Elliott Smith would have turned fifty last Tuesday. If he had lived beyond 34 that is – and the reason is unclear, suicide or homicide – with the former the likelier.

He was just 28 when I discovered him, he was in my ears while I travelled Europe properly for the first time at 21 – and the songs were, just like all the cities that passed us by, some intangible beauty that you couldn‘t quite grasp. It didn’t help that the march of technology had taken trusted old Walkman away and replaced him with a hypochondriac called Discman, a technology so fine-tuned that the merest shake would confuse it – and those European trains certainly have a few shakes in them.

But even when I managed to finish a whole song without shaking there was still one song that always felt finished just before I managed to finish listening. It was short, but so was „Say Yes“ – but there was something intangible about Behind the Bars – some stolen moment behind prison bars or bars for drinking. The latter is more likely, this is not a love song to the bottle though, but rather a love song from the bottle to a lonely Elliott.

This is a song about the intangible, the potential that never blossoms, the promises only you give, the forgetfulness, the people you used to be. But then it ends, very suddenly, before it was meant to end, like a dream you fall asleep again to find again. Like a life cut too short.

Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson

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