Week 10: “Independence Day” by Elliott Smith

I saw Elliott Smith in concert shortly after his popularity had exploded thanks to the inclusion of one of his songs on the “Good Will Hunting” soundtrack. I remember him looking small and scared behind the microphone. Many musicians play up the “I’m so overwhelmed by my own fame” thing, but Smith looked genuinely petrified, and I remember feeling really sorry for him.

A few years later, he committed suicide, and I heard somewhere that this was the last song he ever performed live. I haven’t been able to find any proof of that so I have no idea if it’s true, but it certainly would have been a fitting final song, especially given the lyrics at the end about going to sleep and making a change.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The backing vocals. Smith’s voice is pretty plain (in a good way), which means that it lends itself well to overdubbing. There are several moments in this song, especially the “ahh” parts, where his many overdubbed selves sound as smooth as a synthesizer.

2. The guitar. Simple, catchy, great.

3. The drums. They come in heavier than you might expect, and they contrast the soft plinky-ness of the finger-picked guitar nicely. The result is a soft-sounding folk tune with a beat that you might almost describe as “groovy”. Groovy folk? Woah…

Recommended listening activity:

Walking through the grass in flip-flops.

Buy it here.