Presenting my tribute to Elliott Smith. His music means a lot to me and I know many of you feel the same way. I'm not the first to look up to Elliott and I know that trying to sum up his music in words is futile. I'm not trying to encapsulate his prodigious legacy at all; this tribute is merely a limited scope of his influence on me.
I first heard Elliott's music in the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, long after his career had started. During a scene in which the character meticulously prepares to take his own life, Smiths' "Needle In The Hay" is the only sound you hear. The imagery is, of course, arresting but I was more lured into the moment by the stark, delicate voice and that soft, chugging guitar. The voice didn't need to shout at me: the music was like a conversation I could barely overhear, like maybe I caught a bit of it as I was passing by on the street and suddenly found myself slowing down to hear more, inching towards the words only to find I couldn't stop listening. The softness of Elliott's voice draws you in and it becomes apparent very quickly that you can't be fooled by that tenderness. Elliott's songs pulls you into a rich and complex world that seems simple at first but suddenly becomes unmistakably dark.
Elliott Smith is one of my favorite guitarists. He's not out shredding solos in your face, but instead gently coaxing you into his songs with some of the most intricate fingerpicking lines you've ever heard. Go ahead, just try and figure out how to play "Tomorrow Tomorrow", "Independence Day" or "Memory Lane". Good luck. A regular I-IV-V chord progression in his hands turns into something totally fresh. It's very inspiring from a songwriting standpoint, he never transitions from one part to the next without a few very graceful steps in between. When I found out "Either / Or" was recorded partially on a four-track, and that he played most of the instruments, and that he thought the songs sucked, I thought - that's me! That sealed the deal. It was super-inspiring: at the time I had just begun experimenting with recording and was feeling the same way. For me Elliott Smith is the jackpot of musical talent - the voice, the words, the instruments all line up perfectly. There is an immediate reverence within me when I hear his music: eyes close, goosebumps, the whole nine. It's a warm blanket for me.
A good songwriter explains what you're feeling better than you can yourself. That's exactly what happened when I discovered Elliott's music. The weight of trying to figure out what I was feeling was lifted from me; like I could start moving on. I was going down the jumbled checklist of my emotions like "I've felt that way, and that happened to me, did that, felt this..." Each song was making each feeling I had a little more manageable. The more songs I heard the more my burden dissipated. I found all I could from him. It was like I'd connected with a friend who just told me all of their secrets. I'll always be grateful for this. I've experienced this with several artists since, but he was the first. A true "Holy shit how have I never heard this before” moment. I had stumbled on a treasure and looked around like "are you seeing this?!"
It's hard to narrow it down to just three, but these Elliott Smith songs have always been some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy the songs as much as I do. I can only hope to inspire someone else in the way he inspired me.