Till My Head Falls Off 12.31.03: I Hate Myself And Want To Die

For Your Listening Pleasure
Television – Marquee Moon

Am I the only one that finds it interesting that in a by most accounts very “eclectic” year in popular music, I keep buying old albums and greatest hits compilations?

News to You
As much as I love the picture I used at the front of my last “news” report…

…I’m going to try to stay light on the news this time around, and stick with what I know best: ranting and raving about whatever happens to be on my mind on a given week. The last 365 days have gone by pretty quickly from where I sit, and there will be plenty of “Year In Review” stories all over the Web if that’s what you’re looking for. But for now, let me pick out one little tid-bit I just happened across on the AP wire, and see if I can come up with anything profound to say about it:

Tests on Musician’s Death Inconclusive
(AP, 12/30/2003 11:31:00PM)

Tests to determine whether an Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter was murdered or committed suicide were inconclusive, a coroner’s spokesman said Tuesday.

Elliott Smith , 34, died in a hospital on Oct. 21 after his live-in girlfriend found him in their apartment with a stab wound to the chest. Initial reports indicated the reclusive Smith had stabbed himself, said coroner’s spokesman David Campbell .

But an investigation into his death and an examination of his body were unable to determine if the wound was self-inflicted or if Smith was the victim of an attack.

“The coroner’s examination determined either scenario was possible,” Campbell said.

The Los Angeles Police Department continues to investigate Smith’s death, said Officer Jason Lee , a police spokesman.

Smith, who earned a 1998 Academy Award nomination for his song “Miss Misery” from the film “Good Will Hunting,” performed it at that year’s awards show. The song lost to “My Heart Will Go On” from the film “Titanic.”

Campbell said tests showed no illegal drugs in Smith’s body at the time of his death.

Friends said Smith had become reclusive in recent years, and the singer-songwriter himself said he never sought fame and had at one time struggled with alcoholism.

Smith was a favorite of rock music critics who admired his often dark, seemingly confessional songs, but he enjoyed only modest commercial success.

I Hate Myself And Want To Die
“Only modest commercial success,” eh? What an understatement. In fact, it took his death for me to even remember who he was.

Sure, I nodded and smiled when some of my friends mentioned “Elliott Smith” – and I vaguely knew him as “that guy” who wrote the song from Good Will Hunting, which by the way, is a movie that has basically become the SOLE reason I can still take Ben Affleck even somewhat seriously.

But who was Elliott Smith? The All Music Guide calls him a “folk-punk singer/songwriter” from Portland, OR, who became a “fixture of the city’s thriving music scene” and entered the mainstream when his Oscar-nominated song “Miss Misery” was performed alongside Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion “in one of the most notably surreal musical moments in recent memory.”

Yet I don’t even remember that performance.

Launch.com refers to him as a “devastatingly brilliant singer-songwriter” who “forged a dazzling career path” after leaving band Heatmiser and going solo.

So dazzling that, even though I pride myself on having an open mind and listening to anything I can get my hands on, I don’t think that I could identify one of his songs if I heard it.

Again, this can all simply be a testament to how impossible it is to hear “EVERYTHING” – even if you’re a music snob like I (pre)tend to be at times. Or maybe it’s proof that I’m a fraud… but I think what it’s further proof of is this: no matter how much critical praise and/or commercial success an artist has, outside of the truly special and extremely lucky, their popularity is fleeting, and each one of them is just a knife wound, overdose or gunshot away from fading away. Perhaps Elliott Smith’s death will cause me to download or borrow a song or two, and form an educated opinion of his songwriting, or maybe I’ll forget he died by February. Either way, it’s still a shame that anyone – musician or not – dies at age 34, and hopefully something can be learned from this whole mess.

Better To Fade Away… Or To Burn Out?
“Tests to determine whether an Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter was murdered or committed suicide were inconclusive, a coroner’s spokesman said Tuesday.”

There’s another thing. It’s kind of amazing to me how much that line resonates with me, as I realize that the upcoming year, 2004, is the TEN YEAR anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. Son of a…

I mean, I know how silly I might sound when I start spewing “facts” of the Kurt Cobain murder theory, but let’s face it, the Seattle Police Department didn’t even investigate the possibility that he was killed. And just the fact that there were several “copy-cat” suicides following his death leads me to believe that it was at least worth looking into… I won’t even bring up the questionable suicide note, the fact that Kurt had 3x the lethal dose of heroin in his system (yet could still pull a trigger) OR the strange usage of Cobain’s credit card after his death, until his body was found.

Suicide or otherwise, though, it still blows my mind that it was ten years ago. And unlike some other folks that died “too young” around that time, I still miss him (or at least the fact that I’ll never hear any new music from him again). I just pray that his daughter can survive having no father for most of her life, and pretty much no mother, for all intents and purposes….

_____ Of The Year?
You don’t know how bad I wanted to nominate Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” as 2003’s Song of the Year… until I realized it actually came out LAST year. Dammit.

In my last column, I listed the 2004 GRAMMY nominations, and during my “absence” over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with the 411 staff on Year End Awards (stay tuned!). This has been a major headache, with the primary reason being that the GRAMMY nominations are based on music released from October 1, 2002 through September 30, 2003, while the 411 nominations are based on releases from 2003 proper (although singles that were released to radio in 2003 qualify for “Best Song” even if they were on albums from 2002). Simple, right?

Oh, not at all.

Let’s have a little quiz, ok? Did the following songs/albums come out in 2002 or 2003? Winners will get a prize, I promise, but only if YOU promise not to cheat. Go!

1. Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell – “Beautiful”
2. Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful”
3. T.A.T.U. – “All The Things She Said”
4. Pink – “God Is A DJ”
5. 50 Cent – “Wanksta”

Not as easy as you thought, eh? Trust me, putting these nominee lists together was far from a piece of cake, but I think we did a pretty solid job, so I hope you’ll keep checking 411mania.com in the coming days for the full nominations for Staff Awards and Readers’ Awards, as well as the final winners (which should be declared in a week or so).

Who did I vote for, you ask? I don’t know if I should…

Okay, FINE!

My Votes For 2003 411 Music Staff Awards

Best Album: OutKast – “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below”
Best Song: OutKast – “Hey Ya” (“Stacy’s Mom” wasn’t nominated!)
Best Male Pop/Mainstream Artist: Dave Matthews
Best Female Pop/Mainstream Artist: Beyoncé
Best Hip-Hop/Rap Artist: Black Eyed Peas
Best R&B Artist: Mary J Blige
Best Metal Artist: (Haven’t decided yet)
Best Modern Rock/Punk Artist: White Stripes
Best Country Artist: Johnny Cash
Best New Artist: Evanescence
News Story of the Year: Return of Napster/Introduction of iTunes for Windows

Hey, I never said it was an exact science… and no, the nominations aren’t “perfect” – should Johnny Cash’s box set release qualify him for an award? Why wasn’t “Stacy’s Mom” nominated? Is Beyoncé “pop” or “R&B” or both? – but these things are always fun to debate. I’m sure you’ll have NO problem telling me why I’M completely full of it by the time 2004 rolls around….

Until next time… Happy New Year!

peace. love. moe.

– Matt

Matthew Michaels’s Till My Head Falls Off can be found weekly on 411 Music (old columns are archived in the pull-down menu below each column). Already hit everything on 411? You can find more from Matthew Michaels at moodspins and 1-42.