Nathan Jolly

200 Sad Songs: #191 Elliott Smith – I better be quiet now (2000)

Elliott
Image: Keiren Jolly

Approx Reading Time-10A list of 200 Sad Songs is a list incomplete without the late, great, tortured and masterful Elliott Smith. Post-breakup hymn I Better Be Quiet Now is this week’s pick.

 


Christ, where do you start when it comes to picking an Elliott Smith song for a project called “200 Sad Songs”? (Not rhetorical: email me.)  I could have written exclusively about his catalogue for all 200 songs and still be annoyed at the end that I didn’t get to “New Monkey”, such is the spectrum of what Faulkner once called “the fuckedest emotion” (nah, he never said that). But, the point remains that I Better Be Quiet Now (which I would refer to as iBBQN if, a: “copy and paste” and “infiniteinternetspace” weren’t two of the more unalienable rights in #2016 and, b: it didn’t sound like a horrible meat-cooking phone app) is one of the more brutal gut-punches in Elliott Smith’s deep catalogue.


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iBBQN details a weird type of regret/depression not often touched, an emotion I’m going to dub the Kubla Khan Effect, where you briefly see and experience paradise – in this case, love and domestic comfort – and then have to live with the knowledge of your diminished universe without that love. Hate It Here by Wilco is another of these songs, where his everyday existence is just lessened, every redundant household chore a reminder of this. It’s a deep and dark song about a very universal subject.

Although it seems sacrilegious to use such an “Everybody Loves Raymond term” for Elliott Smith lyrics, there are so many great one-liners in this song; “If I didn’t know the difference, living alone would probably be okay” is the best line in the song, and certainly the emotional anchor, if not the melodic one. Anyway if I quoted all the great lines (“zingers” as Elliott no doubt called them) from this song I’d need to give him co-writing credit and frankly I’m not willing to do that, so let’s leave it with this: the song that follows iBBQN on this album starts with the line, “I have become a silent movie” which proves Elliott was operating on a different level.

Smith, of course, now lives in relative obscurity in Connecticut with his outsider artist wife, and his dog, and his recording studio and lalalalala.

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Nathan Jolly

Nathan is a Sydney-based journalist who has written for numerous publications over the years, including Junkee, This Recording, New York Post, The BRAG, SBS, Triple J Mag, Channel [V], and news.com.au. He used to be pretty good at hitting three-pointers, and can still cartwheel, although he never learnt to swim, drive, or manage money.

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