Saying goodbye to indie's sad prince.
Friends staged interventions. There were hospitalizations. At some point, he told me, aided by Paxil, he simply willed himself back into the light with this personal mantra: Things are going to work out and I am never going to stop insisting that things are going to work out.
On the last day I spent with Smith, we sat outside his bungalow, tucked away in a leafy section of Silver Lake. I asked him a lot of pretentious big-picture questions about love and death and God. At one point, I asked him if he thought suicide was courageous or cowardly.
"It's ugly and cruel and I really need my friends to stick around, but dying people should have that right," he said. "I was hospitalized for a while and I didn't have that option and it made me feel even crazier.
But I prefer not to appear as some sort of disturbed person. I think a lot of people try to get a lot of mileage out of it, like, 'I'm a tortured artist' or something. I'm not a tortured artist, and there's nothing really wrong with me. I just had a bad time for a while."
Even then, I could tell he didn't really believe that. It sounded like whistling past the graveyard.
In the two years since I spent time with Smith, I'd heard discouraging things: that he had fallen off the wagon--hard. That his manager--widely seen as one of the pillars of his sobriety--had given up on him and moved on. That his record company passed on his new album, supposedly titled From a Basement on the Hill.
His people still loved him, though. He sold out the Trocadero back in June without having released an album in three years. A few weeks ago he released a limited-edition 7-inch on the Seattle-based Suicide Squeeze label which contained two songs: "Pretty (Ugly Before)" and--again, in retrospect, this is about as subtle as writing "redrum" on the mirror in lipstick--"A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free." That's a long way from "things are going to work out and I am never going to stop insisting that they are going to work out."
Last week things did not work out. I don't know if he stopped insisting that they would, or he stopped believing what he was saying. Either way, 34 years was all he could stand and he couldn't take any more. We have to respect that. After all, he made it clear from the very beginning: Sooner or later the world will break your heart.
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