"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
BY CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Christopher Kelly delved into Cruise’s sexual ambiguity in certain roles, and his vulnerability,
as being particularly appealing to gays. I submit, however, that those qualities are universally appealing.
Tom Cruise is Everyman, as every man would like to think he is –
intelligent, handsome, caring, brilliantly successful and married to Nicole Kidman.
Cruise often illuminates a universal insecurity in men — an
insecurity they prefer to deny. It is the rare male who has not known
panic when confronted with his first sexual experience as an adult, confronted with a partner capable of
judging, capable of finding you wanting. The fear of failure is
deeply ingrained in men, who are raised to win at football, baseball –
virtually everything they do from a small age. It’s the American way.
Cruise has a way of cutting through the bullshit of manhood to
find the lonely and frightened little boy inside so many jocks — to
find, in fact, the complexity of the characters he plays. We are complex beings, after all;
Cruise has the inner peace to play the kinds of roles very few
actors can play without tripping over their own psychological land mines.
And while Kelly places these conflicts in a homoerotic context,
they are just as easily explained in religious and cultural terms. A
young man having sex for the first time is often swimming against a tide
of dos and don’ts and potential consequences, in addition to the problem
of wondering if he’s up to it.
– J.J. Maloney
This piece by Kelly, depicting Cruise as the underappreciated stand-in
for sexually frustrated gay men, only proves that Cruise is a physically
attractive man who had the good fortune to be cast in several films that
feature him in various states of undress. The same essay could probably be
written about Brad Pitt or any of several Hollywood actors that have had
rumors printed about their personal sexuality.
Kelly generalizes that Cruise resonates with gay men because
he plays “the man paralyzed by sex … unable to control his impulses,
and yet completely terrified to act upon them, he’s acting out emotions
that just about every gay person has experienced firsthand.” Maybe for
gay men in the ’50s. Or those who cower in the closet and read trite
essays like this. Get real.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Cruise holds no more fascination
with gay men than any other actor in Hollywood; he just has a good
publicity machine to make you believe he does. The piece left me feeling a bit like I had seen a recent
Hollywood film — cheated after having someone else’s one-handed fantasy
thrust in my face.
– Randy A. Riddle
Throw off those chains, doc!
BY JOE CONASON
Joe Conason is the first columnist I’ve read who has realized the obvious:
In joining with the insurance industry, the HMOs and the Republican
right, organized medicine made a pact with the devil. The AMA and
Health Care Inc. spent millions to defeat anything that even looked like
national health insurance — and they won. Now, instead of at least some
level of public accountability, the insurance companies are accountable
to no one except themselves. The irony is that the whole campaign was
fought in the name of “the right to choose.” Ask any HMO member just
how much choice they really have.
Insurers operate under what could be termed the “prime directive”: Pay no
claims. Every penny they pay out is a violation of that directive, and
they fight tooth and nail to adhere to it.
Doctors need to realize that, to the third-party payer, they are
production units whose function, like a machine or a line worker, is to
generate as much income for the company as possible. Their
“professional success” is increasingly defined as the degree to which
they contribute to the CEO’s compensation package.
– Paul Scoles, M.D.
I‘m surprised that it’s taking Americans so long to wake up to what we
Canadians have known since the 1950s — that when it comes to health care,
one government-run system is best. After all, sickness and accidents
take no heed of whether their victim is rich or poor; is a two-tiered
health care system not therefore the ultimate in class discrimination?
Even the best HMO plans have their limits — there are some things
which they consider simply too expensive to cover. Ask anyone who’s ever
been bankrupted by a brush with leukemia, for which the cure (chemo, radiation and a bone marrow transplant) can cost hundreds
of thousands of dollars.
It is true that our doctors make less money than their American cousins;
nevertheless, none of them are starving. Universal subsidized health care
has seen to it that they get a fair wage and then some. And they are
freed from the ugly procedure known as the “wallet biopsy”; they can
tend to the patient’s needs, and the patient can seek them out, both of
them being confident that the system is working in their mutual favor.
Doctors, not insurance accountants, are the ones ultimately responsible
for care, and patients are in control of which doctors treats them. Socialized medicine has freed me to see
whichever doctor I choose.
Of course, if certain conservative elements here get their way, that’s
going to go down the toilet. Already the meshes of the safety net are unraveling,
which is a shame. In the name of tax breaks for a wealthy few, the
not-so-wealthy majority of Canadians are already beginning to feel pain.
I am amused that U.S. doctors are now unionizing, instead of pressing for
the socialized medical system they should have been asking for all
along. Maybe they wouldn’t get so rich so fast, and maybe the public
would balk a bit at the extra taxes they’d have to pay, but they are all
complaining now of the untenability of the alternative — so why not get
on with it and nationalize health care?
– Sabina C. Becker
Attack of the devil dolls
BY RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
So the new Tarzan doll can be put into a position where it looks like it
is masturbating. I am willing to bet that it was most likely an adult
who figured this out, not a child. I seriously doubt any young boy has
ever looked at Tinky Winky and decided, then and there, to chase boys
instead of girls. Would the people who complain about these things
rather have Jar Jar Binks voiced by Stallone and carrying a laser
bazooka? Do we need heterosexual romance on the Teletubbies to placate
the Falwells of the world?
Kids never think of these purported dangerous sexual influences until an
adult points it out to them. Please stop inflicting your own hangups on
America’s children. We have enough problems already.
– David C. Wells
As a 17-year-old who sees attempts to strip rights and privileges from the young on a daily basis, I applaud you for realizing that the eternal struggle between puritanical parents and their kids is really about power. These parents use any means they can think of — including but not limited to brainwashing, threats, boycotts and lawsuits — to control their kids identity, beliefs and very thoughts. That is essentially what this debate (and the debate about violence in the media, and the supposed evils of the Internet) are all about.
The true reason that the Net is feared by parents is the same as the reason China fears it — that free access to information might allow kids to form their own ideas and opinions, instead of toeing the family (or party) line.
– Lorenzo Panarese
The write time
BY TRACY MAYOR
I have read Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction, and I don’t find
anything “exotic” about it. Lahiri is writing about experiences that many
Americans have had, though perhaps they are not the sort of Americans
who turn up in writing workshops or among the usual literary crowds of
the New Yorker (and perhaps not in Salon’s readership,
either). After years of reading American fiction, I’ve read in Lahiri’s works about experiences that echo my own. I am very proud of her accomplishment and her recognition.
So I just don’t get it. Why is Tracy Mayor grousing? Fiction writing is very competitive, and in America, it’s a clubby game. This year, Jhumpa Lahiri got into the club, but what
really matters is her writing from here on out. The accolades are just
a pit stop along the way. Mayor seems to be trying to cash in on the
fact that she was a former classmate of Lahiri, because Lahiri has attained
something that has thus far eluded Mayor.
By the way, the literary landscape of North America will change a lot
over the next generation. Can’t we get beyond tacky phrases such as
“exotic” or “far-off continents”?
– Vaswati R. Sinha
What joy to find a place that, finally, gives respectful attention to the
back-breaking and spirit-lifting journey that is motherhood! Thank you for printing this honest account of a writer’s struggle to maintain a strong identity while diving into the selflessness of motherhood.
As a young writer who was just beginning to get published when I found myself
unexpectedly pregnant six years ago, I can really relate to Mayor’s
struggles. Two children later (going on three), I have next to nothing to show in
print, but what a wealth of raw material!
– Anjali Nelson
Brilliant careers: Arthur Mitchell
BY NANCY HAWLEY
Nice to see an article on Arthur Mitchell. Unfortunately, it got a major
fact wrong: I covered the 1997 strike for Newsday and Dance Magazine, and
the dancers were not, as the article contends, striking for better pay. They were striking for better working conditions. It was the first strike by unionized dancers ever in the United States — and it
was particularly courageous because, unfortunately, these black ballet
dancers have little chance of getting work in other major ballet companies,
where there is still prejudice against African-Americans. These dancers
deserve better than to have their strike dismissed as ungrateful. The
strike tore them apart — there was crying on the picket line they set up to
stop Mitchell from auditioning scabs — precisely because they were
grateful for what Mitchell had given them, and for what he had achieved for
– Paul Ben-Itzak
Editor and publisher
The Dance Insider
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)