This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #480: Miss Misery by Elliott Smith.
Despite all of the accolades bestowed upon the artists scattered throughout this song list, few can match what Elliott Smith can say. His song, “Miss Misery” was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1997 Academy Awards. The song was part of the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack. He lost to that juggernaut, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion from the movie, “Titanic”. But, as they say, just to be nominated was an honour that very few others can boast.
Elliott Smith is arguably the quietest, most introverted and soft-spoken artist on this entire list. He sings barely above a whisper. His songs tended to be categorized as Alt-Folk because an acoustic guitar was his instrument of choice. At the core of his being, he was a songwriter. Elliott Smith battled the effects of child abuse, with an adulthood spent under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He was painfully shy and tended to use his songwriting as his means of expressing the thoughts he was thinking and the demons he was wrestling.
I am going to include an interview he gave on MTV to illustrate how hard it was for Smith to deal with his public persona. In the interview, you can see Smith literally twisting himself into knots as he tries to answer the questions being asked of him by Carson Daly. At one point, Daly asks him about a new tattoo he is sporting. The tattoo is of the storybook character, Ferdinand the Bull. In the story of Ferdinand the Bull, Ferdinand is a big, strong bull recruited for the bullfights in Spain. However, Ferdinand is not who he appears and, instead of fighting and snorting and pawing the ground, all he wants to do is to be left alone to sit under his favourite tree and smell the flowers. The tattoo seems an apt representation of what Smith wanted to world to know about him.
The old cliche of people who suffer for their Art has never been more true than it was with Elliott Smith. The rawness and vulnerability with which he wrote his songs and conducted his affairs, inspired a range of artists. In the comment section, I am, also, including a video by current singing sensation, Phoebe Bridgers (who recently was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live the night Dan Levy hosted). In this video, Bridgers pays homage to Smith and to his song, “Miss Misery” with an almost shot-by-shot remake of his video.
Elliott Smith is not the type of singer who will have you jumping out of your seat and dancing the night away. He is more introspective than that. But, if you give his lyrics a chance to take root in your heart and your soul, you will find yourself changed as a result. He will guide you to the parts of your being you may have been afraid to visit on your own. He was a quiet troubadour who passed away far too young in 2003 at age 34. But, like Ferdinand the Bull, he has found his peace and has earned his rest.
The video for Miss Misery by Elliott Smith can be found here.
The video of Carson Daly interviewing a painfully-shy Elliott Smith can be found here.
Phoebe Bridgers, shot-by shot, ode to Miss Misery can be found here.
Phoebe Bridgers interview about the impact of Elliott Smith on her life and her career can be found here.
There is a website dedicated to Elliott Smith. It can be reached by clicking here.
As always, thanks be to KEXP for inspiring me to write about someone as talented as Elliott Smith. The link to their website can be found here.