'The Web and the Rock' by Thomas Wolfe
Book cover by Edward Gorey.
― T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
From: Edward Gorey’s Vintage Book Covers. (to see more go to Brianpickings.org)
I was lucky enough to see Elliott Smith play live in Atlanta, GA at the Variety Playhouse in 1999. You can listen to those live clips here. I don’t like to remember the way he died, but I am forever grateful for the music he made.
Elliott Smith died 10 years ago today. Earlier this month, Bloomsbury published Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith, by William Todd Schultz. The piece below is adapted from the book:
“Waltz #2 (XO),” the third song on XO (1998), is Elliott Smith’s certain masterpiece. It’s got a roadhouse, Wild West, player-piano feel to it. And the tune, with its staccato ¾ beat, takes Smith back to Cedar Hill, the suburbs of Texas with his mother, Bunny, and stepfather, Charlie. There’s love in “Waltz #2 (XO),” but a deeper impulse is anger, aimed squarely at Charlie. Brilliantly laid out in metaphorical cloakings, the song’s a secret life history, summarizing Elliott’s feelings about the Cedar Hill atmosphere and the intricacies of his relationship with mother and stepfather. He was always exceptionally worried about the possible hurtfulness of his lyrics. The thought that they might cause harm pained him. So a habit was established according to which he’d begin songs directly, explicitly autobiographically, then revise away from fact toward vagueness and abstraction. Choice specifics grounded the song, but meanings trailed off into obscurity. Emotionally, it was an elision of the personal—there but camouflaged—a self-erasure. He was in the songs, they were him, it was his personal past reconsidered, the sum total of who he was, but they were more too, a mix of voices, first, second, and third person, all getting a word in, all with something crucial to say. “XO,” as Smith told an interviewer in 1998, means “hugs and kisses,” the sort of thing people throw in at the end of letters. A more arcane, connotative meaning was “fuck off.” “But that’s a really rare meaning I didn’t know about,” Elliott explains, apparently sincerely.
Read the rest at SLATE