I love Elliott Smith’s early records. The lyrics on the first three albums in particular (and the ones on New Moon, which were recorded around the same time but released posthumously) have always struck me as being like Carver stories in miniature, and this is probably the greatest example of them all. A couple have an argument, one of them leaves and drives off in the Oldsmobile that’s referenced throughout. Very few songwriters are capable of being so striking yet so succinct: “Eyes burning, voice dry and hoarse/I threw the screen door like a bastard back and forth/the chimes fell over each other/I fell onto my knees,” for example.
There’s some lovely imagery in here too; “The fairground’s lit/a drunk man sits by the gate she’s driving through/got his head tipped, bottle back between his teeth/looks like he’s buried in the sand at the beach” or “I’m lying down blowing smoke from my cigarette/little whispered smoke signs that you’ll never get.” I love the way he captures the bitterness leftover at the end of the argument, after the other person has long gone and he flips it around as if it he’s the one that’s left, and signs off with characteristically hushed fury: “So now I’m leaving you along/you can do whatever the hell you want to……”
According to Smith, he wrote this song when he was seventeen years old, which only makes it all the more remarkable; even after playing the instrument for twenty fucking years I still can’t get anywhere near being able to fingerpick it on guitar, never mind sing it at the same time.
From Roman Candle, Cavity Search Records, 1994