By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Here’s the rub: If what Nugent says is true — and it’s worth doubting all his conclusions — it means Elliott Smith wasn’t like Dylan at all. He didn’t temporarily inhabit other people’s experience; he didn’t live life on the edge so he could report back on what it felt like; rather, he was painting portraits so alluring that he felt the need to live the life he created in his songs. It’s a weirdly postmodern move. Smith viewed his albums as precognitive signs that justified his behavior in advance.
It’s for this reason — I’m sad to report — that Smith’s death has made his entire discography ring a bit hollow for me in the postmortem. It turns out his music had nothing to do with our lives; it wasn’t an attempt at transmuting life into art; it wasn’t at all the ambiguous thing he made it out to be. It was just an unsavory road map he would follow, gleefully, to the end of the road. Smith, the man, had a death thing, a suicide thing, and he did depend on those aspects for his existence.
Back in 2000, before my brief time with Elliott Smith was over, I asked him about the keys to his songwriting process. He returned, again and again, to two concepts.
“I hate to keep using the same metaphor, but it’s really just like dreaming,” he said. But technically speaking, how did he attain his otherworldly effects? His answer was that he focused on “the parts of songs where they change, where the verse goes into the chorus or when it comes back to the verse. A part of the song will make a certain feeling, and then when it goes into the next part it sort of changes.” This is the reason Smith’s songs flow so naturally, why Smith’s music is often called Beatlesque.
The question that should haunt us, then, is this: Elliott was so good at dreaming. He was so impressed with the way things changed. Why, then, if he had those talents, did he dream himself into becoming the person he became?
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