On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 21, I chose two CDs for my car: Elliott Smith’s XO and Squeeze’s Singles 45s and Under. I put XO in the CD player that morning, first listening to my favorite track, “Baby Britain.” I played the CD on my way to work in the morning, on my way to writing class in the evening, and still had it playing on the drive home after class.
This morning I chose Elliott over Squeeze, again, for the drive to work, listening to “Sweet Adeline” and “Waltz #2” in the morning. During my drive home this evening, I was thinking how Elliott Smith, undoubtedly one of the few pop geniuses of this era–along with Jay Farrar, Beck, Elvis Costello, and Kurt Cobain–had not released an album in a few years. I remembered my boyfriend’s story of seeing him play at the Lizard and Snake in Chapel Hill nine or 10 years ago. Elliott was, according to my boyfriend, pimply, with greasy hair, unassuming, and hidden in the shadows until he was announced at the mike, when he walked up, sat down with his guitar, and transformed himself and the small space with his eloquent music. I remembered when I first heard his album, XO, and declared, “This album is a work of genius.”
I remembered that I had heard a few years back that Elliott, long haunted by alcohol and drug abuse, had gone into rehab and was now supposedly clean. I couldn’t help thinking of other musicians who had stopped using drugs and alcohol, only to find themselves unable to produce music at the same level of genius, or unable to stay clean. I wondered if Elliott Smith, who always wrote such tortured lyrics, was at a breaking point.
This evening I learned that Elliott Smith had died after stabbing himself in the chest with a knife. Shaken and saddened, I sat for a while, wondering how these things happen. And then I realized that for better or worse, perhaps Elliott Smith had found his own path.