At what age did you realise you wanted to become a musician?
Probably five, as soon as I heard The White Album. It was pretty much my inspiration, that and AC/DC.
Elliott Smith: NME (2000)
My friends and I were just starting to teach ourselves guitar in 1980. I was 11 and really into Beatles songs like Julia and Sexy Sadie— cool, kaleidoscopic chord changes. I was totally immersed in trying to figure it all out, and it was slowly happening when some madman gunned down the guide. At first, kids at school acted like it was a hoax. It didn’t seem real at the time, and to be honest, I rarely think of John Lennon as dead. There’s too much life in his music to think of him as gone. For some reason when I think of him now, I usually picture him the way he looked and sounded during the 'hairy and scary' phase, around the time of Abbey Road. Definitely on his own trip. It’s neat when you’re a kid to see people who aren’t scared to change.
My folks were Beatles fans and supposedly played Sgt. Pepper’s for me before I was born. In junior high I thought that A Day in the Life was probably my favourite song ever. Of course, now I have many, many favourite songs, but a lot of them are still Lennon songs. For example:
I’m Only Sleeping
Most songs that bring up wanting to be left alone in some way or another don’t do it as gracefully as this one. It’s cool to express and defend your own interior space without getting all hostile about it; this song makes it seem easy. I also like the way it feels as if it’s pulling itself along with its own momentum instead of being pushed forward heavily with the kick drum.
Tomorrow Never Knows
The first line kinda says it all, really. Again, it’s like he’s describing a solid internal state you can maintain without doing battle with the outside world. Sometimes the most amazing thing to me about Lennon is that he kept a positive identity despite such a cracked upbringing and crazy fame.
Cold Turkey and Jealous Guy
Being this honest can be risky, which, of course, is an excellent idea. It’ll either be sappy or brave. Or both. He chanced it and won. Other people have to write this way all the time. Lennon had access to all floors. Didn’t he also write:
I Am the Walrus
It’s dark, complicated, funny, and popular; it rocks; and it contains the phrase “goo goo g’joob.” Lyrics all over the place. I like songs like this because they activate my imagination. Coherence is fine and all, but it’s not the measure of interesting lyrics. Sonically, this song seems to be coming from a person who just busted out of incarceration somewhere.
Across the Universe
This song is fluid and musical in a way that, to me, overarches all the cultural and political commentary that surrounds his life. A really cool song can sometimes make a dream and reality trade places, maybe for the better.
Elliott Smith: SPIN (Jan 2001)
Five Beatles Cover Version by Elliott Smith