Wordsmith Wednesday: Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing”

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Our words this Wednesday come from Elliott Smith’s song “Ballad of Big Nothing” off his record Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars, 1997).

The lyrics are:

“Do what you want to whenever you want to/
though it doesn’t mean a thing/
Big Nothing”

Smith is undoubtedly a master of commonplace melancholy, but these words speak to a ever-present psychic thread that pulls at my mind: life is inherently meaningless. All your desires and dreads are transient. Every personal triumph or tragedy only has as much importance as you ascribe to it. These lines always sound like a smirk in the face of people so bent on having what they perceive as freedom that they lose sight of the fact that your ability to do what you want doesn’t necessarily fulfill any ultimate end, but rather just gives you access to a million new beginnings. Real freedom probably lies somewhere between realizing there is no perfect, achievable end and being able to consciously choose which beginnings to ascribe meaning to. Oh, and I love the way he sings it.

– NR

ElliottSmith

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