"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)
Dec. 20, 1999
Tuesday afternoon, October 26
Jasmine doesn’t know I have persuaded Allison to do that three-way with Milt. Allison is almost broke … again. And when I tried to persuade Milt to see Jasmine instead, he objected: “She makes me feel like a bird on a timer.”
Jasmine takes a dim view of Allison’s goddess spiel — “superstitious people-pleasing claptrap,” as she calls it. But I’m oddly pleased by Allison’s reference to my “goddess” energy: Maybe it’s true that April resents me for having the respectable boyfriend and the solid client list, for seeming to have it all. I’m tempted to think of this as a feather in my cap, until I consider the havoc another girl’s jealousy can unleash.
Hesitantly, I told Allison that Jasmine wants us all to watch “The Kelly June Show” together. Allison was so pleased that I couldn’t get her off the phone. “I’m sorry about the things I said that night when I called you at two in the morning,” she said. “I said some very sexphobic things and I hope you know it wasn’t really about you, Nancy.”
Oh? I thought. It was me she was threatening, my boyfriend who could practically hear her, that night.
“I was struggling with my own sex-negative demons,” she explained. “Which were surfacing because of this terrible investigation.”
“Sexphobic?” I repeated.
“I used the word ‘cunt’ in a derogatory way,” Allison explained, apparently unable to say, I called you a cunt. “I’ve come to believe that the words for a woman’s essence should not be used to insult or express anger. I’m much more sex-positive than I used to be. I’m learning something new about my body every day.”
I hope she won’t be carrying on like this when we do our threeway with Milt. Well, must pick up some refreshments to take to Jasmine’s.
Wednesday, October 27
Last night, I was early for our viewing party in Jasmine’s living room. Jasmine followed me into the kitchen, chattering about her dinner at La Caravelle. “I was with ____ and I’m hearing his golf story for the 10th time and I look across the room for one second and David is getting up from a table in the corner! He was with a very delicate blond — hard to tell her age but maybe this was the aunt he told me about. She was extremely beautiful.”
I unwrapped two bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau and she handed me a corkscrew.
“Then he looked back at me,” Jasmine continued, flushed, “and there was so much electricity between us –” The door buzzer interrupted her before I could hear about the electricity: Allison.
I was about to check on the mini-knishes when — “Empty it!” — I suddenly heard Jasmine shouting orders at Allison.
“Right now! Here!” I let the oven door slam shut and ran into the foyer. Jasmine had Allison’s handbag upside down and its contents scattered across her hall table. “You aren’t coming in here without a full security check,” Jasmine said to her. I stared at Allison in shock, trying to find my most innocent-looking expression.
“Take off your raincoat!” said Jasmine. Allison was so horrified that she simply handed her new Searle coat over to Jasmine, who searched the pockets. Then she told Allison to disrobe.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
“Be quiet! I know what I’m doing … You don’t have to take it off,” Jasmine was saying. “Just unbutton this — and this.” Allison was glaring at me through tears as Jasmine briskly peeled her clothes apart. As her blouse opened, she stood a bit straighter — the instinctive reaction of a firm-breasted girl who has taken her clothes off many times, in better circumstances. Between sobs, she allowed her lace-covered breasts to jut out proudly.
“The snacks!” Jasmine exclaimed. “They’re burning!”
I rushed back to the kitchen, followed by Jasmine, while Allison tried to collect herself. “What the hell was all that?” I cried, as Jasmine sped toward the oven.
“Why didn’t you watch the knishes?” Jasmine demanded. “I was just making sure she wasn’t wired.” I abandoned Jasmine to her over- brown mini-knishes and returned to find Allison, whimpering as she fastened her blouse.
“I had no idea,” I consoled her. “I’m sorry. She wanted to make sure you weren’t wired.”
“Wired!” Allison shrieked.
“That’s right!” Jasmine yelled from the kitchen. “Nancy’s had enough trouble lately, thanks to you! And you can leave right now if you don’t like it. I’m not letting any new girls into my home without a full security check from now on.”
“But I’m not a new girl!” Allison wailed. “And you tore my button off.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t tear your clit off! The technology these days is remarkable. They make these tiny listening devices …” Jasmine trailed off as she tried to resolve the snack problem.
Jasmine appeared in the living room, glowing like Martha Stewart’s evil brunette twin and carrying three full wine glasses on a burled wood tray. “Allison first,” she said graciously, and Allison did not argue. “Well, now that we’re all together again — and we’ve established that nobody is concealing a tape recorder — I propose a toast.”
Allison swallowed some Beaujolais Nouveau. “Wait!” she protested, an idea apparently flickering. “What about you, god dammit? And you!” She cast an especially accusing look at me. Typical!
“Fine,” Jasmine agreed, setting her glass down. “We will all experience April’s 15 minutes in our underwear.”
“No, please,” I murmured. “Not tonight.”
But we indulged her, and soon had our clothes off. After the show-me-yours routine had been carried out to Allison’s satisfaction, Jasmine changed into a long black robe and black satin slippers. I dressed quickly and proposed a second toast: “To fairness?” I said, in something close to a simper. Allison had curled into a protective position on the couch clutching a square pillow on her lap. Jasmine took hold of the remote.
“Thanks to Nancy here, we’re spending an evening glued to some disgusting talk show following the fortunes and misfortunes of a blackmailing snitch from — Jesus, look at that awful haircut! It makes her look 800 years old!” Jasmine said, when April appeared on the screen.
Four women were seated in a semi-circle: April next to her lawyer, Anthea Walgreen, then a busty girl in thick round glasses, a red wig and a black pantsuit next to Kelly June. Underneath her close-up appeared the name: Roxana Blair, New York Council of Trollops (NYCOT).
“Is this for real?” Jasmine said.
“Very much so,” Allison said primly. “Roxana is a very brave woman.”
“Oh my god. You know this, this …” Jasmine sputtered. “Why is she wearing that terrible wig?”
“Because she’s risking everything to stand up for what she believes in!” Allison protested. “She doesn’t want to be recognized!”
“God,” Jasmine mumbled. We listened as April retold her doubtful atrocity tale. Anthea Walgreen nodded compassionately when April talked about how she had escaped from Anabel’s clutches only to be exploited by “a prostitution ring in New York.” We all looked at each other in alarm. Is this why Tom Winters keeps asking about Liane?
“Anabel is not the predator Ms. Walgreen has made her out to be,” Roxana was saying. “She is a working woman, an entrepreneur — not so different from April here — from a poor family. Anabel is being penalized because she has dared to transcend patriarchal concepts of sexual virtue that have kept all human beings in a state of sex-negative paralysis for millennia. To use these terms — degradation, exploitation — is to distort the life-affirming nature of our time-honored profession. Anabel is a social and sexual healer. She is being punished for using technology to empower other women and to heal our sexually crippled culture …” Roxana appeared to run out of steam for a moment.
“I was totally degraded!” April howled. “On the Internet!”
“Ms. Walgreen is under the impression that she’ll be getting a nice fee out of this suit,” Roxana went on, “but Anabel Weston has no money left! It’s all been spent on her defense –”
“No money?” April interrupted. “You New York girls think you know everything, don’t you? What do you know about Anabel Weston’s Web site? It ruined my life!”
Roxana looked away from April, embarrassed. The host turned to Anthea Walgreen, who intoned, “Thousands of women are cruelly exploited by the sexual-industrial complex in this country. The Internet is the latest vehicle for the trafficking of women’s bodies! The fact that Anabel Weston was once a prostitute herself does not justify her exploitation of others. She could have used her savings to go to school, to train for a new career. Instead, she built a Web site that was designed to attract rich predators — she was auctioning off her female employees to rich white men! Anabel Weston’s employees were virtual slaves! At the dawn of the 21st century, American women are virtual slaves!”
“Untrue!” Roxana objected. “This was a marketing gimmick — nothing more! The escorts were always free to come and go as they pleased. These were virtual auctions. Nobody was locked in a room –”
“And what these women experienced at the hands of these men was virtual rape!” Walgreen replied. “Anabel Weston will answer for what she has done to my client’s life!”
“Unfortunately, Anabel Weston is not here to defend herself,” Roxana said. “But she has the whole-hearted support of the New York Council of Trollops and of our sister affiliates around the world.”
“Around the world!” Jasmine harrumphed. “Someone has to tell her not to use that expression. And why doesn’t she just go after April? I mean, April’s the culprit here, not this frizzy-haired blabbermouth. Without April, Anthea Walgreen would be off instigating some other lawsuit. These ambulance chasers go where the clients are.”
Allison was staring at the screen, ignoring Jasmine, looking like a woman who had finally been admitted to Paradise.
“So,” Jasmine said, turning to her, “how do you know this Roxana Blair? And who the hell is she?”
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)