366 Songs 022: See You in Heaven

Out of all the unreleased-but-leaked material that’s appeared since Elliott Smith’s death, “See You in Heaven” may be one of my favorites, but also one of the most frustrating. Unlike so much of his work, there’s something undeniably uplifting about the instrumental – And, because there are sleigh bells so high in the mix, something so Christmassy, to me at least – and there’s a dynamism to the whole thing that really appeals to me, feeling more like an off-cut from Figure 8 than the other material that he was working on before his death (I think that From A Basement On The Hill is a great album, and has some of my favorite production and arrangements of any of his work, but this just feels different, somehow). It’s unfinished nature makes it feel like a song that archaeologists can use to pick through and find the bones of his songwriting technique, to make a strange and uncomfortable metaphor; the spaces left behind are open to suspect and supposition about what could’ve gone there, what’s missing from it, and why certain choices were made. There are parts that feel very… undone (The building tension from 0:56 to 1:23 almost works, but it’s missing something), and parts that feel revelatory, things that are just lovely but you can tell would’ve been hidden more in a final version (The way the music just tumbles and lurches into the bride at 2:53, for example), and therein lies the frustration, because we’ll never know what the song was “supposed” to sound like. There is, according to Elliott Smith legend, a “finished” version of this song, with lyrics and a more completed arrangement with more overdubs, that exists somewhere, but it’s never been leaked and at this point, more than half a decade after his death, it probably never will. That’s maybe a good thing, ultimately; the unfinished nature of the “See You in Heaven” that we have allows the song to be hopeful and optimistic to those who want it to sound like that, and everything that’s not there can be created by our imaginations, giving us one last chance to interact with Smith and his weird, wonderful way of songwriting.

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