“Coast to Coast” is kind of unexpected as the first song on the album From a Basement on the Hill that was originally intended to be his next release after Figure 8. Released in 2004, it ended up becoming a posthumous album, after he died from a stab wounds to the heart.
“Coast to Coast” is a straight ahead rock song. It has got big fuzzy, distorted guitars – and of course the multi-layered vocals which were one of his trademarks. Smith also had his friend Nelson Gary recite some poetry explaining to Under the Radar in 2003:
“I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”
The song begins softly with what appears to sound like a distorted orchestra – something that would have been suited to a latter-day Beatles’ song. And then the actual music kicks in, and the central riff pulls in you. It’s chunky and distorted – confusing the listener, a theme which also appears in the lyrics.
Smith was known for his love of the Fab Four, even claiming that The White Album was the reason that he started making music in the first place. Even the repeated non-verbal “ahhhhs” beginning at the 2:38 mark are very Lennon-esque. The song even ends with piano gently playing while numerous voices speak over each other in the beginning – linking together a standard “rock” song with avant-garde effects. It’s as if Smith was trying to combine the things that he loved about the Beatles in one song – the conventional song, the open heart lyrics, and the experimental.
It’s raining pretty hard in Baltimore today, and parts of the area are under a flood-watch. A friend of mine told me that Fells Point is flooding. I don’t find that hard to believe. So here’s a list of flood themed songs for you today.
1.) Theme From Flood – They Might Be Giants
2.) Lost in the Flood – Bruce Springsteen
3.) Who Will Stop the Rain? – Creedence Clearwater Revival
4.) High Water (For Charley Patton) – Bob Dylan (Dylan has many choices, but I decided to go with this one because it’s one of my favorites of his latter-day career, less obvious.)
5. March into the Sea – Modest Mouse
6.) Walk to the Water – U2 (Joshua Tree-era B-side)
7.) The River in Reverse – Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant
8.) When the Levee Breaks – Kansas Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie
9.) Down by the Water – PJ Harvey
10. Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
“Waltz # 2” might be Elliot Smith’s most enduring (and with the exception of “Miss Misery”) his most popular as well.
It’s also a song that seems like it’s existed forever and is timeless. It exists in its own universe as a song, yet it is familiar. It’s the sound of Civil War-era Ball, of an evening dance in Vienna. Even if you’ve never heard “Waltz # 2” before, you swear to yourself that you have. The synching of the piano and the guitars playing the same hummable melody ensure that once you hear it, you’ll never forget it.
“Waltz #2”’s sweet melody is betrayed, but the bitterness of the lyrics. Smith seem s to be pinpointing his anger towards his mother, and new husband – “That’s the man that she’s married to now
That’s the girl that he takes around town” The rejection cannot be denied. The closing lines of the song – “I’m never going to know you now But I’m going to love you anyhow,” echo the opening l lines of John Lennon’s “Mother”. Both songwriters are pleading for the attention of their mother, but are denied through different forms of abandonment. In Lennon’s case, his mother died during a car accident when he was 17, and Smith feels the pressure of a new step-father in the song. He doesn’t like that his new man is interfering with his life – “Tell Mr. Man with the impossible plans to leave me alone.”
Smith’s left to wonder if his mother is happy or not. She appears to have him “like a dead china doll”. She appears composed and fakes having a stable marriage in public – but can anyone be so sure? It might all be a lie, to save face. A wedge has clearly been place in the relationship, one that might not be able to be repaired. Yet, he’s not entirely bitter even if the relationship is breaking. “I’ll never know you now,” Smith pleads. “But I’m gonna love you anyhow.”
A year ago today, I saw U2 at D.C.’s FedEx field. You can read my original post here and check out their performance of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from the show, which up until the 360 Tour, was a rarity.
(Song selection coming tomorrow.)
Fall days can be warm, but the night is (usually) cool enough to wear be comfortable with just a hoodie on. The green landscape has given way to an orange hue. The crisp cool air is a relief after the burning hot days of summer. Yet underneath the reprieve from the heat – there is a certain sadness that comes with fall. The days are getting shorter, and soon even the orange and red leaves will turn brown. Before you know – winter is around the corner.
There are many albums and artists that perfectly capture the seasonal limbo between summer and winter – and perhaps known more so than Elliott Smith. His catalog fits the mood of the changing weather patterns – the music itself is warm. His voice was adrift and thin – like leaving falling from the trees. It’s also perfect for sitting on the peach late at night.
Smith was sometimes described as a folk-punk (something like could be attributed to Ryan Adams – who before turning sober was equally as trouble as Smith). Unfortunately, I was not too familiar with his work when I saw the news of his death back in 2003. It wasn’t until a year later when I reviewed the posthumous From a Basement on the Hill, that I realized the true depth of his work. Like the best of my musical heros (Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison) the quality of Smith’s unreleased material ranked with the best of his work. (New Moon confirmed this as well.)
Even President Obama likes Jimi Hendrix and was slipping some lines from “Stone Free” into one of his speeches.
From the AP:
“Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time — and they’re not always happy with me — they talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, but it’s true,” Obama said during a speech at Wisconsin’s Laborfest on Monday.
Though Obama didn’t acknowledge it, the line was a verbatim quote from “Stone Free,” the first song Hendrix wrote after moving to England in 1966. “They talk about me like a dog,” the song says. “Talkin about the clothes I wear. But they don’t realize they’re the ones who’s square.”
Check out “Stone Free”:
The solo is pretty short for Hendrix, but one of my favorites of his.
Not much writing on this post, but check out Hendrix putting his stamp on quite a few classics. (Note: I’m not including “All Along the Watchtower here – while great, it’s too obvious.)
“Hey Joe/Sunshine of Your Love”:
“Like a Rolling Stone”:
“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”: