A Fond Farewell - Elliott Smith Song Meaning and Interpretation

A Fond Farewell

This is easily one of Elliott's most beautiful songs. It is included on his post-humous release From a Basement on The Hill . I have heard the song interpreted in a couple of different ways.

The first interpretation is a common one when it comes to Elliott's music - that it is essentially a suicide note. I disagree with this for a number of reasons. First, there is no doubt that Elliott Smith dealt with depression and drug abuse during his life, but the media portrayal of him as little more than a doom and gloom indie rocker is just that, a media portrayal. Second he wrote about drug use and suicide in his songs, using those things metaphorically for other, sometimes larger or at least different issues. And third, tying right into what I think the song is about, lots of Elliott's work expertly contrasted the intersection of and the tension between 'hope and depression' that so many of us deal with.

Elliott, quite often, wrote about not being out no matter how down things looked. Take this line from Bled White as an example:

I may not seem quite right
but i'm not fucked, not quite

Or these lines from a recently leaked song, Suicide Machine, which was not included on the Basement release:

baby got a place in the sun selling people shade

everything's alright
except for how it seems

Could it be that Elliott was speaking of his role being cast as the melancholic singer-songwriter, providing the sadness, even if that's not what he was all about.

In Fond Farewell, Elliott writes verses that seem to deal with despair as he alludes to things like drug abuse, but after each verse, he comes back with what could have been a hopeful, even defiant chorus:

this is not my life
it's just a fond farewell to a friend
it's not what i'm like
it's just a fond farewell to a friend
who couldn't get things right
fond farewell to a friend
this is not my life
it's just a fond farewell to a friend

Maybe it was the case that with A Fond Farewell , Elliott was echoing the way he was reported to be feeling by many months preceding his death - clean, healthy, optimistically working on a new record. He illustrates his problems in the song and then notes, maybe not triumphantly but at least hopefully, that that is no longer who he is, as he bids a 'fond farewell' to the person he used to be.

Elliott's death leaves these questions unanswered, but looking into his music in this way is an important exercise. In doing so, we keep alive his memory and the very possibly alternative scenario to a death that has been all but accepted as a suicide.

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Comments 8 comments

Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

This was good. Thank you.


composed profile image

composed 7 years ago from the place where I have what it takes Author

no problem... one of his best... and you gotta love YouTube for the bootlegs.


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

Elliott just picked up another fan.


anonymous  5 years ago

I always thought this song was about him and his life and how inside he felt like a different person than what he appeared to be or wanted to be to others around him. But he could never really figure out how to do that due to his inner demons, things that happened to him or his addictions. So it was sort of him living his life not happily or to his liking, but getting by with the way things turned for him, but knowing he could have been different but not knowing how to make that change.


danielbatista profile image

danielbatista 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Nice, one of my favorites of Elliott.


Oliver Steinn Bergsson 4 years ago

Very good my friend. Thank you from Iceland. Oliver.


ianmltn@gmail 9 months ago

This song really struck me much. I actually couldn't completely understand so I looked up the lyrics. I just realized, the meaning I see in this:

His friend is his physical self in this inherently limiting domain of existence which we call the third dimension of reality as we know it. He can take the psychic pain, if that's what he has to do to fit to some certain functionality- because he has such inspiration from his higher mind yet it's too much for this place. We all want to do so much and specifically, but things rarely turn out how we anticipate them. But none of the pain has to matter because this life does not actually define me. I will miss this life and all of you in it from the bottom of my heart. Who i am here will end, but I go on. A part of me has happened; passed on. and so in cherished reminiscing, farewell to all, and myself. His shadow waits around for its window to leave the dimension after the man has died of an overdose of heroin possibly. He's disconnecting from that person as the teller so you don't think of him, but rather the story which is him portraying himself. Disconnecting from the primate instance of what his higher self reflects; disconnecting from the genetic context I'm from, and onto something else.


Sandra white 6 months ago

I love the song by elliot smith a fond farewell...my nephew passed of a heroin overdose Oct 15 2015.this is the song he picked for him self if one day he was to pass away.and sadly it happened n we played this song at his funeral.I myself can't not listen to it cause it makes cry so much. Adam loved the lyrics to this song with all his struggles. He is at peace now.but God know I miss him every single day like crazy. I love u adam costilla. Forever in my heart.

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