“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.”
I made a Fall mix for my girlfriend (she’s just starting blogging so check out her site) and here’s what I came up.
Old Habits Die Hard – Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart
Nobody Told Me – John Lennon
Born in Time – Bob Dylan
Lost in the Supermarket – The Clash
Pretty (Ugly Before) – Elliot Smith
Into the Fire – Bruce Springsteen
Easy Plateau – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – The Beatles
The Unforgetable Fire – U2
Vito’s Ordination Song – Sufjan Stevens
Strange Boat – The Waterboys
Society- Eddie Vedder
Sprawl II – Arcade Fire
Heaven – Talking Heads
Perfect Circle – R.E.M.
Cold Desert – Kings of Leon
Speaking of Elliot Smith, Roger Waters has inadvertently defaced an unofficial memorial wall dedicated to Smith. Waters apparently kick-started a viral campaign to wheat paste an anti-war quote from President Eisenhower on walls across US cities to promote his up-coming tour of The Wall. Water’s employees wheat-pasted the quote on a wall in LA that had been a memorial of Smith to fans. Waters has since apologized, and I’m sure it was an accident, but his hubris comes off clear with this quote:
I admit I didn’t know his music, but I’ve talked to people who do and it’s clear he was a young man who felt deeply, and any empathetic person wouldn’t have an issue with publicizing that quote.
Somehow, I doubt Elliot Smith would have liked defacing what was a special place to fans of music with what appears to be a social message disguised as advertising. Roger Waters is officially a jack-ass in my book now.
As you probably know I’m pretty excited about the remaster of Exile on Main St, along with the previously unreleased tracks that accompany it. Usually I’m a bit wary of this type of thing, as most unreleased tracks by artists are unreleased for a reason. If the recently released single “Plunder My Soul” to promote the remaster is any indication, the rest of the tracks will be high quality. So here are few my other favorite “previously unreleased” tracks from the vaults.
Bob Dylan – “Blind Willie McTell” (The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3). Arguably the greatest unreleased track ever, and one of Dylan’s finest songs. Originally from the Infidels sessions, the haunting “Blind Willie McTell” finds Dylan on piano backed by Mark Knofler on guitar. Named after the great American blues singer Blind Willie McTell who developed a rag-time finger picking style which he played on a then unpopular 12 string guitar. He is noted for never playing a song the same way twice. (A feat which Dylan is sometimes known for on his “Never-Ending Tour”). Dylan gives one of his best vocal performances, as he traces American history though references to slavery and music. At the end of each verse he tells us that “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell”. Well, no can write a rock song like Bob Dylan. (I might actually try to really write about the song at some point.)
The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Demo Sequence) (The Anthology Vol 2.). This one might be cheating, since “Strawberry Fields” is an official track. Much has already been discussed about “Strawberry Fields” and its influence on music, but I find that the demo sequence gives an added depth to the story. The studio version of “Strawberry Fields” is usually noted for its psychedelic sound, but the lyrics reflect on John Lennon’s childhood, loneliness, and self-doubt. The demo sequence with just Lennon on acoustic guitar, peels away the wall of sound and reveals the sadness that is at the heart of “Strawberry Fields”. (Thanks to Ned for bringing my attention to this one.)
Van Morrison – “Wonderful Remark” (The Philosopher’s Stone). “Wonderful Remark” was a song that originally released on the soundtrack to The King of Comedy, and then released on 1990’s The Best of Van Morrison. This version while of high quality, like most of Morrison’s songs in the late 80s and early 90’s borders on adult contemporary. The version on Philosopher’s Stone is the one to beat – and like the demo version of “Strawberry Fields” strips away the excess – with just acoustic guitar, drums, and flute. Ranks up with “Madame George” as one of Morrison’s best.
Elliot Smith – “A Fond Farewell” (From a Basement on a Hill). Really any song from this posthumous album could be included since Smith was one of the finest songwriters of his generation. “A Fond Farewell” would be remembered for its beauty if Smith were still alive, but his suicide has made the song even more memorable. Looking back it’s hard to tell if Smith was talking about himself or an actual friend.
What are your favorite previously unreleased tracks?