Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 236
Tues. Oct. 15, 2013
My latest music obsession is the discombobulated ambiguity behind Elliott Smith’s unreleased song “Abused.” One of the most personal and reflective of tracks that like “King’s Crossing,” Smith wanted to make one of the centerpieces of his imagined double album masterwork better known as From A Basement on the Hill. For obvious reasons, Smith’s family estate left “Abused” off the track listing of Smith’s final posthumous album. Unfortunately one of Elliot Smith’s most harrowingly intimate tracks remains unfinished because of Elliott’s unsubstantiated claims of abuse that Smith believed occurred during his childhood in Dallas, Texas.
Elliott’s friend Drew McConnell was there during the recording of most the tracks that would end making up Smith’s final album From a Basement on the Hill. McConnell saw the good, the bad of the creative side of Smith and the ugly addictive personality he experienced first hand. Drew talked witnessing the harrowing personal demons that haunted Smith during the creation of Hill when he told Magnet Magazine in 2005, “Ultimately, I thought it was more helpful just to be there as a friend and support him even in his darkest hours. I think he appreciated that, and he shared things with me that I don’t think he shared with anyone. He would go through these periods where he would be really depressed about his childhood, and he would tell me that he thought he might have been sexually abused by his stepfather but he couldn’t remember for sure, that he must have blocked it out and that he wanted to talk to his mother about it to see if she could remember anything. It was really sad. It broke my heart to hear that.”
It was dark moments like this that sparked the song “Abused” the one cut that Elliott crafted to be on From A Basement but he passed away before completing one of his most cryptic yet most personal song creations. In his brilliant biography, Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith, author William Todd Schultz wrote a very poignant passage regarding one of the best unreleased of Smith’s lyrical song treasures when he wrote, “Even when his subjects are ugly—drug use, suicide, worthlessness—they sound disarmingly gorgeous. An example is the song “Abused,” which tackles a topic obviously taboo I pop but cloaks in pretty higher-register phrasing. Somehow a delicacy comes through; one sings along almost nervously, given the lyrics’ hideousness. But the impulse is irresistible. Smith was aware of his talent for beautiful sounds. It came too easy. It was unstoppable. So there were occasions he undermined it. As noted before, he tried, especially in his later years, “fucking songs up.” The urge was to do something new, something different, to make sounds that did not come naturally or easily.” Schultz is so right, “Abused” begins like most vintage Smith tunes with a lovely acoustic medley and then merges into this chaotic song dissonance mirror the life of an abuse victim who’s almost regular existence can turn abnormally strange at the sudden strike of a once thought displaced key. Even in its rough draft state, “Abused” reflects the every day moments of an abuse victim whose life, like Elliott’s, could go from zero to chaos at the blink of his once chorused cries.
The saddest aspect of Smith’s unfinished opus was that he wanted to use this song and his album specifically as a whole to spark change in the life of abuse victims nationwide as he explained to Under The Radar before his death, “For a change this time, I’m really going to try and sell this record, which is a new idea-but not a bad one in this case-because the money is not going to me. I need to put money into my foundation for abused children. I’m not looking to be benefited by luxury.” Elliott’s dream never came to fruition while he was alive and his most personal song still lingers buried like the memories that sparked this song creation also remains untold.
Although he was talking about all his often painfully realistic songwriting style as a whole, when Elliott Smith once said, “I didn’t have a hard time making it, I had a hard time letting it go,” he could have been referring to one his most personal and unfinished opus’s “Abused.” This very personal yet unfinished and unreleased artistic statement is a must for any fan looking to fill the complete lyrical picture of the song creator that was Elliott Smith. Crafted and recorded just months before his death, “Abused” is an essential but far from an easy listen that lyrically spotlights the haunted mindset of one of the most under-appreciated singer/songwriters of the last twentieth century. I urge you to unearth the discombobulated magnificence of this buried song creation that remains Elliott Smith’s “Abused.”