October 21 marks the date that Elliot Smith sadly died of two stab wounds to the chest, aged 34. From a career which continues to touch our hearts, here are some of his most special lyrics.
“I’m in love with a girl, who’s still around the morning after.”
From the final track on third album ‘Either/Or’, this is one of Smith’s more simple and romantic lines. Speaking of the song he said, “It was written about someone particular and I almost never do that.” Unlike some of the more tragic lyrics which would come later in his career, it’s a moment born out of positivity.
“It’s Christmas time and the needle’s on the tree, the skinny Santa is bringing something to me.”
This is a lyric which hints towards Smith’s use of heroin. It’s a poignantly open song which was released as part of his posthumous album ‘From a Basement on a Hill’. The record peaked at Number 19 in the US, making it his highest charting album.
“I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow.”
From fourth album ‘XO’, this line hears Smith vent feelings of anger and loss. As with many of his songs, it reflects on his time growing up. It’s been said by close friends that he was often worried about how his music could be seen as hurtful. This is combatted with the waltz like feel of the track.
No Confidence Man
“Don’t try to tell me your bullshit scheme, ‘cos I have no idea what you mean”.
This song is one of few thought to reference Smith’s step-father, with whom it’s been widely reported that he had a somewhat troubled relationship.
Needle In The Hay
“So leave me alone, you ought to be proud that I’m getting good marks.”
Among Elliott’s most famous songs, ‘Needle In The Hay’ is one that quickly proves his skill as a songwriter. The sense of isolation in these lyrics is maybe the reason it’s been used largely in the cinematic world, notably the suicide scene in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenembaums.
“I can make you satisfied in everything you do, all your secret wishes could right now be coming true.”
As well as showcasing Smith’s intricate guitar technique, this song carries beautiful words. It’s about him refusing to sell out as an artist in Los Angeles where record labels were trying to take advantage of his talent. This is also alluded to with the line “I’ve seen your picture on a hundred dollar bill.”
“I’ve got plans for both of us that involve a trip out of town, to a place I’ve seen in a magazine that you left lying around.”
Despite the song receiving an Oscar nomination for Good Will Hunting in 1997, it’s one that Smith grew to dislike and dropped from live performances. Regardless, it proved a pivotal point in his career and put the musician on the international stage forever.
“I fell onto my knees, the sound of the car driving off made me feel diseased.”
One of many which references Smith’s life in Portland, this lyric is part of a tragic fiction detailing a fight between a couple. It deals with the feelings of struggle, loss and confusion that Elliott felt throughout his life.
Between The Bars
“Drink up, baby, look at the stars, I’ll kiss you again, between the bars.”
This is undoubtedly one of Smith’s more enigmatic songs, and the lyric is certainly open to interpretation. Madonna covered the song at a launch party for a protest against the prison industrial complex in 2013. This ruffled some feathers amongst Smith fans as the consensus is that it’s not about prisons.
“Go off to sleep in the sunshine, I don’t want to see the day when it’s dying.”
Another track heard on the 2004 album ‘From A Basement On A Hill’, the song makes for a poignantly bittersweet experience. Naturally, the album’s lyrics were heavily dissected at the time.
WORDS: Rhys Buchanan