Angel In The Snow – Elliott Smith – A Frozen Still Life

Remembering the life and music of Elliott Smith is a study in darkness and light. He was an intensely prodigious singer/songwriter who prolifically created provocative music while battling overwhelming despair and drug addiction. Smith was a “Roman Candle,” rapidly shooting bright colored balls of starry Van Gogh light into the swirling night sky that dazzled with intensity and then suddenly died out, leaving you astonished that a roll of burnt cardboard could produce such visual delight. To this day there is still an element of disbelief hanging over his passing, like an insidious fog, as if his horribly violent death was a staged hoax and he is hiding out somewhere, waiting for the winds of inspiration to blow and dissipate the haze so that he can resume creating.

The mental and spiritual shackles that bound his life and led to his untimely death were not only his drug and alcohol abuse but also the overwhelming sense of futility suffusing his days, directly tied to his struggles with depression and social anxiety. However, one cannot imagine the music of Elliott Smith devoid of the pain, sadness and darkness that spilled over from his life. His music and his tortured heart and soul were intricately interwoven, inseparable from one another.

To this day, I still clearly recall the awkward image of Smith in his ill fitting white suit playing “Miss Misery” at the 1998 Academy Awards in front of an audience that stood for everything he hated. He meekly whispered out his powerful song to the self consumed audience that hung on his every movement, like visitors at the zoo hoping an exotic bird will make some strange sound. In that setting his song became meaningless. His personal agony was never meant to be cause for celebration, even if it made it onto a popular soundtrack for a big money movie. For that very reason, the compelling element in the music of Elliott Smith lies as much in his ability to touch all of us who share his emotional response to being human as it does in the genius of his musical arrangements and compositions. I could expound about why New Moon is better than Roman Candle is better than XO, ad infinitum, but what purpose would that serve? The songs are all cut from the same emotional cloth and we, as outsiders attaching various values to them, serve as nothing but superfluousness and are irrelevant to his accomplished body of work. A kind word of advice to those of you curious enough to explore the dark but so very human world created in the songs of Elliott Smith. Be open to receive and not take, leave your ego, expectations and preexisting musical preferences at the door and enter open hearted.

“Angel In The Snow” is from New Moon, a posthumous collection of songs released in 2007. It illustrates Smith’s unique ability to create poetry from the ravages of his addiction to cocaine. By mixing his need for the drug with the gentle description of human love and connection, he places the unwitting listener into the sordid and desperate world of his insatiable need. In the most haunting moment Smith refers to himself as a “frozen still life” sent to be a slave to his addiction.

“I’d say you make a perfect
Angel in the snow
All crushed out on the way you are
Better stop before it goes too far
Don’t you know that I love you?
Sometimes I feel like only a cold still life
That fell down here to lay beside you
Don’t you know that I love you?
Sometimes I feel like only a cold still life
Only a frozen still life
That fell down here to lay beside you”