He once said that “people just… y'know, they'll review your record in two sentences and put you in this little stupid box that you don't want to be in.” He’s right. People like me will sit up in our ivory towers thinking we know something about music. Thinking we know enough to listen to stuff like Elliott’s and make a definite judgment on it. I’m not going to do that. To do so would be to insult the art that is Elliott Smith. Even he was loathe to talk of the meaning behind his music and lyrics. He preferred to write the songs, record them, and then let the listeners take from them whatever meaning they wanted to. He admitted to not thinking “about the general public since I have no idea what the general public is and I don't think anybody does.” The fact that he himself may not have even known what his lyrics meant is something that most fans would not be able to accept as a possibility. However, it was a reality: “sometimes it seems like because I'm the one that made it up, it makes me kind of a bad person to ask what the songs are about.”
Throughout his music, and his interviews, the prevailing image of Elliott Smith is one of a man who would prefer to sit behind a screen and play his music from there. In fact, he once suggested doing just that when asked to play guitar at a friend’s gig. He constantly worried about people’s inability to look past the posters, to see past the image of Elliott Smith portrayed after the breakthrough into the ‘popular music’ world that was “Miss Misery” (the Oscar nominated song which featured on ‘Good Will Hunting’ and secured Elliott a performance on the Oscars). “There's a part of songs that are always personal, but I'm not particularly interested in concocting a picture of myself. The media is more about building celebrities than playing music.”
It has been said that “Smith's music transcends the bland work of songwriters such as Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and David Gray - there's real emotion here”. I think to say that is to go a bit far. Elliott Smith is not the only one to arm his songs with emotive force. There are plenty of others out there who sing with as much pain and sadness and hunger and despair. The fact that he may have killed himself does not make his music more credible; and yet, for many of his fans, the fact that he may have killed himself is precisely the reason his music gained credibility. Genius should not need tragedy in order for it to be detected. Perhaps we should accept that Smith was no musical genius. He was simply a guy singing about the way “I feel, and the way others I know feel.” In a world where emotions are created only to be suppressed, perhaps that is the only type of genius worth talking about.