Talk It Out - Brittney Westover - November 1, 2003
Jodi: Brittney, you have written a wonderful, beautiful song in tribute to the late, great, singer/songwriter Elliot Smith. Can you tell me about what inspired you and motivated you to pick up your guitar and start writing this song?
Brittney: I found out about Elliot’s death when I was in school. I have a songwriting class on Wednesdays.
Brittney: Yes, at MI. The girl that was sitting next to me, we were chatting, and she turns to me and says, “Did you hear about Elliot Smith?” I said, “No, what about him?” She was like, “He stabbed himself last night. He’s dead.” I was like, “Are you serious?” At first I was just hoping it was a rumor, you know? But, at the same time I could feel my eyes welling up with tears, because I had a feeling it was true. Throughout the day, my friends and people I knew who knew that I was a fan of Elliot Smith’s were calling me and saying, “Oh, did you hear the news?” So I kept on hearing about it over and over again, and that day I kept listening to his music and I just felt so sad. I couldn’t believe the loss that the music world has once again suffered. I just went home and started messing around. I was like, “I need to write a song about this guy. He’s too important.”Jodi: That is so beautiful. I love how art is a form of therapy and can heal our feelings when we’ve suffered losses and when we feel like we want to understand our own lives better. I think that’s a brilliant way to channel your energy. Is that something you do on a regular basis, use art to heal your wounds?
Brittney: Yeah. I always used to write poetry when I was younger, all throughout high school and for a while I stopped doing that. I just recently picked it up again, because I think it’s very important to document your feelings because it is, like you said, very therapeutic to write about it or to get it out of your system in some way like painting or singing or writing music. It’s so important.Jodi: Can you tell me what this song means to you and maybe what your favorite lyrics are and how you want it to be received by Elliot’s spirit perhaps, or by friends or other fans of Elliot’s?
Brittney: When I wrote the song, I just couldn’t stop thinking about how his girlfriend must have been feeling. Because as I understand it, she’s the one who found him in the morning just because they were living together at the time. I just couldn’t imagine what that would be like to be somebody who’s going through his depression with him. I think she was probably trying to help him out, and cheer him up all the time and keep him in good spirits and then to have something like this happen. She must have felt like a failure, or at least if I were in her shoes, I would have just been devastated. His fans can all relate to that too, I’m sure, because we’re like, connected to him in an intimate way as well, as listeners and lovers of his music. It’s just very hard for his fans to heal through the grief process as well, to realize we’re not going to hear any more songs from him.Jodi: Every time I see the word Alameda, I think of Elliot Smith. “She walks down Alameda…”
Brittney: Yeah. One of my favorite songs of his is Needle in the Hay. It was on The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack.Jodi: Right on.
Brittney: I can’t believe how brilliant he was at putting harmonies together and using his own voice through layering texture. How he was just a genius.Jodi: Depression is a serious disease that kills a lot of people. How do you view death and what do you think it means to die?
Brittney: I haven’t quite figured that out yet. It’s a very philosophical question. Dying is, and I think the reason that so many of us fear it is that it’s totally beyond our comprehension. It’s very hard for me to understand when a person gets to that point, where they’re feeling so low, that they just have tunnel vision and they really believe that there is no way that anything is going to get any better for them. I’ve been depressed. I may have not been that low below before, because I just don’t understand how a person could not see that little ray of light at the end of the tunnel that says, “This too shall pass.”Jodi: Hope in our life.
Brittney: Yeah. There’s always some little ray of hope, even when you’re hitting rock bottom, and I just wish he would have seen that.Jodi: Or have faith that things would get better.
Brittney: Yeah.Jodi: Do you believe in if it’s our time, it’s our time, that he wanted to go?
Brittney: Yeah, I do. To some extent, I think everything is meant to happen for a reason. This sounds kinds of morbid, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way, but if he hadn’t died, then I might not have had the inspiration to write this song and then I might not have had inspiration for a lot of things. Although I could have written this song about him as a live artist just as easily I’m sure. This might be like a spark of creativity.Jodi: Talking about sparks, and flames, and fires and inspiration, has writing the song helped you in any way deal with the tragedy of the Southern California fires? I know you live near the Simi Valley. Was there any part of the loss process or grieving process for Elliot Smith that got you through the fires?
Brittney: Yeah, I think so. It was so eerie that they started up after he died and I kept thinking, wow, he’s not around to see any of this, and I wonder how he would have reacted, and what he would have thought about all these fires. I kept thinking that he would have written a song about it, so I can write a song about the fires. So, I’m in a process of getting ideas together to write a song about all the big fires and the effects they’re having on everyone in Southern California. When a disaster like this hits, it brings people together. It makes people communicate. It gives people a reason to talk to each other, whereas they might not have had anything to talk about and felt like they couldn’t relate to each other before. It brings people together.Jodi: That’s a beautiful way of looking at it. In conclusion, is there a significance or symbolism to this? Why did Elliot stab himself in the heart, do you think? What does that mean to us? How does that make us feel?
Brittney: I think there is a little bit of symbolism to that. I keep on thinking about that too, because I think that’s such a terrible way to go. I can’t imagine the pain that he must have been feeling to inflict that kind of pain upon himself. It’s almost like a sacrificial thing. I keep telling my friends, “I’m not a suicidal person, but if I were, I would choose to go in a much more peaceful way.” Why not take a bottle of pills? He seemed to be one of these people who needed one final slice of pain and torture to set his tortured soul free. I don’t know. It’s sort of a masochistic thing. I hear about people swallowing razor blades and setting themselves on fire. Stabbing yourself through the heart to me isn’t that much better than hanging yourself or anything like that. It just to me means that he was in a lot of pain and he needed to physically express that in order to release himself, I guess.Jodi: So, if you could have any words of wisdom to share with fans and readers out there and music lovers and friends of Elliot’s out there, if you could say to somebody who might be in Elliot’s situation before and someone who is considering suicide, what could you say to offer them some peace or some hope or help them in a way other than, “things will get better,” what’s something real and practical someone could do towards saving their own life?
Brittney: It is hard to tell people in that situation that “things will get better” because they really don’t believe you when they’re at that point. I just think it’s important to have faith and to have music. I think music is a very good outlet for your feelings. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have music. If I’m feeling really bad, a lot of times, I listen to depressing music. It’s sort of a natural reaction to “misery loves company.” Even though you think that it would bring you down even more, it kind of puts me at a sense of ease. So, I guess, just listen to your favorite music. Like we discussed, it’s very good to have a creative outlet. Express those feelings. Some of the best art comes from people who are depressed, even on the verge of suicide. Maybe if they just had a creative outlet to pour that into, then it could prevent them from going through with it.Jodi: Because life is really a beautiful place and if we all could ask for help, we could then transform these negative, unhappy, sad feelings into a positive life and a positive view of the world, because eventually if our souls are eternal, I think we’re going to have to do that whether it’s this lifetime or next. So we can transform that pain into something that is healing and pleasurable and positive and growth, growing, when we deal with what is actually bothering us instead of acting out in a masochistic way. I think that’s way you’re saying, using music as the tool and the vehicle to identify who it is we are and to really help try to resolve these issues we experience so we come out of that as a more enlightening being, but more, just as a healthy, whole person.
Brittney: Right, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.Jodi: Thank you so much, Brittney. It’s amazing talk with you and hearing your viewpoint. I’m so a huge fan of Elliot Smith, and when I heard you perform your song – what the name of it?
Brittney: I just call it “Song for Elliot”.Jodi: When I heard “Song for Elliot” I really needed to talk with you because I just felt it was so important that we connect. So thank you for expressing yourself in “Song for Elliot” and letting us get to know Brittney. I think you’re really cool. I look forward to seeing a lot more of your work out there.
Brittney: Well, thank you.Jodi: Peace and love to you, okay and good luck with everything.
Brittney: You too. Thank you so much.Jodi: Oh, you’re welcome, sweetheart.