Friday, March 23, 2018

Echo Park - Jay and the Americans - Elliot Smith

Laura had an apartment in Echo Park and Carl dropped us off.  She said she'd take me home.  Across from the lake there was a big stone wall dotted with stairwells.   There was a little picket gate by her steps; not that that would deter anyone.  It wasn’t the best of neighborhoods, but it was lovely.  You walked up the steps to a building that hugged the hilly terrain.  Laura had a tiny one bedroom with a view of the park and the Hollywood sign in the distance.  She had a big date palm heavy with fruit in front of the window. She made us supper.  She had Chinese greens and onions and she fried them in peanut oil and soy sauce.  We sat cross-legged on the floor on big pillows from Pier 1 and listened to records.  We listened to Late for the Sky and Desperado.  She said call your grandmother.  Tell her you’ll be home in the morning.  She had these mushrooms.  She said just try it.  I was reluctant, but it was Laura.  I hemmed and hawed and she said you’ll never be the same. 
"Do I want that?" I asked. I was 15 years old.
She put on Miles Davis and read from a book by Carlos Casteneda called A Separate Reality.  It was all about the desert and about the mind and I touched things and things touched me.  "I feel like I'm in water," I said.  She spilled a bottle of 7-Up and in its puddle of bubbles I saw the whole universe, and the next one.  Color.  Color.  Color.  Color.  I am a lonely painter; I live in a box of paints.  She was singing so beautifully.  The floor swirled like ice cream and then we were engulfed in white, the absence of color; there was ringing everywhere and I could hear my name (if only I could remember my name), and then there was her face by mine and she was lying on the couch and she said, "You’re my best friend.  Grow up and we'll be lovers," and I gripped the grass around me and ripped up handfuls of earth.  The ground was cold and damp and the frogs were chirping and they stopped and there was silence and at the first light of dawn Laura said, "Just play beautiful songs."  
I played "Never My Love" and "Little Wing" and "Over the Hills and Far Away." "That was a mistake," she said.  "I shouldn’t have taken you there." "No, I have a mind of my own." "No you don’t." "I do, though." "No, it's because you love me."  I made eggs to prove she was wrong; they were yellow, so yellow and delicious, and we walked around the lake in the damp morning air.                              
1857½ Lemoyne St.
I was in L.A. not long ago and went to see the old neighborhoods. I went to Tarzana and Benedict Canyon. My grandmother's apartment by the Bob's Big Boy on Van Nuys Blvd. was gone. The Bob's Big Boy was gone. I went to Echo park and drove around the lake. The little gate was still there and I walked up to see her place. I walked around the lake and over by Amy Semple McPherson's International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. I walked down Lemoyne Street and looked for 1857½ where Elliot Smith lived, and died on October 21, 2003. He is survived by his demons, Amy Semple unable to exorcise them. He'd had a fight with his girl that grew so heated that she locked herself in the bathroom. She heard Smith scream and unlocked the door to find a knife sticking out of his chest. After his death, police found a Post-it note that said simply, “I’m so sorry. Love, Elliott. God forgive me.” There is controversy about suicide or homicide and the case remains open to this day.

That's too much detail for AM, but the imagery was there in my mind as I played Either/Or. It's lyrics sharp like the knife, his emotional intelligence leaving half-assed cliches uprooted and turned on their heads ("Nobody broke your heart, you broke your own" or, particularly memorable, "You can do what you want to, whenever you want to, though it doesn't mean a fucking thing"). My lasting impression is of its hushed beauty and its screaming poignancy.