This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of Elliott Smith, the Academy Award nominated indie folk legend whose battle with the demons in his life ended tragically in 2003 at the age of 34. He would have turned 42 today. Even if you’re not into the indie folk genre, you might be familiar with Smith’s music via some of the movies that have used his songs; check out the soundtracks to Good Will Hunting, the Royal Tannenbaums, and American Beauty, for some examples. A cursory look at those movies might also give you a clue into Elliott Smith; all three deal with experiences of depression and various ways people in our culture try to free themselves from the melancholic malady, including self-medication and suicide. Elliot Smith battled depression throughout his life, tried alcohol and drugs for escape, and eventually died from what appeared to be self-inflicted knife wounds.
A look at a couple of his songs gives some insight into the state of mind the artist experienced when in the darkness of depression. The title of one says it all: A Distorted Reality’s Now a Necessity to be Free. It also hints at the unfortunate reality that links economic issues to depression and suicide:
Some f bombs follow, with a concluding refrain seeking help:
Then, in another troubled song, My New Freedom, Smith speaks of his escape mechanism of choice at the time, a stiff drink, and the lyrics following give evidence that the medicine hasn’t worked:
Elliot Smith’s music is important to listen to if for no other reason than it provides a window into the world of a growing population of people suffering from the despair of depression, seeking freedom and escape in places that only deepen the darkness. Today, two of the fastest growing groups of people suffering with this disease are children and youth. College’s and universities are struggling to come up with resources to deal with the growing crisis. Our population as a whole is over three times more likely to have a debilitating experience of depression than their grandparents. As the economic news worsens, and as more and more people see a political process that distorts reality to fit whatever ideology they are promoting, all in the name of freedom, we can expect a posthumous Elliott Smith to provide the soundtrack of the age.