Elliott Smith :: My Top 10 Favorite Songs
As I sat here this morning musing over the nineties and who my twenty-something heart was more than fond of, Elliott Smith came to mind. Elliott is one of my most favorite artists of all-time, his music ever hitting my soul as if he stuck it right into my veins, pumping each note and every lyric into my bloodstream, turning it into oxygen and sustenance and soul. When I first heard his music I ached within it, and felt stronger inside of the songs, too. I felt like I had discovered pages in my diaries I had yet to pen, written in a slightly different perspective, with names changed, but still so familiar.
It hurt in that deep pain shock kind of way when he died, and I still regret never getting to see him play live, not even once.
Some days I lay back and listen to his albums, and as they spin circles on my turntable I wish I could turn back time and bring him a plate of cookies and a bottle of something strong, offer him a soft place to land, or at least an ear to listen. I would wish for an afternoon to talk and maybe write together, and gift him some kind of hope that would be enough to stick around. Though cookies, and liquor and a warm embrace never saved the ones I lost in my life to addiction and suicide, either. A girl can wish though, can’t she?
I did a search through my three years here at Lyriquediscorde, thinking I must have done a Top 10 post for Elliott. I found post after post that includes his music, playlists, songs of the day, lists of favorites by themes, and writings that were mused-up whilst listening to his music, but no Top 10. So here we are, on this Sunday afternoon, my heart aching a little in that way that only his music ever soothes, and here I am, wishing for that time machine again, wishing I could have been the one to save him, as his music has saved me, so many times already.
Though it is hard to choose, here are my Top 10 favorite Elliott Smith songs:
“Drink up baby,
look at the stars,
I’ll kiss you again,
between the bars,
where I’m seeing you there,
with your hands in the air,
waiting to finally be caught.”
Between the Bars (live)
I stood in line, in from the rain, water dripping slowly off the ends of my dyed black hair, trying to hide the way my hands were shaking. It had been one of those mornings where everything set him off, the tipped over empty bottle should have been a sign of what lay waiting before the alarm, but I’d made it out, made it here, made it to stand with the faceless, nameless crowd waiting for warmth and wake up’s in a cup with their name scrawled on the side. You made a joke, and then another, brushing away a raindrop from my skin, and for a moment I felt saved, or at least seen; for a sliver of a moment I felt like I wanted to be caught.
“Situations get fucked up,
or turned around,
sooner or later.”
It was not always bad mornings and empty bottles, no, once upon a time you came running up the back stairs, wild hair and a crooked smile, bringing with you VHS tapes of a show we both liked and a over-sized thermos of re-warmed, day old coffee to share. Some days you were waiting there for me before I got home from work, you knew my landlord from some work you’d once done and she let you in. We would laugh and drink and watch old movies, and sometimes I’d think to myself, that if I let myself, I could say yes to you forever (and after awhile, I tried to do just that).
“I’m never gonna know you now,
but I’m gonna love you,
This one breaks me, snaps me in half, hits me in that way that makes my chest tighten until I can hardly breathe, and the tears sting my eyes, tears I try to blink back, but almost always fail. This one opens the abandonment I felt growing up, it peels back the heartbreak of letting a true love get away, and rips off the pain that never quite goes away of losing someone forever that you once thought would be yours forever. It unleashes grief that I still have not allowed myself to fully feel, and sometimes I think I should stop listening, that I should push pause, or stop, but I can’t, I have to keep listening, I have to keep feeling it all.
“I could make you smile,
if you stayed a while,
but how long will you stay with me, baby?”
We kissed on a whim, without intention, without a plan, without a momentary lapse of consequence. It felt like we had to, right then, right there, but the next morning it was only consequence that we could see. I said the stupidest thing, the wishful thing, realizing right away that you never meant to face the consequences hand-in-hand, that you never meant to stay with me, baby.
“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“
I was from here, the poison smog and dreams for the stars pulsing through my veins, and you, well you were a transplant with a guitar and a yet unbroken smile. You took my hand and said “come with me, walk with me by the ocean, give me a chance“, and for a moment I closed my eyes and took your hand. I was more poison than stars though, and there were still chains around my wrists and knees and left ring finger that I did not have a key for, so I dropped your hand and turned away, disappearing into the smog-filled skies of LA.
“You drank yourself into slow-mo,
made an angel in the snow.
You did anything to pass the time,
and keep that song out of your mind,
oh, my darling.”
He said I was like Clementine, covering my skin with kisses, his eyes warm with love. Years later he would write about how dreadful she was, Clementine. Maybe it wasn’t me he meant it for, maybe my memory wasn’t part of the equation, part of the proclamation, the change of mind, but it felt cold on my skin, and cold with something like the opposite of love.
“But it’s alright,
some enchanted night I’ll be with you.”
Miss Misery (Early Version)
I went back to your house after a long walk by the water, you poured us drinks and I fondled your vinyl collection, yelling out to you when I found XO in your collection. We traded favorite songs and when Miss Misery was brought up, the original version, a song that was told by an ex-lover reminded him of me, you said you preferred an earlier one. You played it for me on your guitar, singing it, the hopefulness of the original lyrics wrapping around me, reminding me of when I once believed in something more.
“Won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?”
I left my heart on the side of the road where people would crowd, one day later, to watch the parade go by. I thought my hands were tied, chained really, by some false sense of obligation and three lifetimes worth of unwanted guilt. I wanted to follow you, though, leave my car abandoned and take your hand, but instead I just drove away, watching your image disappear in the rear view, losing myself in the fade away.
“Nobody broke your heart.
You broke your own,
‘cos you can’t finish what you start.”
I told the fortune teller in the bright painted tent that I was a fool for love, and she said that I was careless with love, but never a fool. I told the boy on the train with the dark, sad eyes that I was a failure at love, and he said he could change the odds. I said to my reflection that you always break love’s heart, and the glass menagerie image nodded back saying silently, “you never finish what you start“.
“I see you’re leaving me,
and taking up with the enemy,
the cold comfort of the in-between;
a little less than a human being,
a little less than a happy high,
a little less than a suicide.”
A Fond Farewell
You never saw the tears I cried as I watched the city disappear into the night, this song spilling out of the car speakers, the words sung feeling like blades piercing my icy skin. Somewhere in the song, though, I found a speck of hope, a breadcrumb to lead me back, the promise of fondness that would overtake the farewell. We were always good in the beginning, always better in the contents of a song, but we could have been so much more.
This was the hardest list to narrow down, harder than any of the others that came before, hard enough for me to want to mention the runner’s up that were so hard to cut: Thirteen (Big Star cover), Somebody That I Used to Know, Angel in the Snow, Everything Reminds Me of Her, Let’s Get Lost, Last Call and Independence Day.