The CD sleeve was $9.98, and it was perfect for the 10 or so hours driving through the California hills and into the valleys of wine country. It contained a perfect record. One that I had enjoyed with my daughter Jessica when I flew her out to San Francisco for a weekend in 1999.

Last night I stumbled upon the last ten minutes of 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” the film that helped Ben Affleck score JLo and Jennifer Garner. Anyway, as Matt (no relation to Johnny) Damon’s Will drives along the highway at the end, the song accompanying him is “Miss Misery” by Elliott Smith. It was nominated for an Oscar that year and may have been the apex of Smith’s career. He struggled with addictions, including heroin, and his lyrics were often sad, and sometimes self-loathing. He died from a self-inflicted stab wound to his heart on October 21, 2003.

The perfect record is his “XO” from 1998. XO’s lushness and melodies would have been a grand companion in the gorgeous valleys, just like a perfect wine pairing to a lucious meal. Jessica and I were immersed in it as we drove down the windswept Pacific Coast Highway toward Monterey that time she saw San Francisco for the first, and perhaps last time. That seems like a sad lifetime ago… Unfortunately this time, XO never made it out of the case.

The poignant irony of Elliott Smith’s music I’ll paraphrase from a story Neda Ulaby did on NPR. She said “Smith could help answer feelings in others that he was unable to answer in himself.”


Elliott Smith – Miss Misery
I’ll fake it through the day
With some help from Johnny Walker Red

Send the poison rain down the drain

To put bad thoughts in my head

Two tickets torn in half

And a lot of nothin’ to do

Do you miss me, Miss Misery

Like you say you do

A man in the park

Read the lines in my hand
Told me I’m strong
Hardly ever wrong
I said
‘Man you mean–‘
You had plans for both of us

That involved a trip out of town

To a place I’ve seen in a magazine

That you’d left lyin’ around

I don’t have you with me

But I keep a good attitude

Do you miss me, Miss Misery

Like you say you do

I know you’d rather see me gone

Than to see me the way that I am

But I am in your life any way

Next door the T.V.’s flashing

Blue frames on the wall

It’s a comedy of errors you see
It’s about taking a fall

To vanish into oblivion

It’s easy to do

And I tried to leave but you know me

I come back when you want me to.

Do you miss me, Miss Misery

Like you say you do