I don’t pay much attention to the personal lives of musicians. I rarely know the names of individuals if they’re in a band I like. I fall in love with the music, with what I interpret it to mean, and how it has an impact on my life.
I was reluctant to watch The Lonesome Crowded West documentary because that album takes me back to a specific place, a specific feeling. It begins deep within my chest and sends icy ripples throughout my body. It comforts me, it reminds me of my crappy little apartment in North Park where I spent most hours sleeping under the air conditioner that was stuck through my wall, just below my living room window.
But that’s a story for another time. As you can see, the picture above is Elliott Smith. There was a small, small clip of him in The Lonesome Crowded West. He only said a few words, but the image above has been in the back of mind all week.
When he appeared on screen, the internal reaction to seeing his face was much like one you’d have when the star of a slasher flick looks up into a mirror only to see the killer standing behind them. It was quick, a skipped heart beat. It triggered something in me.
You listen to his music and you know he was hurting. I listened to it because it put together words that made more sense than mine. 2:45 AM found me in a place that had me believing that this song was partly written about me.
I’m going out like a baby
A naive unsatisfiable baby
Grabbing onto whatever’s around
For the soaring high or the crushing down
Hidden cracks that don’t show
But that constantly just grow
When I look back on those days, I always see myself in the dark. A dark room, a dark street, a dark drive on the 805 with tears flowing down my face as my torso filled with ice, I felt I was a thousand pounds under pressure. I was waiting for something to loosen enough to allow me to explode. I imagined how I could hurry up the process. Let go of the wheel, foot on the pedal to the floor, acting as if it was a threatening bug that I just had to stomp out for good. My hands felt a million miles away and made of nothing but a melting candles wax. My head boiling over with images of family and friends finding out. I imagined conversations between them, while shocked, they aren’t surprised.
And there was Elliott Smith, narrating every bit of it. Every bit of it singing another level of another feeling that I didn’t know had words to describe it. For so long, that voice sang the words that guided me through a daydreamy land. I struggled to find myself back in the real world. Those words were covering the path behind me so that I wouldn’t come back. Those words spoke to me in a way that made me feel the safest, the most secure when I was curled beneath layers of blankets shivering as I had the AC blasting just above my head. I was miserable but I was safe and here was the voice that reminded me of those facts.
And when I saw his face, it scared me. It shook me. It was looking into a face that revealed all those words beneath. That they had taken a hold of him like they had of me just a few short years ago. He wasn’t coming back, though. No, Elliott had the voice that kept me there. He wasn’t able to shut it off like I was. He lived those words. He wrote those words. They were his as much as he was theirs.
I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone else, but the feelings are the same. I guess the most concise way to explain how I felt would be to say this - It’s really scary when you recognize your own face in someone so horribly depressed.