Talkin’ Music: Early Elliott Smith

Remember when Elliott Smith refused to perform Miss Misery at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony and the show’s organizers threatened to fill the time-slot with a lookalike, who would lip-sync the song? My initial response upon hearing this was to think: ‘Where, on earth, are they going to find an Elliott Smith lookalike?’ I then realized that if you went into any downtown bus station men’s room, in the middle of the day, you’d probably find two or three such characters giving themselves “Mexican showers.” (I’m convinced that this was what Elliott had just finished doing in the photograph that appears on the cover of Either/Or.)

So how did somebody who appeared to ‘shower’ in public bathrooms get invited to perform at someplace as glamorous as the Academy Awards? Nothing in Elliott’s early years screams “glamorous.” His first EP, Roman Candle, was the result of songs that he sent to a record company at his girlfriend’s insistence (read: nagging.) And the name of the record company? Cavity Search Records. Ah, the glamour! Eventually, Elliott got hooked up with a character named Slim Moon, who sounds about as glamorous as Sam Elliott’s character in The Big Lebowski. And while all of this was all going on, to pay his rent, Elliott’s day job was mudding drywall; I don’t actually know what this entails, but it sounds absolutely filthy!

Here are my ‘Big Three’ of unglamorous early Elliott Smith songs:

Lebron: Rose Parade from Either/Or. As anyone who has ever attended a big parade knows, they’re a HUGE pain in the ass, especially if you’re hungover (and by this time in his career, you have to assume that Elliott Smith always was!) And what’s worse than going to a parade while hungover? Answer: going to a parade while hung-over with a friend who spends his time trading smokes for food stamp dollars. Oh that sounds like a lot of fun!

D-Wade: Between the Bars from Either/Or. An instrumental version of this song appears on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. This song is yet another hint that maybe Elliott Smith was developing an unhealthy relationship with booze.

Otherguy: Last Call from Roman Candle. I envision the conversation between Elliott and his girlfriend about sending some of his songs to Cavity Search Records went something like this:

Girlfriend: Are you ever going to send that song to a record label?

Elliott: What song, dear?

Girlfriend: You know, the one in which you call me “a crisis” and then you rhyme it by calling me “an icicle.”

Elliott: [feigning a yawn because he realizes that he’s about to get in the doghouse… BIG time!] Oh that song! Sorry, honey, I’m just lying here waiting for sleep to overtake me…

Elliott Smith

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