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by byron james
Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003 at 12:27 AM
my thoughts as I visited Elliott Smith's memorial in LA
On a Sunset Blvd. sidewalk here in LA dozens of candles burn on a quiet Sunday afternoon for Elliot Smith. It's October 26th and in front of Solutions music store people gather reading notes penned on a stucco wall or place flowers, letters, beer bottles, cigarettes (I want to smoke one) and about anything else all saying goodbye to a guy who's music touched many of us.
It's been a weird, sad and dreadful week in Southern California for a lot of reasons. The sun is casting an eerie orange glow on everything as wildfires rage all over the Southland. It's in the high eighties, warm even for us, as the sun's working extra hard to get through the thick smoke while ash rains down like snow. State politics are somewhere in purgatory and we're still at war. In the midst of all this chaos Elliott quietly ended his life.
I didn't know Elliott but like many others I loved his music and admired his talent. On the way to visit Elliott's memorial I drove my Jeep with the top down and just let my mind wander. Through smoke irritated eyes I noticed billboards selling practically everything. I also noticed the graffiti that dots overpasses and sides of buildings all over LA. It was seeing the graffiti that reminded me of Elliott. I think Elliott was about graffiti. Elliott was about the little guy making his mark in a world that sometimes seems cruel and uncaring. Elliot was an artist from the American trenches and shared his talent in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Once I got to Elliott's LA memorial I realized graffiti nature of it. No one got permission to write on the wall. It was just the spontaneous reaction of people who needed a way to say goodbye. Some people's way was to scribble their thoughts on the side of a building. Others took pictures, said silent prayers and spoke in hushed tones. It was a somber scene of lost and sad looking folks paying respect to yet another artist who gave into the pain of his own hopelessness.
So on a day that resembled hell-on-earth some of us took time to remember a guy who put words to music in an extraordinary way. In many of the notes I read similar themes. "I love you" was written a lot and I don't doubt many people did love Elliott, or at least his music. But I wonder if what we think of as love is not more like worship? Did we love Elliott or did we worship his talent? Is worship a form of love? Is worship enough?
Personally I didn't love or worship Elliott. For me love is a verb and can only be experienced in relationship and unfortunately I didn't have a relationship with him. I didn't worship him either because, for me, worship often gets in the way of love. From what I know about Elliott relationships didn't come easy to him nor do they come easy to me. I wonder if he was able to let anyone love him for who he really was and not the artist that can sometimes define and even imprison us? I wonder why it sometimes so hard to show real love to those who shine so brightly and leave us so abruptly? I do know this… Elliott will be missed.
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