I told my little sister that Tuesday night that Elliot Smith had killed himself. I couldn't say I was surprised when she responded with a "Who's that?" Yet, I had a gleam of hope that in some way, she would understand what had happened, that she would be as shocked as I had when I heard the news. Yet, she answered with "Who's that?"
Well, I can't sit here and write about how much I identified with Elliott Smith's songs or how amazing he was at the live show I never went to, because I know there's plenty of people who have, and could write an excellent memorial.
This is not a memorial.
The only thing I can say about my experience with Elliott Smith's music is thirty or so bus rides in eighth grade with a handful of CDs I did not quite understand, but grew to love on these early-morning treks across the South Bay. One of these CDs was a discovery in the used-bin at the record store, with a name I had become familiar with on the Internet. This CD was Either/Or. I have grown to love listening to "Say Yes", "Alameda" and "Pictures of Me" for more than their lyrics, but rather, for memory of their formative impact on me, musically, creatively and personally.
With his name on a list with Nick Drake and Ian Curtis, Elliott Smith will now change from an underground favorite into a post-mortem celebrity. In this tragic, yet selfish act, more people will have the opportunity of experiencing Smith's music and for that I can't complain.
However, I am also disillusioned with the reactions to his death. There are too many indie rock dilettantes (and even veterans) who feign a mourning of Elliott Smith's death like the loss of a close friend, when while he was alive, his albums gathered dust in the "background music" piles and mp3s of "Miss Misery" were hidden away on hard drives full of rarely-touched songs.
On Tuesday night, I held some kind of twisted hope that my sister might fit into this category, after her dabbling in the now-popular emo/indie explosion. Perhaps even if she just pretended to care, I could feel that someone I knew understood my feelings and loss. But by the next morning, I had changed my mind.
I woke up that morning saddened and angry that the creator of the songs I loved had killed himself, but I realized that I was glad that my sister had answered in the way she had. I'm glad that in her late hearing about Elliott, she may just decide to download an mp3 or stumble upon an album sometime in the future, as I had. I am glad she had not pretended to lament the dramatic suicide of a frequently namedropped indie-rock icon that she may or may not have listened to.
For the next week or so, Elliott Smith's legacy will exist in lyrics copied-and-pasted into AIM profiles and LiveJournal entries, and I cannot say this is the way I want him to be remembered. Elliott Smith existed as an intelligent, intimate and vibrant songwriter, not a figure to bring about Internet histrionics. Advertisements of exaggerated outpouring grief and mournful tears have covered post-Elliott Smith world.
Sadly, there is only a small group of people who really did love Elliott Smith either as an artist or as a person, people who found true meaning in this loss, people who's tears hold sincerity. They deserve to grieve and deserve to write their memorials. For the rest of us, Elliott can only live on over landscapes panning across car windows, against the hushed whispers in coffee shops and resonating along the pasty walls of college dormitories. His music is a secret that has found its way across the lips and into the ears of so many.
I will miss the thoughts of Elliott sitting somewhere leaning over his guitar penning more laconic and gentle songs that I will immediately adore. I will miss knowing that there is a spirit on this world who, with his words and influence meant so much to me and so many others. I will miss seeing smiles appearing on faces when his songs are played in the record store.
I will remember Elliott by taking the albums of his that I have purchased, and purchasing those that I have not, putting on my headphones, closing my eyes and listening intently.
And I will not stand with the others saying, "We will miss you Elliot" as the Sharpie, on the shirt of the girl whom I passed on Thursday morning, spelled out so? incorrectly.
RIP Steven Paul (Elliott) Smith 1969 - 2003
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