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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

A fan mourns Elliott Smith's death

By Shannon Merillat
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 31, 2003

I heard about it from a high school friendwho attends the U of M. He called and left a message, saying, “I have some really sad news. Elliott Smith died today. He killed himself. I just wanted to tell you, because you’re like the only person I know who’d care. I’m really depressed about it.” The news rattled me.

I later learned that the singer-songwriter stabbed himself in his Los Angeles home. A female friend discovered him around noon on Tues., Oct. 21, lying on the floor of his apartment. He was taken to the hospital where he died hours later. Smith was only thirty-four years old.

The part of my friend’s message that really shook me was his remark that I was the only person he knew who would care about Elliott Smith’s death. I would like to think that isn’t true, but after asking people if they had heard the news, most replied, “Who’s he?”

Smith was a member of the indie rock community. His music was frequently heard over college radio waves during the 1990s. His song “Miss Misery,” featured in the film “Good Will Hunting,” earned him an Academy Award nomination (he lost to Celine Dion, who won with “My Heart Will Go On”).

Awards and popularity aside, people who knew Smith personally described him as a kind, gentle and sensitive soul. Upon reading these accounts, I wasn’t surprised. Even before researching his life story, I sensed those qualities in his brutally honest music.

Smith’s lyrics are best described as beautifully melancholy. Though the lyrics can be piercing: “a sweet smile that’s fading fast/ ‘cos everybody’s gone at last” and “so sick and tired of all these pictures of me/ oh everybody’s dying just to get the Disease,” the sound is mellifluous. Joe D’Angelo of the New York Times said of Smith’s music, “The songs floated like lullabies, though the lyrics could disrupt sleep for weeks.”

Sadly, Smith suffered from alcohol and drug addiction, as well as mental illness. In his lyrics, he speaks poetically of drug and alcohol abuse, heartbreak and other emotionally charged matters. However, some songs hint at a glint of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. His songs have and will continue to help many people through hard times.

I read a review of “XO,” his fourth album when I was 14 years old, bought the CD and was hooked. That’s not to say his sorrow has anything to do with teenage angst. At such a young age, I didn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics right away, but I let the wistful poetry wash over me. Like most young teens, I had experienced little, especially in the way of drugs, alcohol and romantic heartbreak, but I was a sad little kid, and the music spoke to me. The lyrics conveyed genuine pain, and gave words to feelings I couldn’t describe. His words also gave me a little realistic hope.

One could say that Elliott Smith died in the classic rockstar way. However, it wasn’t blind, over indulgent drug use that finished him. Ironically, the force within Smith that drove him to create such beautiful music was the same force that killed him.

Are all poets and lyricists who speak of profound emotional pain destined to end their own lives? Look at Kurt Cobain, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. Wouldn’t it be better to just cheer them up? Their words and lyrics are all so sad: why didn’t anyone see it coming? No one ever sees it coming.

The breaking up of a band is like death, since their unique music will no longer be produced, but the breaking up of a band is very different than the actual death of an artist. However slim it is, there is always a chance for band to get back together. Even if they don’t, the members can disperse and go solo or form other music making machines. When an individual dies, there is no possibility of their return. They are gone for good.

Many fans are deeply saddened by Elliott Smith’s tragic death, but he will live on forever through his music.

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