Things That Would Happen If Elliott Smith’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” Was As Popular As Gotye’s
The woman who always dances to the same Steve Miller Band songs day after day at the same Southern townie bar would pause and look up from her seemingly infinite rum and coke while displaying the vaguest sense of recognition that you would only (rightly) perceive as confusion. The order of things has been disrupted; a new type of sound overtakes the bar. Except, though, it’s nothing like the classical definition of “The New Music” as purveyed by “those damn kids.” It’s actually pretty antiquated, written in the long-forgotten singer-songwriter tradition. This isn’t a song by “Ze Beeps and Ze Boops.” The music communicates a timeless message in a profound way, and no French electronic musicians are involved.
The kind of naked beauty that would make even your beleaguered but unsophisticated dad stop and say, “Wow,” would be emanating through a 20-year-old jukebox that wouldn’t survive an unplugging or an Arthur Fonzarelli reference. After hearing this song, it becomes impossible for you ever to break up with anyone. How could you ever do this to a fellow human being? How could you live with yourself if their response was to write a song that would torment people trying to listen to listen — blithely — to top-40 radio and totally ruin not only their day, but also their outlook on life? What if the ultimate outcome of this mass disillusionment was a population decrease that threatened the future of the species? Do you want this sort of legacy on your shoulders? You decide you should never date and instead that you should bottle yourself into a Bell Jar and throw yourself down a Well of Loneliness.
Highway deaths would reach an unprecedented high. People were boppin’ along to Rhianna, the news would report, and all of a sudden they were blasted with a song so existentially paralyzing that they veered off the shoulder of I-95 and blasted into a guard rail, and that was it. Their last memory was probably of a former love that recently posted pictures of a newborn on Facebook, mothers across America would speculate of their deceased sons and daughters. This pandemic would gain national attention, and Tipper Gore would lobby for a moratorium on the song, claiming that it robs unsuspecting and non-consenting listeners of their youth and vision.
A black market economy would arise to provide dissemination of the now-Congress-banned samizdat. Burned copies of the song would be surreptitiously distributed from backpack to backpack in American high schools, and those in possession of the sonic material would be conferred with a special coolness at the same time that their grades dropped due to a newfound fatalistic attitude about the impermanence of success.
The nation’s economy would, obviously, enter into a period of total and utter disarray. Graduation rates would drop, and law enforcement officials who were once largely tied up with responding to Elliott Smith-related traffic accidents would now be even more largely tied up with controlling the distribution of his music, thanks to Tipper’s wildly successful campaign to treat it as a controlled substance. As expected, though, this status would only make the song more widely sought by bored teenagers and curious adults alike. Its effects would be exponentially extrapolated among the general public.
No other song on Figure 8 would gain any sort of traction, because the general public is notably unintelligent. Scientific and academic studies would agree on this. Those who were already fans of Elliott’s music before the apocalypse would die in a bitter state of confusion.
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It started with a right swipe, a little green heart. Tinder of course.
Though I acknowledge and appreciate the differences in human experiences, and while your heartbreak is (and always will be) uniquely and completely your own, I must urge you to consider that I have been where you are.
With his hat cocked back, body tilted away from his cane, and right forefinger pointing directly at his audience, Joseph Ducreux commands the attention of those viewing his self-portrait.
I was born in 1990; he was born in 1973. I’m 23; he just turned 40.