BY P. CLAIRE DODSON
Spin once helmed late Portland singer-songwriter Elliott Smith as "Mr. Misery." This was 2004, a little over a year after his death from apparent suicide (a theory still contested today). In the more than 10 years since, Smith has posthumously influenced endless singers and songwriters, from The National to Speedy Ortiz to last week's Melancholic Mondays pick Julien Baker.
There's something lovely about surrounding yourself with sad music, but it's sometimes difficult to enjoy music you know is so painfully wrought. Throughout his astounding, brilliant life, Smith struggled with depression and substance abuse. His songs come from the dark places inside of himself, and that's part of why they feel so wrenching and honest and rough to swallow. But with Smith, it's hard to both glorify a ridiculously talented musician without glorifying (or worse, ignoring) addiction and mental illness.
That said, Smith's music tends to help rather than hurt when we find ourselves in those dark places. And so this week's Melancholic Monday features the early version of his track "Miss Misery," off the posthumous collection New Moon. It's a better, more stripped down version of the song that brought him widespread critical acclaim and a mainstream audience. The first-released version of "Miss Misery" appeared on the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting, earning Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
The early "Miss Misery" is quieter, dimmer. Smith sings of "cold pain behind [his] eyes" and "vanishing into oblivion." It's a breakup song, but that moniker feels too simple. Smith "cried a sea" when his lover broke it off, but though he is clearly distressed, he is hopeful.
And maybe it's not a damaging, unrealistic hope; it's an otherworldly one. Smith consults the tarot card and lines on his palm and decides they are untrue, that maybe she's out there in some timeline waiting for him.
When I think about the afterlife and the various ways it could go, it's a nice thought to think we'll be reunited with friends and family. But I also think it's nice that maybe we'd be given one last "enchanted night" in a relationship that didn't work out. Maybe it'll be an afternoon with the elementary school friend I grew apart from, playing with stuffed animals on her tiled floor. Maybe it'll be an evening with a person I never told I loved. We'll get to take the trip out of town to a place we've seen only in a magazine.
Maybe we get a chance to live out a thing that wasn't meant for this life.
P. Claire Dodson has written for The Atlantic, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Vice, Fast Company, and more. She is a music editor for @LunaLunaMag. Follow her on Twitter at @Claire_ifying.