Many consider Los Angeles, California the Entertainment Capital of the World. It is where people go to chase their dreams, to make it big.
Some stay, some go, some just pass through. Few leave their mark, many more don’t.
On Sunset Boulevard I recently visited a place where one musician has left his mark, even if he doesn’t know it.
You might not know the name Elliott Smith, but you’ve probably heard his music. He was heavily featured on the Soundtrack for “Good Will Hunting”. His style incorporates whisper-soft singing over simple acoustic guitar with lyrics that can be mellow yet haunting. Much of his music is both simple and complex, the sort of music that’s best enjoyed at night and while not distracted.
The cover of his album Figure 8 is a black and white photo of Elliot standing in front of a mural of curved red and black lines. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, probably one of dozens of other promotional photos taken that day at various places near the music studio.
But like the cover of the Beatles’ Abby Road or Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’, this simple image and place has now become eternally linked with this artist and his music.
The wall is located on the South Side of Sunset Boulevard next to a McDonalds and a Mexican Taqueria, and recently I went to check it out.
The red and black swirling lines were accompanied by a combination of graffiti tags, tributes and lyrics. The wall has been painted, and repainted many times since the albums release in 2000 and become an ever-evolving place of expression for fans and as well as graffiti “artists”.
Inspired by visiting the wall, I figured I’d put together a list of 4 of his songs I’ve enjoyed most over the years.
Junk Bond Trader – Figure 8
Unlike many of his other songs, this one is best listened to at a high volume. In this relatively uptempo song the piano and bells drive a strong momentum. The song’s energy peaks towards the end, before seemingly being cut short. The energy is punctuated with this line at about the 2:50 mark:
Now I’m a policeman directing traffic, keeping everything moving, everything static.
I’m the hitchhiker you recognize passing, on your way to some everlasting…
St. Ides Heaven – Self Titled
This song paints a vision of world through a lens smeared by the effects of drugs and alcohol. It’s performed with the honesty of a man dealing with addiction and regret, and his voice and guitar tell the story of a guy walking alone late at night with cloudy vision. Through it you see a blurry vision of the moon above the artist and a darkness within.
High on amphetamines
The moon is a light bulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone
Pitseleh – X/O
A prototypical example of the artist’s style, Pitseleh combines simple acoustic guitar, heartfelt lyrics, and whispering melodic singing. It’s the kind of song that easily melts into his other works, yet can stand up on its own.
The first time I saw you, I knew it would never last
I’m not half what I wish I was
Say Yes – X/O
Say Yes is the kind of song that sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape sitting cross legged on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a suburban home. The short song is full of lyrics which tap into the universal desire to be desired, doubtful optimism, and heartbreak. It’s stripped-down and clean, and the message boils down to a simple yet profound request – “say yes.”
I could be, another fool, or an exception to the rule
you tell me, the morning after.