Two tickets torn in half, and nothing to do

Hi. I’m Dave. I’m a friend of Alex’s from way back. One might say I’m the Chuckie to his Will. Or … one might not.

In any case, when Alex told me he was writing a Good Will Hunting blog, I was immediately excited. Not only because I, too, think of the movie more than anyone probably should, but because I am a bit obsessed with Elliott Smith, and this would be yet another venue to vent the effects of my insanity.

I wish I could say I was hip to Elliott Smith from the very beginning; that I was a Portland rock scenester who knew him from Heatmiser. Instead, I was like many others: I heard him in Good Will Hunting and thought to myself, this – this is for me. I want this.

I saw Good Will Hunting on TV recently, and, as watching movies on television often goes, it was a disjointed experience. Commercials interrupted important scenes, profanities became fuzzy and ineffective (all the Southie boys say “friggin'”, right?). I hadn’t watched the movie too carefully since picking up Elliott Smith’s XO in 2000 or so, and it was interesting seeing it through the eyes of a Smith fan. The songs fit perfectly in the background, but they also periodically sneak out in front.

More than the theme song “Miss Misery”, “Between The Bars” is the perfect song for Good Will Hunting, with the dark humor of that punned title and the story of someone stuck in an alcohol-aided (or fueled?) rut. No, the boys in Good Will Hunting aren’t alcoholics (yet), but they are addicted to vices that keep them stagnant, a hole Will digs himself out of at the end of the movie, at which point Smith is replaced with “Afternoon Delight”, just as Either/Or, of which “Between The Bars” is the centerpiece, closes mercifully with the hopeful “Say Yes”.

I’m a musician, and there is no avoiding the fact that I rip off Smith at every turn. Not in terms of melody, but in feel and tone, and I try in vain to capture how his songs are each universes unto themselves. His melodies wind around a fixed point, always moving, but never so far you lose your bearings.

The day Elliott Smith died, I was surprised at how upset I was. I didn’t know him, after all. I think it was because the songs, despite a couple of decent posthumous releases, were gone, along with that sense of discovery. Discovery that so many people felt watching Good Will Hunting, and again seeing the poor bastard, eternally uncomfortable with success, playing at the 1997 Oscars.

That’s what I think of when I think of Good Will Hunting.

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Guest Contributor David Brusie is a musician and writer living in Boston. Check him out at davidbrusie.com.

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