Junk Bond Trader


Things I’ve never done, cars parked in the sun

Living in the day

Last night I was about to throw it all away

On Friday, my iPod upped and erased all 5,000 of its songs. On Saturday, we spent five hours fixing it. I’m not a parent, but I imagine it was the same feeling as having an infant in surgery. Lots of pacing and sweating during the procedure, lots of hugs and high-fives when it was over. It was fixed. Everything was good. Then today happened.

Oh god, what an annoying day.

It’s all crazy.
Everything is broken.
All the lights are red.
Everyone is mean.
Settled things are getting unsettled.
Unsettled things are getting worse.
Everyone has a problem with something.

I’m having an Elliott Smith day.

More specifically, I’m having a day for “Figure 8.”

Look. I’m not what you’d call “brooding.” Or “introspective.” I’m not what you’d call “dour” or “quiet” or “musing” or “a thinking man’s anything.” I am not Elliott Smith.

But I love him today more than ever.

I always thought he’d be kind of a melody-free bummer, so I avoided him strenuously until 2000, when I was at a concert with my brother and the music they were playing beforehand was XO. Adam insisted I buy it, but I couldn’t because I was eating refried beans out of the can at the time and CDs seemed like kind of a luxury purchase I couldn’t so much afford. So he bought it for me. And I listened to it until it bled. And now I can hardly listen to it anymore, because it reminds me of a reeeeeeeeeeeeally bad period, so when I turn it on, suddenly autumn comes swooping in from nowhere and it gets really dark out and everyone’s crying. Other than that, great album.

I love Either/Or. I love the self-titled one. But there’s something about Figure 8 that kills me. I think part of it is that I love when artists seem to consciously decide to appeal to the masses, only to discover that they’re such slaves to their own vision that they simply can’t sell out and make a compromised product. It’s why The Hudsucker Proxy is my favorite Coen Brothers movie: they tried to make a mainstream movie and ended up with Jennifer Jason Leigh and a hula-hoop. Nice try, guys. But you simply can’t stop being you.

On Figure 8, Elliott Smith tried to get happier. The first song, “Son of Sam,” opens with a piano that’s almost downright jaunty. And you could genuinely believe that he’d made a turn toward Happy Street. That he’d gotten off of the drugs and was doing awesomely well. OR you could believe that he really was making a blatantly commercial album and that he was going to kill his signature style and Liz Phair himself to the top of the pop charts. Then he opens his mouth, and he sings in that haunted voice that masks no pain.

He could have sung Barney songs and they would have followed you around for days. He could have sung tax law and had you nodding your head and talking about how it applied to your own emotional state at that moment. In fact, I’ve never heard the words “happy holidays” delivered with so little happiness as I do on “Figure 8.”

But I don’t listen to “Figure 8” because I’m down and it makes me lower. To the contrary, the album really does make me happier. There’s something inherently light and airy and ethereal about the whole thing. Which is why I listen to it when I fly. And not in a casual, scroll-to-it-on-the-iPod-when-I’m-bored-over-Kansas kind of way. I mean I literally listen to it over and over again on flights between New York and LA. And the runtime is almost exactly an hour, so five spins of it gets me safely to the other coast.

So it makes me feel like I’m flying. But not in a crash-y way.

It’s five years old, so it’s cheap to buy. Buy it.