This was the first Elliott Smith song I ever heard, I think; definitely the first one I remember hearing, although I suspect that I might’ve seen Good Will Hunting before this and just not really noticed the music because I was too busy being bored by everything else. Nonetheless, I heard this at one of those times in your life when you need to hear someone say something that feels real to you, and you end up attaching almost mystical significance to it as a result. Here, it’s the chorus: “I’m never gonna know you now/But I’m gonna love you, anyhow.” It’s a surrender and declaration at once, of saying goodbye to someone special and yet holding onto them in your heart, something that was entirely what I was going through at the time in my own, melodramatic, way.
As much as the lyrics worked for me, though, the rest of the song more than piqued my interest. You can still hear a lot of what appealed in the live, stripped back version above, with the pretty, circular music in the verse and the raw, striving bridge – not just in the lyric (“I’m here today/And expected to stay on/And on, and on/I’m tired, I’m tired…”) but the performance, as the voice strains to hit the notes and sounds more fragile as a result (It helps that the lyrics almost immediately seek to comfort, as if embarrassed by what just happened: “XO, Mom/It’s okay, it’s alright/Nothing’s wrong”).
The recorded version, too, has an arrangement that pulled me in with echoes of Big Star and the Beatles – Ringo thudding out a waltz time beat on the drums, but a piano line that sounds straight out of Third/Sister Lovers:
The background vocals help the overall effect, as well; there was obviously a mind here that was more interested in music as a continuity, of a lengthy past instead of whatever was hip at the time – Listen to the backing “do do do“s during that bridge, or the multiple “on/And on, and on“s; the strings sneaking in at the end just added to that feeling.
It’s a beautiful song, and a beautifully complete one. When I heard it, I was hooked, and I knew I had to hear more.