By Rosalie Tirella
I’m on an Elliot Smith discovery songbook tour. So, you are comin’ along! Here is “Condor Ave” by Elliott Smith. I love this song’s lyrics – a perfect song for tonight: a desolate, dark, break-up kinda nite. The protagonist’s feelings disregarded by his ex: she just drove off!, didn’t even pack her clothing! She’s sailing away in the Oldsmobile. She sailed past the junkyard, surreal carnival barker screams filled the air. The boyfriend, feeling abandoned, is enraged – he slams the screen door over and over again – so hard that those stupid wind chimes go flying!
That is how it feels tonight.
When I lived on Ward Street, like three yards from Interstate 290 by Kelley Square, with thousands of cars and trucks speeding past my door 22 hours a day (there was always a break between 2 a.m. and 3:30ish), I felt the opposite! Snow fall felt romantic. Magical even! I lived in the fourth! floor apartment of Chef Joey’s dad’s building. My place had just been renovated to look vintage 1940’s beautiful. Original, big, heavy sliding pocket doors; original, maple dining room cabinets with window panes and linen drawers … high plastered ceilings, original windows with woodwork cleaned and stained shiny dark. All the walls had been painted a creamy, dreamy white. I’d look out of any of my 10 windows and see Worcester spread out before me like a still from a Woody Allen movie: my mini-Manhattan! Worcester’s city lights, the stars in the sky, the glass tower downtown with its top floor changing colors!: now a wavy gravy green, red, then orange. Cool! … The white, simple, but elegant steeple of St. John’s Church with its own small spotlights.
Then they would come: millions of snowflakes, sheets of twinkly snow-powder, rushing down with slanted directness. You could see the snowflakes against the light that shone from the street lights on Ward Street and just by looking up into the Worcester night air. Winter storms didn’t feel like no break-up song then! I miss that wonderful apartment – it made me feel in the middle of it all! All the city action! It stimulated me! Made me happy to get up in the morning and be ALIVE in a real city like Worcester.
Then there is this Smith tune:
And this one:
So beautiful. How did I miss them? There are scores! I’m excited by their newness (to me)!
Smith lived in Amherst a few years after I left that great college town – maybe our paths crossed once or twice, as he was coming in and I was leaving. He matriculated at Hampshire College; I was at UMass. It was during the days of local band heroes Dinosaur Jr., led by Amherst native don J Mascis. And even though Aimee Mann was from Boston, I would still run to see her and her group, Til Tuesday, whenever they played at the Blue Lounge in our student union. Grunge was percolating in Washington state and Oregon. After college graduation, Smith left Amherst for Portland. All the guys back then, in Amherst, had the same slacker hipster vibe as Smith. Few had his musical genius:
I was wrong! His lyrics are GREAT!
And still he never stopped hurting. … They found him dead, with two knives sticking out of his chest. Horrific. A beautiful mind leaves us, but what stays forever with us: all his beautiful collage-songs. They will always speak to the hurting heart!