“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.”