It is never easy to comment on events such as these. There is no eloquence to be sought, no beauty to be achieved.
There is simply the cold, hard fact staring you in the face: Elliott Smith ended his life at a mere 34 years old.
Talent like Smith’s was rare in the music industry. He played a beautiful, unique style of guitar, sang with a smooth voice and employed a penchant for song writing that managed to combine all aspects of his musical persona into a unique cacophony of sound.
Smith possessed the unique ability to appeal to mainstream audiences while never abandoning a cult following of ultra-loyal fans and listeners.
His melancholic blend of folk and rock earned him an Academy Award nomination for the song “Miss Misery” from the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting, but he never forgot his roots in indie rock. Eventually Smith dropped “Miss Misery” from his live show so that his art was not judged on its commercial success alone.
He rejected the quest for mainstream success in the same way he rejected the idea that his music was fixated on themes of sadness and depression. For Smith, music was about feeling and expression, not about identification.
Smith has left a powerful body of work in his wake, with reverberations running deep and being felt throughout the musical community. From the perspective of music fans who view songs as pure art, “tragedy” is the first word that comes to mind when such honest musical expression is lost before it had the chance to fully bloom.
The saddest part of the death of a talented musician, because of a desperate and irrational act of violence, is that we will never know why Smith took his own life.
With Smith’s death, as with any, there comes loss. We’ve lost the opportunity of following a musician separate from the crowd, playing by his own rules.
We’ve lost the chance to listen to someone with a wonderful ability to express himself. We’ve lost his poetry before it was written and his notes before they could be strummed.
What we haven’t lost (and should hold on to) is Smith’s music. He has left behind a beautiful body of work that will continue to move and inspire in ways that cannot yet be imagined.
We may never again be able to experience Elliott Smith the man, but we’d be doing ourselves, as well as Smith, an injustice in not continuing to experience all that he has given us already.
Noah Potvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org