For a couple living together only part time, T. and I amassed a lot of shared possessions. The separation of banalities like camping gear and kitchen supplies felt like surgery, as if vital organs were being sliced away without my permission. I kept all the CDs, even the Elliott Smith discs I probably bought for him. He didn't ask for them back. He didn't ask for anything back beyond a few items I boxed up for him.

New Moon is a warm respite from those finalities, and a strange catalyst to begin forgiving someone so integral to your adulthood but with whom you never speak. But then music has bizarre healing qualities. No other stimulant, natural or otherwise, comes close in offering this permission to romanticize the past.

New Moon's collection of rare and unreleased tracks sounds tenderly familiar. I recognized two old Heatmiser songs, "See You Later" and "Half Right," on these discs, here stripped to the marrow. On these tracks, Smith used mikes like stethoscopes. You can hear the acoustic guitar strings squeak. You can hear Smith suck in quick breaths. You can hear the cluck of his mouth opening for the chorus. Sometimes there's nothing in the room but Smith and an echoey melody and unhappy endings with drugs and girls. Other songs bloom into those glorious upside-down-frown ballads where Smith transcends a momentous depression. I can step inside any one of these snapshots and remember a giddy intimacy with T. instead of our heartbreaking final weeks together.

Smith died tragically four years ago at the age of 34: His girlfriend found his body in their L.A. home, a steak knife protruding from his chest. The stabbing was originally ruled a suicide, although police later opened a murder investigation that remains unresolved. The interpretations of Smith's music are also inconclusive, critics now more than ever reading between the lines for clues in his songs. But in those empty spaces Smith left behind the life I see is my own.

I've spent a couple weeks with New Moon now. When they're not repeating through my speakers, Smith's music reloads automatically in my head. These are such beautiful songs, somehow happy and tragic, lonely and life-affirming. They've lodged hard in my throat and cracked grins on my face. Smith's music and my past turn figure eights in my head. The songs conjure bittersweet memories of this musician, of that ex, of a time when no one could have guessed how things would end for all of us. But somehow these two CDs make it all OK for a moment.

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