Elliott Smith ~ Either/Or

As we come upon tomorrow night’s 84th Academy Awards, I think back to the 70th event, prompted by the 15th anniversary today of the release of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. Smith had one of those plaintive voices that seemed to want to hide behind his quietly strummed guitar. My favorite song on the album is the short (less than 3 minutes) “Ballad of Big Nothing” with its refrain

You can do what you want to whenever you want to
You can do what you want to, there’s no one to stop you
Now you can do what you want to whenever you want to
Do what you want to whenever you want to
Do what you want to whenever you want to though it doesn’t mean a thing
Big nothing

But his voice seemed to get more assertive (and his sentiments more direct) as he released subsequent albums. By the time Figure 8 was released (2000) he was on the scene, at least in the Portland area in a major indie way. An example of this is his lyrics from “Somebody that I used to Know”:

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
I watched you deal in a dying day
And throw a living past away
So you can be sure that you’re in control
You’re just somebody that I used to know
I know you don’t think you did me wrong
And I can’t stay this mad for long
Keeping ahold of what you just let go
You’re just somebody that I used to know

Throw this on the great rock heap of break up songs, right up near the top. One of these days I’ll need to compile a list.

It was the January 1998 release of the film Good Will Hunting that brought Smith to the attention of a (somewhat) wider audience. Gus Van Sant’s film had a killer soundtrack that featured the likes of The Dandy Warhol’s,   Del Shannon, President Obama’s fave Al Green, and several songs by Smith (a Van Zant favorite). But it was “Miss Misery” that turned heads, especially after it was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1998 Academy Awards. The 1998 awards was Titanic vs. Good Will Hunting (the big ship won). Although it didn’t win, his live performance was… incongruously out of place, stunningly beautiful and ultimately one of the memorable moments in Oscar history. If you’re adventurous (and have time on your hands) you can also check out the winning song, with Celine Dion’s performance of “My Heart Will Go On”. This freakin’ Titanic song didn’t even start until after the three minute mark, and was everything that Smith’ s song and performance were not: pretentious, dull, and deadly boring. Picture a split screen of these two performances, before Dion even opened her mouth – almost before she came on the stage – Smith was in and out. Ah, Hollywood.

Sadly, in October of 2003, Smith’s body was found with stab wounds to the chest, dead. The case has never been solved.

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3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Music

3 responses to “Elliott Smith ~ Either/Or

  1. Marc

    great post!!man I miss him

  2. Chazz,

    Great post man! I was still a few years down the road to discovering Smith (not until I got to college) but when I did it was eye opening. I still don’t think I could name a favorite album: I guess his self-titled one (Christian Brother, Needle in the Hay, and Southern Belle are all incredible, haunting songs on that album). Unfortunately, I think Celine and “My Heart Will Go On” continue to be the song everyone knows, but Smith’s legacy does keep growing as time goes on.

  3. junkiestew

    Miss Misery (early version) off New Moon is also worth checking out. Haunting but in a different way. This song really cut through a lot of sh*t out there and still does.

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