Like PJ Harvey’s “Angelene” the 1998 single “A Perfect Day, Elise” is loosely based on a J.D. Salinger New Yorker story.
Released in the album Is This Desire? the song alludes to Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which was originally published in 1948, but later collected in the author’s 1953 book Nine Stories.
The short story is about Seymour who just returned from World War II and his socialite comely wife Muriel vacationing at a resort. But his spouse seems to be oblivious to the vetaran’s mental health. Coming back from the war you can see that it has affected his personality negatively as a pale-faced Seymour has a hard time getting along with adults around him. But he gets along just fine with children as he befriends Sybil a 3-year-old blond-haired girl he meets at the resort.
Harvey mentions Sybil in the song’s second verse as she sings “the water soaked her blonde hair black.” But it’s the last two paragraphs of the story that PJ Harvey gets her muse from:
He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled on new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover.
He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.
Harvey adjusts her lyrics changing the room number from 507 to 509.
He got burned by the sun.
His face so pale and his hands so worn
Let himself in room 509,
Said a prayer pulled the trigger and cried,
‘It’s a perfect day, Elise’