Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Five years ago today, Elliott took his own life. Elliott embodied the tortured songwriter, which is a label that's used so often in the pejorative sense. Knit-browed wankfactories like Chris Carraba (who I despise) and Connor Oberst (who I enjoy greatly) create their music with such pretense, such hackneyed personal turmoil, that it's not difficult to scoff at their whole shtick.
But Elliott did the sad songwriter thing so seamlessly. His words could scathe or soothe, and his voice was such a fragile coo, even at it's loudest and most boisterous. He was believable. Not to mention he was a brilliant musician, adept at a wide array of instruments. He played every instrument on at least two of his albums if I'm not mistaken. He was also a master arranger, layering harmonies with such a masterstroke. Need ye proof, listen to "I Didn't Understand", the closer to X/O.
My favorite Elliott album is the aforementioned X/O, but I think From a Basement Under the Hill is what I'll spend today with. Although Basement is somewhat tinged due to Elliott passing before he could complete production or decide on a track order, the songs resonate so palpably knowing that their creation coincided with his last months. "Fond Farewell to a Friend" is perhaps the most forthright example. But I still think there isn't a better Elliott song than "Twilight," ostensibly about attraction that can't be consumated, as both parties are involved with other people. And, tragically, the fear of a disappointment is a greater hindrance than anything.
The song is Elliott at his best: Tragic, sweet, pained, subtle, graceful. Everything that makes his loss, to this day, a bitter pill to swallow; and everything that makes you wonder if it was inevitable.