Figure 8 (DreamWorks)
I remember the first time that I heard Elliott Smith. One of my first childhood girlfriends had burned me a couple cds and one of them was Elliott Smith’s, Figure 8. I was 15 years old and writing a lot of songs in my bedroom on acoustic guitar. I ended up listening to Figure 8 almost every night while I was falling asleep. I listened to that burned cd so much it eventually stopped working. I fell into his other work shortly thereafter which reinforced what I liked about Elliott, but that record was the beginning of my love for him.
I had a pretty hard time growing up and went to a handful of schools, some of which being alternative schools, and I even homeschooled myself through a resource center for a couple years. That record saved me when I was a kid, I felt very disconnected from the world around me but very connected to music. I could always put on that record, that I knew like the back of my hand, and feel instant comfort, like someone was listening. It was during that time in my life that I really committed to music and actively decided that this was what I wanted to do with my future and it was largely in part because of Elliott Smith and Figure 8. It was like he understood how it felt to be down and out in a town that you felt didn’t really understand you. He grew up in Texas and I grew up in Georgia, I think being an artist in places like that in the South when you’re a kid is pretty trying on different levels.
There was something so much more beautiful and personal about him and that record than other stuff I was listening to at the time. It always stuck with me. I liked that he played most of the instruments himself and did all of the writing. It made me want to pick up every instrument in the room and get better at all of them, which in turn makes you into a better songwriter and teaches you to be aware of every component in a song.
When I first moved to Los Angeles from Atlanta, almost 5 years ago now. I was homeless and just lived out of a backpack. One of the underlying reasons I came here was because of that record, it was his last body of work before he died. It was like an unconscious beam of light drawing me closer to him. I had never been to LA before and one of the first things I did when I got here was go to the Figure 8 wall, although it is now pretty commercially mutilated. It felt like his ghost was still present in a way and I liked walking down the streets he used to haunt. I even visited the house where he died. After being really underwhelmed with Hollywood and drifting down Sunset Blvd to Echo Park, I felt much more at home. I know Elliott liked it there too. I worked at a venue there called The Echo for a few years before covid happened and his press shots for Figure 8 were done right there across the street on those steps which I walked up and down everyday. It felt like I was in the right place for the first time in a long time. There is a certain homey feeling to echo park that really threw its arms around me and I made a lot of great friends there after feeling really low in Hollywood for that time prior when I first got to LA.
People often characterize Elliott Smith as being some poor sad bastard and he’s become a cult figure in some ways for allegedly taking his own life, for example “Needle In The Hay” even plays during a graphic wrist cutting scene in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. He was not a fan of this and it’s pretty ironic to me because I feel like he has saved my life in some ways over the years and has brought me so much through his craftsmanship for writing pop songs and channeling his thoughts of alienation into an eventual sense of belonging to something good. I’m still listening to Figure 8 over fifteen years after first hearing it as a teenager in my bedroom and it still moves me in all of the right ways. I know it like a road I could drive on with my eyes closed. It’s a timeless classic that will always be revisited, along with his other works, for years to come.
Coma Girls’ “Wedding Roses” single is out now. The Skyboxer EP is out January 29.