Really wonderful songs are often the ones we tend to overuse in order to convey our feelings. It’s the reason that the most resilient ad campaigns are the ones which utilise the music that collectively makes us feel sad, elated, wistful or joyous. These tunes are easy to pick, because they come from nowhere and then they’re everywhere. The best recent example would be The Temper Trap’s stunning ‘Sweet Disposition’, which didn’t leave television screens for about a year after its release. But it’s not only companies which grab onto the intangible which strong songwriting makes tangible; individuals are just as guilty. I can still remember how I used to try and seduce multiple love interests in succession using the same Jeff Buckley record while in highschool, and how easy it was to make his troubles my troubles, his romance her romance and the sheer oversaturation of it all a metaphor for a relationship with a girl who would walk out of the picture only months after she came in. The only purpose this served was cheapening what was (and remains) my favourite artist ever and meaning that I couldn’t listen to Grace without dredging up some problematic past. I imagined that the issues surrounding using a really emotionally heavy singer-songwriter would ebb and flow with my adolescence and I’d never put myself in such a bleak situation again. Obviously I has not reckoned on discovering Elliott Smith in my early twenties.
If you wanted to make a grand statement of hopeless, endless adoration for a member of the opposite sex, the late Smith may not seem like an obvious choice. A songwriter who had a massive drug problem, not to mention mental health issues which ended with him taking his own life, Smith to many would exemplify what happens when you love something too much, and appear far less stable a musical romantic choice than Thom Yorke, Julian Casablancas or even Chris Martin, all of whom overcame their own personal demons and ended up in stable, happy relationships. But brains don’t work that way. There’s a reason Lennon’s myth will always surpass McCartney‘s, even when the later passes away. It doesn’t have to do with dying early insomuch as it has to do with the intense, almost untouchable passion displayed while the person was alive. And in that sense at least, Elliott Smith is perfect. And Figure 8 is a perfect album.
So yes, I screwed up. I licensed the connection I have to this piece of music to someone so young and so stupid that she didn’t even know what to do with it. But listening to ‘Everything Reminds Me Of Her’, can you really blame me? I’ve always maintained that Smith could write the songs every lovesick boy wanted to write but could never quite eloquently express, and this may be the jewel in the crown. It has practically everything going for it – a brilliant lead guitar line which implements that heartstring-tugging lap-slide sound that makes country music so great, non-specific subject matter, a chorus that doesn’t fuck around and goes straight for the jugular, a singer who sounds like he is literally about to cry and the ability to stir up more with one line than I’ve heard in entire albums just by being honest:
“So if I seem a little out of it,
Why should I lie?
Everything reminds me of her.”
Thankfully, we all eventually come to the realisation that unless we lost our virginity to it, wrote it ourselves, danced to it at our wedding or had it played at our funeral, the associations we make with songs are only as strong as we allow them to be. The other person, the ‘her’ in Smith’s situation, probably never sees the song in the same way we do, even if we attempt to show them in every way imaginable. When I put this on a blank CD for my ‘her’ on Valentine’s day, I didn’t tell her what it was because I thought, like Smith, that it would be more special that way, that she would discover it and fall for the song in the same way I had. But nobody has CD players anymore, and I’m pretty sure she had a Macbook Air. Which means she never actually heard it before she told me it was over. And that makes me awfully happy. Because it means the song is still mine. Even if it does remind me of her.
Elliot Smith – ‘Everything Reminds Me Of Her’