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Say Yes

Mar 11, 2009 By Gary Knight
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I used to get annoyed with my older brother when he would fight with my mom and then run off to his room to listen to loud music. The melodrama associated with the act, aside, I never felt he was in the right to approximate the words and music of a band like Black Flag or Pink Floyd to suit his particular situation, all in the name of justifying his feelings or emboldening his actions. Sort of the way people manipulate The Bible if it’s convenient for them.

If my mother had been totalitarian, and not just emotionally unhinged, I might have had more sympathy for him taking solace in The Wall, but she wasn’t. Making “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. II” your anthem only works if you’re a victim and there’s an aggressor and you happen to like prog rock, but our mom wasn’t quite a dictator, and my bro was no schoolboy. If you’re going to take comfort in a song by relating to it, and beyond that (use it as a weapon), your situation and the lyrics and intent of a song should be carefully considered, which may be too much to ask of a naïve and selfish teenager, or any GOP candidate for that matter, but not out of the question.

Of course, my assertions about my brother are based on observations made in the eighties, since I’ve never formally interviewed him about his adolescent years, and I feel for him, having hit his rebellious phase just as the ink was drying on our parents’ divorce papers, but I feel justified in not cutting him much slack back then when I consider he’s never really changed, as I recently got caught once again in the middle of one of his battles, although I wasn’t there to see if he ran off to listen to some Floyd. I was reminded though of all those uncomfortable scenes of domestic unrest, and it was rather serendipitous, because around the same time I realized that I don’t listen to Elliott Smith much anymore. Turns out I was a hypocrite.

Two and a half years ago I met my future wife, and a couple of months ago we were married, which put an exclamation point on my personal life’s newfound good fortune. Prior to that, I never had much success in the love department, which is to say I never really got over any of the lingering self-doubt and awkwardness that resulted after a long bout with acne and a series of bad haircuts. It meant rarely attempting dating, and bad attempts when I did. But survive I did and get over myself I did, right around the time Chelsey came along as the proof that what I had been holding out for my whole life actually existed (and it was from Orange County). There is nothing like love reciprocated, and nothing like a relationship based on mutual respect and admiration that knows no limits (its matter is invisible and therefore not obligated to abide by the laws of space and time).

But before Chelsey there was Smith, and a whole mess of crushes and bad dating stories. My outlet was walking the neighborhood streets at night listening to Smith’s music and reliving moments of regret over and over again, careful at first not to identify with too many of the lyrics, but certainly guilty of co-opting the feel put forth in so many of his songs (the sadness, the self-loathing, the bitterness), and using it as a blanket of sorts with which to lie down and wallow in my own stores of sadness and self-loathing (lying down as I was walking, of course). In Smith, I found comparable sensitivity, delivered with the finest of melodies, and in the most comforting of whispers, which justified my feelings and felt good, like a release, failing to see that wallowing in my own misery was like pissing in my own bath.

The wallowing and perverse pleasure I took in setting it to Smith’s soundtrack fueled my own personal fight club, and before long the scenarios in my head turned ugly, and angry, as Smith’s catalog grew bleaker and bleaker in its outlook. The process became addictive. Plugging real-life situations into the songs and making them fit so I could live out some revenge fantasy or pity party in my head only made me more disillusioned, not just with the dating scene, but with my life, not to mention more awkward around the opposite sex.

At rock-bottom I started growing all the hair on my head out in some weird way of drawing attention to my condition while simultaneously saying, “F-you” to any cute indie girl who crossed my path. I started wearing clothes out of my hamper and making empty threats to friends of moving to Sweden to start over again. It was pathetic, and I knew it. I think of the outsider behavior of some indie kids who dress in Salvation Army clothes not just to look cool (which is fine), but to also draw attention to themselves and simultaneously cast judgment on the mainstream (which is not) and I wanna cry.

I had to change (it was obvious), or risk eternal supplies of spite and loneliness, which seemed utterly depressing, since for as long as I could remember I had wanted to fall in love. Somewhere in everybody is the same desire (long before Adam gave it all up for Eve, the Nora Ephron of the Paleolithic Age wrote When Omo I Met Omo II and it was a huge hit). I wasn’t going to keep mine hidden or trick it into submission.

It helped to come to some realizations about Smith. Alec Hanley Bemis wrote one of the more fascinating pieces on him for LA Weekly when he bravely asserted in the wake of Smith’s death that the singer had spent the last years of his life fulfilling a self-written prophecy of sorts, one that involved hardcore drugs and suicidal tendencies and various forms of self-destructive behavior. No one will ever truly understand the depths of Smith’s personal problems, nor what motivated his behavior, but suddenly, the idea of empathizing with someone who ultimately couldn’t fix his life seemed like a dead-end. It’s wonderfully ironic that Smith’s incredibly scathing kiss-off song, “Shooting Star” played on the club’s PA system the night I met Chelsey.

The emotional transformation I experienced around this time (when my mentality finally caught up with my biology, as Morrissey might’ve put it) had a lot to do with finally accepting myself and acting accordingly, a process no doubt helped along by close friends and a patient girl from Orange County, who decided to give a nice guy a chance for a change.

Two and a half years later now, and a phone call from my brother takes me back, and an essay is conceived. And though I find myself devoting less and less time to Smith’s music these days, it’s not because happiness has exposed its shortcomings (not in terms of quality, at least), but rather because happiness has reinforced the shortcomings of empathizing too closely for the sake of taking a perverse pleasure in suffering, which after a while has nothing to do with love, or the lack thereof (I wonder if Smith shared the same perversions). The objectivity I require at this point is simply not there, yet someday I hope to enjoy Smith’s catalog on different terms. Then again, if happiness means never being able to fully appreciate his work, then I have a bunch of Jim Croce records that will suffice.

The title of this piece comes directly from a song of the same name by Smith, not coincidentally the only one of his for which I lobbied to be played at our wedding reception, as it’s the one piece with which I feel safe to relate. I liked it for our reception because it spoke of the first morning-after with Chelsey, and fit neatly with our story. That it’s incredibly pretty helps.

“I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a girl/Who’s still around the morning after,” Smith sings, and yes, he speaks to afterglow, but more importantly to whatever tiny personal strides he’s made to get his foot back in the door with this girl (“We broke up a month ago and I grew up I didn’t know/I’d be around the morning after),” before ultimately conceding to the bitter truth about relationships: “They want you or they don’t,” he reasons. “Say yes,” he says to this particular one, and for a minute there you think he’s going to make it.


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April 23rd 2009

Ahhh. How sweet!

May 25th 2009

Uh, is this supposed to be about music or a Freshman-year personal essay assignment? Here’s a tip: try writing more about music in your music blog.

May 26th 2009

Funny, I thought I *was* writing about music. I didn’t realize relating it to the human condition was a no-no in the music blogosphere.

By the way, the jerk store called…

July 18th 2009

“They want you or they don’t,” he reasons. “Say yes,” he says to this particular one, and for a minute there you think he’s going to make it.
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People learn from different experiences of life.  After reading this , I realized one thing that we can’t judge the people who are really close to us.  I think Gary experienced the same thing. It’s a story of emotional transformation or one can say a very personal and touching story.  After receiving the phone call of his brother, Gary recollected the memories of the song and of the behavior of his brother with his mom.  He has expressed his emotions really well.

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September 15th 2011

Being another brick in the wall is very much how I still feel and hearing the song is always a great reminder. I think it is great that the writer relaters it with something else than just the limited music context.

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Definitely I have found the bitter truth about relationships and want to say yes, because why he says to this particular one, and for a minute where I think he’s going to make it. Thanks! ;)

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