by: Mar Curran
There is one way I can really tell when I’m upset. It’s not when I just want to eat chocolate all day. It’s not when I feel like sleeping more that usual and still wake up tired. It’s not when I start randomly crying during reruns of TLC shows. It’s when the soundtrack on my head — you know, the music that plays in your mind that would be audible to everyone in the audience if we were living cinematic lives — is Elliott Smith.
Elliott Smith was a large part of how my attitudes about life and death formed. I first heard of Smith when I was 10 and watched The Royal Tenenbaums. Lord knows this turned out not to be the kind of movie you want your child to watch unless you want them to be melodramatic and possibly depressive, which I already was, and it probably molded many a queer film theory buff who loves badminton like myself. Two scenes always stuck out in my young mind: Gwyneth Paltrow and Selma Blair kissing in Paris (how I thought I was straight for so long is beyond me sometimes) and [TW for attempted suicide at the link below] “Needle In The Hay” playing as Luke Wilson slits his wrists. My mother made me fast forward through it (parents just don’t understand me, Richie Tenenbaum and Will Smith) but it was one of those pivotal film moments that changes the way your mind works forever. Before, I was all Pokemon and Nickelodeon; now my brain was Elliott Smith’d.
Due to my mind being Smith’d, here is a secret guide to what my moods are based on Elliott Smith lyrics, from happiest (“I am playing with a baby puppy!”) to saddest (there is no humorous way to quantify how sad I have been at times, nor a pithy comment I can make here. Sorry I’m not sorry, internet).
“I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl/ Who’s still around the morning after.”
When this is the happy song I hope I have just set the tone for this list. The song is about meeting your love and then getting dumped, but using it as an experience to learn and grow, fully well knowing that you might still be rejected but putting it all out there. This song was important to me personally after my Most Significant Ex and I decided to get engaged and then all the problems with our relationship burst out of the woodwork, fulfilling many a television trope about queer female-identified couples. But I used to be a relationship idealist, reader! quite the contrast to the defeatist I have grown into; sometimes it’s nice to remember what that feels like, though. Sometimes there just has to be that hope that you’ll still wake up the next day and she’ll say yes.
“To people passing by that all seem to be going the other way/ Said won’t you follow me down to the Rose Parade?”
My mental image for this song is me sitting in the sun on my porch smoking a cigarette (even though I don’t smoke in reality, I allow my mind to do so during this song) or in my living room drinking tea and reading. It’s just my relaxing song. The metaphor of walking the opposite way and not being interested is also an important thing to ponder upon at a time in my life when I have so many “adult decisions” to make. I don’t need to do what other people all do; I can find validation in being different. It’s also a good reminder to me that someone other than me wasn’t interested in parades, which is comforting because I hate them and need solidarity in that.
“And when I go/Don’t you follow/Leave alone/Leave alone, ‘cause you know you don’t belong.”
I have a mental list of the most perfect songs in all of humanity, and this is on it. On the surface level it is about leaving awkward spaces where you just don’t fit in. In my heart it is about all of us feeling like we are that one person at the party of life who doesn’t know anyone and will never say the right thing, and then dying alone, and that is okay. It is all a beautiful dance we do together that still sounds like wearing a sundress in the summer.
“I want to hurt him/I want to give him pain/I’m a roman candle/My head is full of flames.”
Now we move into anger! Fun fact: I am very good at controlling my anger, but too good. I need to work on expressing it more. Until I learn to release the rage I bottle up inside like a good Irish Catholic, whether it be at the guy who yells at my on the train, people who say ignorant shit on Tumblr, or my rapist, I will continue to simmer like a hot stew of not punching people.
“High on amphetamines/The moon is a light bulb breaking/It’ll go around with anyone/But it won’t come down for anyone/And I won’t come down for anyone.”
My most listened to Smith song, this one is my go-to when it feels like everything around me is overwhelming me like a tidal wave. When I wish I could turn to unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress I feel I can’t handle, I instead put on this song and let it carry me to safety. If you see me sitting with my eyes closed on the bus home, it’s because this is on repeat and you should not poke the sleeping bear.
“I can’t beat myself/And I don’t want to talk/I’m taking the cure/So I can be quiet wherever I want.”
This is my despondent song; if that surprises you, reread the intro to this article and ask yourself how a depressed ten year old would not latch onto this song for the rest of their life. Whenever I get the urge to be unhealthy past what “St. Ides Heaven” can handle, it’s “Needle In The Hay” time. This is when I do my secret coping things that are not harming to my body or mind, which only my platonic life partner knows about because I roll like that. “Needle” makes me grit my teeth and clench my fists until I feel I can manage whatever I have to do before climbing into bed that night. Basically, this is when we are Code Red and I need a hug.
Now that you know the code, internet readers, I encourage you to use it. I hope when I ask you how you are you will reply only in Elliott Smith terms, and I will extend to you the same courtesy.
Mar Curran is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer; he is on the boards of Video Action league, Advocate Loyola, the Queer intercollegiate Alliance, and works with GetEQUAL. As a spoken word artist, he has read at each All The Writers I Know event. He studies Communications and Women’s Studies at Loyola University Chicago. Curran likes beer and cats.