Soundtrack of My Life: “Independence Day” by Elliott Smith
Elliott Smith saved my life. He doesn’t know it though, because he killed himself 10 years before he rescued me.
Moving from Louisiana to Los Angeles was amazing, but it was a difficult transition. My first job after moving here was not a good fit, and I was miserable. I dreaded going into the office every morning, never knowing what to expect. In the death throes at the tumultuous end to a relationship, my personal life had deteriorated, and I began to dread going home every day, too. It was a seriously depressing version of Groundhog Day.
A couple of years ago, I was at a low point, the lowest of lows actually, stuck in this misery loop day after day. There was very little good in my world. I had lived with depression since I can remember. The negative voices inside my head were now being echoed from the outside. I didn’t know how to escape, and I couldn’t cope.
But I had a ticket to this Elliott Smith tribute show at The Largo in Los Angeles. That was the one thing I was holding on to in my mind. There was something left in the world to look forward to, and I had to go. Everything else could be terrible, but at least I had this music I loved.
I loved Elliott Smith’s music in part because it spoke to my depression and made me feel like I wasn’t so alone. He made me feel like it would be OK for me even though things didn’t end up OK for him.
In the late 90’s, I distinctly remember trading in Elliott Smith’s “XO” album to a used CD store for a Pearl Jam release. I’m pretty sure it was “No Code,” which is an objectively terrible record. A few years later, I redeemed myself and got the entire Elliott Smith discography on a whim and began listening obsessively.
Then he killed himself, and I started listening even more obsessively. There is something in his barely-above-a-whisper that carries more punk rock and power than any screaming ever could. These were my Hymns of Depression, and I dutifully sang along every day.
I made it to the tribute show that night in August of 2013 almost broken, barely able to keep myself from falling through the cracks in the sidewalk. I wasn’t the only one almost broken. Elliott Smith’s friends and family took turns on the stage, a decade after his suicide, still visibly carrying the pain of losing him.
The show was beautiful, touching, and – aside from a brief appearance by Jack Black, whose humor was very much appreciated – a very somber affair. When the audience joined in for the round robin chorus of “Everything Means Nothing to Me,” it felt like church in a way that church never has for me. Being in a room full of people repeating that phrase seems like it would be depressing, but for me it was healing.
I would like to say that I never looked back. To say that tribute show was a turning point. Maybe it was, but I don’t think that’s true. Maybe it just got me through to that night. Then other things and other people got me through other nights. Then things I learned in therapy got me through. Then the work I put in got me through. I am stronger than depression. I decided to be happy, to seek happiness, to do things that make me happy, to actively be a part of making things better. Here I am now, embracing life and my sense of wonder at the world around me. Every day is Independence Day.
Everybody knows you only live a day, but it’s brilliant anyway.”
Here’s a live version of the song with Jon Brion (who led the tribute show at the Largo):
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).