Have you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.
“Bottle Up and Explode!” by Elliott Smith
This is not an article about suicide, though being that it’s about an Elliott Smith song, it most certainly should be addressed. This is not some kind of confessional or deep think piece either, though in my adolescence I certainly harbored my fair share of suicidal thoughts. But a lot of teenagers do. It doesn’t make you special, or strange, or alone. It just makes you human. And there is something in Elliott Smith’s music, in his songs, in his voice that speaks to that humanity. His melancholy, world-weary, little pop songs feel like odes to your own soul.
It’s like he’s singing to you at the end of a rough day. Like he’s singing to you when you feel out of place or abandoned. Like he’s singing to you when you feel like you’re down to your last option. Maybe its his cadence, or his lyrical imagery, or his soft, sweet voice that can still hit like a freight train. Maybe it’s the sincerity of his work. Maybe it’s his tragic end. I don’t know. But there really are so few artists who sound like they’re not just carrying some weight of the world on their shoulders and souls, but rather YOUR specific, nervous, trembling, angsty weight. It all feels so personal, like talking a friend down from the proverbial ledge, a deep conversation long into the early hours of the morning.
“Bottle Up and Explode!” comes from Smith’s 1998 album XO, a time that really found him hitting his stride as a recording artist, but also found him faltering to his inner demons, depression, addiction, and an attempt to end his life. Lyrically, the song is about hurt feelings or suspicions in a relationship that the protagonist buries or hides from view, never revealing and allowing to simmer, until they, of course, explode to the surface. Set to a heavy-hearted but poppy, mid-tempo melody, the song acts as a kind of soothing balm for the woebegone. It’s an earworm that’s instantly relatable, and there’s a really quaint beauty to all its bottled sorrow.
Smith died in 2003, the result of self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest*. I was never a rabid fanatic, or devoted follower, or anything like that, just a fan. But his pointless death hurt and moved me, and continues to do so. His music can feel haunting or prescient because of it, but still beautiful.
Again, this is not an article about suicide, though most of us have certainly been touched by it in some way. Whether through our own thoughts and fears, or the thoughts and fears of friends, family, loved ones, idols, role models, or acquaintances, suicide is a very real and tragic part of our culture. And we all have to confront it in some manner. About a decade ago, a friend/acquaintance of mine took her life, and I’ve never really been able to put into words what my feelings are about it. I remember being at the funeral, and seeing her family, and recognizing this different kind of grief that hung heavy over the room. It was a different kind of sadness, something that felt infinitely worse, a dark, abyssal sorrow. And that’s what suicide is to me.
It still makes the music all the more haunting.
*There is some debate as to whether or not Elliott Smith actually committed suicide or if he was murdered, but I’m not going to get into any of that.
From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.