us. For the first “Favorite Albums” post of 2013 I have chosen one of Elliott’s albums, Either/Or, to share, as it is truly one of my all-time favorites. Following you will find my three-sentence per song reflections, and I hope you will take the time to listen to the album in its entirety, either here, or on your own.
So much desperation and despair in the opening number. Images of wandering down empty streets in the too early hours of morning, negative voices whispering in your head again even though you thought you had become numb enough to shut them up, at least for tonight. The chemicals, how they spin around and blind you to everything except the weight of not good enough (I can remember back when I felt just the same).
The smile of confidence is a clown-painted over, but it fools nearly everyone. Long ago you stopped complaining about the pain, knowing all too well that you were always the one to leave first. Maybe it is the call of the road, or perhaps it is some kind of self-protection, or just the fact that you had never met anyone who could make it all stick.
Ballad of Big Nothing
This song hits on the part of me that has a history of trying to hard to please others, the neverending spiral of trying to be everything to everyone, and ultimately not being enough to anyone at all. This is also a reflection of a very nihilistic view of the world, that there is free will, and many roads and alleyways to choose, but none of them have great meaning at the end of them, in the end nothing really matters. I do not agree anymore, not really, but I do now how that kind of hopelessness feels.
Between the Bars
One of my all-time favorite songs, Between the Bars has become so deeply personal to my life, and to certain chapters and histories from my story (so far). There is the part of me that feels darker than I ever let on, who holds deep within a pit of need that seems endless at times. It also speaks to the girl who once tried to love and be loved in the throes of addiction, and how hard it is to be the thing standing “between the bars” of an addict and their addiction, and how hard it is to be in love in the midst of all of that.
Pictures of Me
This song reminds me of the awkward years between being a teenager still and being an actual adult. How we all try on so many roles and words and sayings, fashions and friends and flirtations, all in the midst of stumbling and starting and stopping while we try to figure out who we really are. It is hard to beoome a grown-up kind of person.
No Name No. 5
At this point in Elliott’s too short life, this is a hard song to hear. It sings so profoundly of loneliness and isolation, in such a simple and soft kind of way, making it all that more sad to me. There is a resignation there, too, as the song starts to build, that almost feels like a kind of forgiveness, but forgiving what, I am not so sure.
Just in time for the new year, the Rose Parade is a something I have grown-up adjacent to, though I have never actually attended it, not even as a child. It reminds me forever of my Grandfather who loved to wake up early on the first days of the year to watch it. It also reminds me of a break-up I once had, two days before the new year, and the last conversation we had parked right by one of the too tall risers on Colorado Boulevard, set-up and waiting for the Rose Parade.
Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy reminds me of the book Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), and the significance of a set of Punch and Judy dolls in the plot (no spoilers here). There is something so dark and twisted about these two, and what those two names evoke, the tragic story of love turned to abuse that turned into death. Those “same mistakes” a shadow that casts over my heart sometimes when I think of my abusive past, and how I embrace being free from it all, with so much hope to never repeat those dark days.
This is a ballad to the city of Los Angeles that I know and love and hate, at differing times, and at differening amounts of emotion. This is the lens I see the city through, the marks and scars and memories I hold close to me, and the struggles and stumbles I have succombed to, and survived, within its borders. The darkness in me always fit well on the streets of this city, though it has often been hard to regain my light here, without wanting desperately to fly away.
This song reminds me of a time in my life where I reached a personal crossroads, making a deal with my own demons to walk away and leave a big portion of pain and darkness behind. Leaving is never easy, though, no matter how necessary. I left parts of my heart there, at that x in the road, and every so often I can hear the echoes and strains of what I walked away from.
A song for the sleepless, for the artists of the night, for the insomniacs. In the way too late hours, or the way too early, our regrets like to come out and ask us to dance. Some nights I hold my eyes shut so tightly, fighting back the memories, fighting off the dance partners, and holding back the tears.
A rare glimpse of hope that only love can bring. This is one of my favorite love songs of forever, and there is something so pure and true within it, even at the parts about making mistakes along the way. I feel blessed to be with someone who I love and who I want to be with for all our “morning afters“.