I’ve mentioned Elliot Smith a few times, but never talked about one of his songs. Today is nominally a special day, so I’ll take the opportunity to talk about a special song, and another of my top ten favourite songs of all time, ‘Waltz #2’. It’s the first Elliot Smith song I ever heard, and it’s still the one I like the most (although many others are also fantastic), partly I suspect because it introduced me to one of the better singer-songwriters of the modern era. For those who don’t know, Smith was born in Omaha, raised in Texas, lived in Portland, and released five albums over the course of his life (this is from XO, which came out in 1998). You’ve possibly heard his songs in a couple of movie soundtracks, most famously Good Will Hunting (that one with Matt Damon and Robin Williams). This song is lyrically what people had come to expect from the singer songwriter, supported by a full band playing a melancholy waltz tune (unsurprisingly). It’s a sad song, but it grabbed me immediately when I heard it on the radio, and I knew straight away that I’d found something a bit special to me. I went and learned about Elliot Smith, got all his albums, listened to all of his songs. Like a lot of people who wanted more “songs for the sad kids”, I didn’t listen to much else for a while. I still come back to this song from time to time, being one of my favourite to sing along to as loud as I can, probably somewhat out of tune. It’s proof that he was a master of understated melody and melancholic lyrics, and that indie pop, for all its flaws, could still be a powerful thing in the right hands, and I loved it for that.
I never heard one of Elliot Smith’s songs until nine years after he had died.
That fact on its own isn’t that remarkable. Lots of musicians have died, and quite a few of them suddenly, it’s a relatively common ailment. Many of us have listened to Elvis, and many people today will never be alive at the same time he was (putting aside the theories about him being kidnapped by aliens, for a second). But certainly, no-one in that category of times past held the same resonance to me as Elliot Smith does, and the tragic nature of much of his life and death speaks to many of us, even if only in a some small way. The fact that I was alive at the same time he was, and then he wasn’t, and then subsequently one of his songs became one of my favourite ever, makes the potency of it greater, even if such poignancy is only relevant to me (especially when you consider the chorus lyrics). It’s an incredible song, and it still has the potential to make me very soppy when I hear it, not to mention the fact that the chorus is still one of the more powerful things ever written. I’d very much urge everyone to listen to it if they haven’t heard it before, whatever your music taste. You never know, you might discover something special.
“I’m never going to know you now.
But I’m going to love you, anyhow.”