This is a two for the price of one entry. But the story is far from pretty.
I’ve loved Ben Folds ever since I first heard his band Ben Folds Five’s ‘Underground’ played by (probably) Simon Mayo on Radio 1. I only felt my appreciation of Folds affirmed when our English teacher played ‘Song for the Dumped’ as an example of anger and rage in song lyrics (he ostentatiously coughed over the naughty word even though we were in the 6th Form at that stage).
I came to Elliott Smith later. I was at university when Figure 8 came out. I’d heard ‘Happiness’ on some freebie CD from Select magazine and completely fell in love with the music. Elliott Smith was one of the artists I was really happy to see play at Reading in the festival from 2000 I seem to have been going on about some much in these blogs lately.
Elliott Smith was a troubled man. He ended up taking his life in one of the most gruesome, agonising ways possible: stabbing himself.
When I heard the news – and took in the way he had died (how much do you have to hate yourself, your situation and everything about everything to do that to yourself), I was just utterly shocked. I hadn’t really been aware of who Kurt Cobain was when he took his life. But by the time Smith’s death was announced, I was very much aware.
It had followed another death: that of a promising singer-songwriter called Matthew Jay, who had thrown himself out of a window.
It all just seemed so incomprehensible.
At the time of Smith’s death I was a member of a writer’s group in Cheltenham. For my homework that week I ended up writing a poem about the singer’s death. I am not a great poet, so it is probably fortunate for everyone that I think the poem is lost to some long forgotten hard drive.
But I remember the sentiment. It was basically me railing against my father’s love of fairground organs – and dislike of anything (as I saw it) that had any passion or drive or emotion to it. His dismissal of Joe Strummer’s death not that long before as “probably just something to do with drugs” had influenced my feelings on the subject.
The resulting poem was, as you can probably imagine, the work of someone who was 23 going on 14.
By contrast, Ben Folds’ song about hearing of Elliott Smith’s death is a beautiful, beautiful eulogy:
Elliott, man, you played a men guitar
and some dirty basketball.
The songs you wrote
Got me through a lot
Just want to tell you that.
But it’s too late.
If there is anyone out there who has got you through a lot, make sure you tell them.