Thursday, 3 March 2016

A Comedy of Errors

My very own Elliott Smith memory has to do with black and white TV. A big bulky 1970s piece with a protruding screen. A green transistor box underneath, which you had to tinker with to make the image less grainy. From the scariest X-Files episodes to that Michael Owen goal that sent me whooping around the room, I saw it all through that screen. In an old country house that probably doesn't exist anymore. 

And, miraculously, there was Elliott Smith. It was 1998 (same year that England played Argentina in that memorable World Cup match), and it was an Academy Awards ceremony that was destined to be a blowout. And it was.

Not that I could complain. I had just seen Titanic for the second time (in the intimate and bizarre setting of a tiny village cinema with the audience laughing randomly and making obscene jokes) and, again, loved it to bits. I was sentimental before there was anything to be sentimental about. And so I rooted for Titanic to win it all, and felt terrible pain for the two leading actors who were so cruelly snubbed.   

Best picture, best cinematography, best score, best special effects, best screenplay and, of course, best song.

The song that you could not deny. You can deny it now, easily, like you can mock the humourless Canadian star who sang it. But not then, not in 1997. And certainly not at the end of March in 1998 when she performed it on some stage which, according to my old TV set, could be in Los Angeles but could equally be anywhere else.

In her long dress (grey, of course, I will probably never find out the true colour), she did it well. And so she had to win. Obviously there was no chance she could lose to this ridiculous little man in an oversized white suit (I would later discover that he borrowed it from Beck) performing in that brittle voice a very slight tune that may have been charming but was in all honesty a travesty of a competition. Lush orchestration couldn't help.

And that is my Elliott Smith memory. Ironically, years have passed and for me it is the only Academy Awards performance that counts. A few good songs here and there, a few surprises, but Elliott Smith awkwardly performing "Miss Misery" on that overblown stage - that's all that matters.

This is the performance, in all its coloured glory:

P.S. Madonna, apparently, was a fan. Was that half a smile from her?..