In a Nutshell
This song has all the hallmarks of an Elliott Smith tune: quietly strummed guitar, a smattering of piano, vocal harmonies, dark and pondering lyrics, and an intricate and engaging musical structure. But how exactly did a song that never graced an Elliott Smith album during his lifetime become such a signature track for the soft-spoken artist?
By examining the late Elliott Smith's background, including the unlikely story of how "Miss Misery" came to be nominated for an Oscar, as well the artist's unique perspectives on songwriting, perhaps we can come to better understand why this song and its creator hold a significant place in the hearts of many listeners.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Elliott Smith (vocals, guitars, bass, piano, organ, drums)
|Album||Good Will Hunting Original Soundtrack|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
In an interview with CMJ
, Elliot Smith talked about how literature was a huge inspiration to him: "I take a lot of cues from books because sometimes it seems hard to find records that I really, really like, and actually books have sparked my imagination more than music you hear on radio and television." Talking with NME
, he expressed his literary tastes very explicitly: "I like Beckett and Dostoevsky."
How do those authors relate to Smith's work? Well, Elliott Smith is often thought of as a tortured soul, and few define that role better than the narrator of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground
. The Underground Man feels alienated from society and also has a love interest that's just as stormy and uncertain as the one described in Smith's song.
As for Beckett, well, Smith said
of the inspiration for his album Figure 8
that, "I just like the idea of figure skaters trying to make this self contained perfect thing that involves a lot of effort but essentially goes nowhere." That reminds us a little bit of how in Beckett's play Waiting for Godot
, the people waiting for Godot (spoiler!) never actually meet him.
On the Charts
The Good Will Hunting Original Soundtrack
featuring "Miss Misery" peaked at #91 on the Billboard charts.
A version of the song reached #43 on iTunes charts in France in 2011 and #33 on iTunes charts in the Netherlands in 2010.