Over the years, I’ve told whomever will listen that I was never so much into the “solo dude with a guitar thing.” By and large, I still subscribe to that opinion today. Give me the post-1966 Dylan, when he was at his absolute rollicking best. As Patrick Henry famously said during the birthing of our country in 1775, “give me drums and electric guitars or give me death.” Or something along those lines.

So when I first heard Elliot Smith, I knew right away this was one of the exceptions to the norm for me. While a lot of Smith’s songs may seem outwardly acoustic, I kept finding a sweet richness, as if there were a full ghost band playing behind him. If you’ve seen the movie “Good Will Hunting,” then you’ve certainly heard his music, as his paws were all over that soundtrack and his songs were predominantly featured in that film. His quiet, acoustic side channeled artists like Nick Drake, Pete Ham or even the later recordings of Chris Bell. Smith just somehow made it seem like it wasn’t just a man and his guitar – an impressive feat not matched by many. It wasn’t all just acoustic songs either. When he did employ a full band, as on 1998’s brilliant and mildly rocking XO, it was as catchy as any offering from the Beatles, or T.Rex, or hell, Abba. We’re talking that good.

The key takeaway: Smith seemed to be able to do it all. On top of that, he was one of the 1990s best songwriters, from my own perspective. There wasn’t a lyricist quite like him. If there was any weakness in his music, it was himself. His writing seemed to consistantly center around his on-again off-again problems with heroin and/or other narcotics. Other songs touched on his clinical depression. But the guy simply put it out there and sang honestly and it’s part of what made him so compelling. That, and the fact that his songs stick in my head like crusty food on a nonstick pan.

Perhaps his oddest moment came a few years back when he actually appeared on the Oscars telecast to perform what turned out to be his most well-known song, “Miss Misery” from the Good Will Hunting movie. Per usual, all of the Oscar nominees perform their songs at the show, so what you had on your TV was the ultimate in worlds colliding: Celine Dion singing her atrocious song from Titanic, featuring all kinds of pomp, flashing lights and bombast, only to be followed by Smith, who saunters out wearing a one-size-too-big white suit and carrying his guitar. He sits down in a fold-out chair and goes at “Miss Misery” with his dirty, stringy hair falling in his face. It could have been the local watering hole, for god’s sake. Of course, what mattered most was the song: it was haunting, sad, soft and gorgeous.

Celine Dion won the Oscar. Naturally.

Today I offer you my very favorite Elliot Smith song, Rose Parade, from the 1997 album, Either /Or. This three minute song personifies Smith’s music. Towards the end of the song, when Smith sings “…and when they clean the street, I’ll be the only shit that ‘s left behind” – that always hits me pretty hard. We’ve all been there.

In case you’re wondering why I keep talking about Smith in the past tense, it’s because he’s not of this Earth anymore. In typical Elliot Smith drama, he stabbed himself on October 21, 2003. In the heart. A very sad day.

“Rose Parade”
they asked me to come down and watch the parade
and to march down the street like the duracell bunny
with a wink and a wave from the cavalcade
throwing out candy that looks like money
to people passing by that all seem to be going the other way
said won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar
people were shouting and pushing and saying
and when i traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
the trumpet has obviously been drinking
because he’s fucking up even the simplest lines
i’d say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing
it’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine
and when they clean the street i’ll be the only shit that’s left behind
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?
won’t you follow me down to the rose parade?