WOWEE ZOWEE (17)
April 25, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
EITHER/OR | ELLIOTT SMITH | 1997
After five years of living in Portland, Oregon, it was time to reverse the move and head back East. Fretting about what I could be leaving behind — meaningful friendships, a culture of grit and independence, a perspective on what it meant to be truly open and creative — I went ahead and followed the girl anyway. For fear of slipping back into the life I’d worked hard to shed, I held onto Portland things, most especially Either/Or by Elliott Smith.
The album was the featured act in my small vinyl collection and has always been of a piece with the second-hand turntable that was dragged across the country with it. As Elliott Smith turned toward his truer self, allowing painful themes to be buoyed by an emerging pop mastery, I let every moment pour into me whenever I put it on. Every warm bassline, every harmony he backed himself on, every strum of his acoustic guitar, every whispered word was reheard and digested again. To this day I don’t put it on unless I can give it my full attention for fear of missing something.
In Portland, I would see Elliott on the street and on the stage, initially with the rock group Heatmiser, and later in tiny spaces and clubs by himself. I was introduced to him once and we’re the same age — but we never connected personally. I am grateful for that because of how all of his music has clung to me, unmuddled. Either/Or is built with confidence and clarity of vision by a man ready to move on. The narrators of the stories that are told don’t have any of that peace of mind, so when their confessions and desires are laid bare with catchy melodies and musical charm, it’s disarming in the best way possible.
Elliott Smith did move on. He eventually left Portland too and his balladry continued to emerge from him, thematically desperate at times, shimmering always. He pushed himself further on subsequent albums with remarkable success, but Either/Or remains, to me, his most enduring work, a perfect portrait of imperfection.
It was right for me to leave Portland when I did. And if I’ve ever questioned that decision, “Say Yes,” the last and most optimistic song on Either/Or, always reminds me why.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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