In my Alabama high school, our English teacher had us select writers to do a report on. She carefully went down the list announcing a name with a short one-line bio to quickly introduce the writer to the class. My hand shot up to claim Sylvia Plath when I learned she committed suicide in her thirties; I was morbidly intrigued. In preparation for that school report I remember sitting in the library with headphones on listening to a BBC recording Plath made of her poem "Lady Lazarus." I can still hear the tone in her voice when she announces: "I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it…. And I a smiling woman. I am only thirty. And like the cat I have nine times to die…. The second time I meant To last it out and not come back at all…. Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I've a call." At the time I couldn't help but read into every quiver as evidence that Plath knew she was going to take her own life shortly after writing and recording this poem.
I approach Elliott Smith's posthumous release New Moon with the same ears; with song titles like "Going Nowhere," "Whatever," "Almost Over" and "Big Decision," I thought I would hear something in the lyrics that would announce his early death in 2003 (which was first reported as a suicide, though the evidence is still inconclusive on whether or not the two stab wounds were self-inflicted). Epitaph Records released an album with some of his newer material in 2004, but in New Moon, Kill Rock Stars offers a 24-song double-CD with material he recorded between 1994 and 1997. The CDs offer more examples of his songwriting brilliance, using acoustic guitars and simple recordings that are the basis of his earlier work. I never really got into the overly produced stuff he put out after leaving Kill Rock Stars, so this CD offers a great look backwards at a sound that was so familiar to me in college. There are no big surprises on this album, but fans will enjoy these previously un-released tracks.