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Elliott Smith, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain: How They Died Mattered

Outside the Dakota

Yes, I named the Facebook Page “Justice For Elliott Smith” and yes, justice always matters but past the question of the LAPD either investigating or closing the file on Elliott, or punishing wrongdoers if indeed there are any, what does it matter whether Smith  jumped or was pushed?

It might not matter for every musician but it matters for Elliott because it effects how we listen to him.

If he killed himself, it deepens the songs.

If he did not kill himself, it makes the hope larger.

Kurt Cobain’s suicide fundamentally changed how we listened to Nirvana and absolutely how we hear In Utero: it made a soothsayer out of depression. The same absolutely applies to Smith, “The Biggest Lie”  and really so many of his songs seem so dusk-y that when you hear he killed himself it kinda makes sense.

So you take these songs, this canon, and they seem like an arrow pointing downwards to oblivion, because of his death they seem to imply his death and become sign posts to a form of oblivion. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t true, but there it stands. To claim depression is nihilism is illogical. Any time you, any time Smith, raised his voice in song, he annihilated nihilism. You can’t believe in everything and nothing at the same time, you can’t share your songs, in public, and at the same time get caught in such a specific downward spiral. Still, if he killed himself it feels like a downward movement. It goes from bad childhood to bad drugs to bad romance to bad dead. It’s like Smith skids out of view while you watch him.

In themselves, the songs are not about hope but about the darkest, deepest regions of our soul, a place so dark we are not completely aware of them. It is a music to a personal apocalypse.

If he killed himself.

The other comparison is John Lennon. Who was murdered. Lennon is the bigger of the two deaths because Lennon got stilled before we was over and his fans lost all the songs he never wrote that he didn’t write.

If Smith didn’t kill himself than the songs and the story change on you and it stops being the story of how depression kills but how a career was stopped: suddenly everything stops pointing to death and moves towards a future never reached: sobriety, fame, hope, love, marriage, children, and songs and songs and songs. Despite our feeling sorrow that he died, our sense of sorrow is added a color other than black, there is a glimmer somewhere of a place never reached and the songs seem to be a step that the audience joins him in. Yes, his voice was stilled either way, but his voice now becomes stilled before his song was finished and a possible sea change has not occurred.

If he did not kill himself, his many many fans have been seriously injured by not learning how Smith would have dealt with the rest of his life in a musical sense. Suicide is, more or less, a decision and, more or less, if it was Smith’s decision to end his life, his fans lost no more than if Smith decided to never write another song. He closed his own book. But if that isn’t the case, over and above the question as to justice, is the question of a deep intense loss of art taken away from you and I.

Obviously, if you care about Elliott Smith how he left his life is of immense importance.

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