"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)
Media over-promotion of Sen. John McCain goes on and on. Where, oh, where will the alleged McCain voting bloc go, cries the bleeding-heart chorus, if Gov. George W. Bush, who actually won the Republican nomination, does not fall on his knees to kiss McCain’s signet ring?
No attention has been paid to an equally important question: Where will all the disaffected Bill Bradley Democrats (like me) go this fall if they decide they’ve had it up to the chops with the deceit and incompetence of the Clinton-Gore years?
Bush will never get my vote, since not only is he embarrassingly unprepared for the presidency but his party, with its weird congressional collection of milquetoasts, dodos and dunderheads, seems stuck in 1958. Nor can I imagine voting for Ralph Nader, the consumer-rights crusader turned flake who could no more govern than my hero Andy Warhol — another brooding, boyish, ethnic monastic.
But if the rotten-to-the-core superstructure of the Democratic Party assumes it’s got a lock on us Bradley supporters, think again. As someone who voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 Democratic primary (yes, I know he’s morphed into a pampered Vernon Jordan-style socialite and stagey race-baiter), I’ll use my vote where I think it’s most meaningful — and at this point, the ethical contortionist Al Gore hasn’t won it.
As a capitalist libertarian, I’ll be looking very seriously at Green Party candidates this fall to see if they’ve grown up. One whiff of creaky Marxism, however, and I’ll be gone. There’s a huge opening for smart, socially conscious, technology-savvy candidates on the left. But where are they?
Vis-`-vis McCain, Salon reader Richard D. Henkus indicts “the liberal cult of suffering”:
Have you considered the possibility that John McCain succeeded by playing the suffering card? Liberals have for very long been running the Suffering Sweepstakes, paying off to those willing to grovel and whine about how much they suffered, as if suffering were a certification of moral nobility. I suggest John McCain played the suffering card to catch the maudlin liberal imagination.
Sharp point, Mr. Henkus. The cloistered media personalities who fell head over heels for that choleric hawk McCain are a palpably p.c. lot who have no track record whatever for recognizing or respecting genuinely masculine men. There are a half dozen prominent political commentators who have totally lost my respect because of their dishonest or hysterical (take your pick) canonization of McCain, a manipulative waffler with a mediocre legislative record.
The behavior of those journalists at times crossed the line into real professional misconduct that future historians, in my view, will judge harshly. Waco didn’t go away, and neither will this. National security is at risk when reporters play kingmaker.
Another shot in the McCain wars: Paul Courtine writes from Bristol, England, to protest McCain’s easy treatment last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:
McCain said he would “stop all the smut and pornography on the Internet.” The presenter [host Tim Russert] did not say a single word about this incredible attack on the First Amendment. I could not believe he would let this outrageous comment pass by unchallenged. Still, when a Democratic president signs the unconstitutional Communications Decency Act into law, is it any wonder?
Yes, it’s disturbing if the reasonably non-partisan Russert let so flagrant a free-speech point pass. The Web is human imagination unleashed in all its perverse glory. Let the Puritans figure out how to jam their mealy corks (software
filters) into the dike, but they’ll never dam that raging river.
As I file this, the appalling spectacle over 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez continues, thanks to the endless blunders of the foot-dragging Clinton administration, which turned a family matter into an international confrontation. As this column maintained from the start, Elian, who had just lost his mother, should have immediately been returned to familiar surroundings and the custody of his father in Cuba. Allowing the traumatized boy to become attached to a “surrogate mother” in Miami, as predictably happened, was emotionally destructive and ethically coercive.
Kurt Schultz, writing from New Orleans, concurs:
Doesn’t anybody see the anti-dad, anti-male bias in this freak show? The mom abducted this kid without permission from the father and set out for the USA on a fucking inflatable tube! She is portrayed by the media as a freedom-loving hero who risked all to reach our shores.
In my opinion, she was a spiteful nutcase who nabbed her kid just to piss off her estranged husband. This was not a carefully planned expedition on a seaworthy boat but a foolhardy expedition that endangered her son. This was a 90-mile trip on inflatable water wings. She should have been brought up for child abuse!
If the situation were reversed — i.e., dad dead and mom left in Cuba — does anybody doubt that the child would be sent back already? We all know that mothers are more important than fathers, right?
I agree with you, Mr. Schultz. Congressman Charles B. Rangel rightly descries the double standard favoring Cuban-Americans because of their economic and electoral power: a Haitian or Jamaican refugee child would have been sent packing quick as a whistle on the overnight express.
How nice that the Washington Post, in its scathing March 28 article on Madeleine Albright (“Albright’s Influence Waning in Washington”), has finally caught on to the fact that her performance as secretary of state has been poor and at times (the Kosovo incursion) disastrous. This column, which applauded Albright’s appointment on feminist grounds, went into heavy protest mode when, at a public meeting at Ohio State University in Feb. 1998, she arrogantly treated American citizens like peons for daring to question the administration’s threatened bombing of Iraq.
Over the trestle in the Hillary Rodham Clinton department, there are a few nuggets to report. My view of Hillary’s reckless fomenting of race war against Big Chief Iron Cheeks, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was clear in my parody (yes, I wrote it) in Salon’s April Fools’ Day edition.
Whatever Giuliani’s relatively minor misjudgments in his handling of the police shooting of the unarmed Patrick Dorismond outside a midtown bar on March 16, the real problem is the New York Police Department’s over-reliance on covert sting operations in the drug war.
Despite its deplorable strong-arm tactics toward sex shops, the Giuliani administration deserves great credit for the reduction of crime and the general upgrading of quality of life in Manhattan. But undercover officers should be used very sparingly in a democracy. Systematic entrapment of citizens is a fascist exercise.
A far better deterrent to street crime, drug trafficking, and gang shootouts is more police in uniform walking a beat, mingling with the people and establishing warm relationships of mutual respect. Officers sealed off in their flashy cruisers or cantering by like Cossacks on horseback end up feeling and acting like an occupying army.
As for Hillary’s run for a Senate seat in a state where she has never lived (and where she ruthlessly drove out the hardworking, local pro-choice candidate who had earned the nomination, Rep. Nita Lowey), Brad Anderson sends this nifty contribution:
As a scholar (and fan) of decadence, I’m surprised you haven’t highlighted the kinship between Hillary Clinton and Diocletian’s horse. In his last act as emperor, Diocletian appointed his favorite horse to the Roman Senate, in the same way that Clinton is now appointing his favorite steed to our own Senate.
What a perfect way to express the contempt in which the Senate is held by the Executive! What institutional putrefaction! A Senate seat can now be doled out to a favorite with the same ease as a Third World ambassadorship! What’s worse: a senate seat in the northeast — that region whose senators constituted our House of Lords. It is the South’s revenge on the North.
Thanks, Mr. Anderson! When I saw the subject line of your message (“Hillary as Diocletian’s Horse”), I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. Let the imperial games begin!
I certainly had a chuckle at the screaming headline of the March 28 tabloid Globe: “Hillary’s List of Gay Lovers — What her rivals are threatening to expose.” Inside, amidst much heavy breathing, were butch photos of Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and New York lawyer Susan Thomases but little else aside from an improbable tale of a female model’s in-and-out “tryst” with the first lady in a “posh L.A. home.”
As I told the New York Post two years ago when these old rumors surfaced (thanks to smarmy former White House advisor Dick Morris), my gut instinct as a lesbian is that Hillary may well have experimented a bit in college, but everything about her since then screams Refrigerator Woman, cut off at the neck except when her faithless husband plays Huck Finn penitent and turns up the heat in the sugar shack.
Like McCain with the melting, simpering, tittering reporters, Hillary does know how to work and pump the homoerotic game to bind breathless, dazzled flunkies to her breast in the political pecking order. It’s an opportunistic art as old as the buzzing court of Darius. Jennifer Wise reports an interesting epiphany about “Our Lady Hillary”:
My friends and I may have stumbled across a clue to her personality on New Year’s Day, while watching her and President Clinton offer televised New Year’s wishes to the nation. We noticed with horror that Hillary wasn’t blinking. At all.
The room erupted with cries of, “BLINK, DAMMIT, BLINK!!!” “SHE’S NOT HUMAN!!!” We’ve all voted Democratic all our lives, and not one of us would want that woman even considering a run for office in our home states, especially as she could quite possibly be an android.
Yes — an android programmed with bureaucratic clichis of exquisite banality, falling like interstellar cinders on the hapless voters of New York.
One of the worst cases of campus censorship in years may have occurred last week at Georgetown University. I am grateful to the Independent Women’s Forum for alerting me immediately on the day that Robert Swope, a 21-year-old senior and government major from California, was summarily fired from his position as a columnist on the Hoya, the university newspaper.
The immediate cause was Swope’s attack on Eve Ensler’s femi-nazi extravaganza, “The Vagina Monologues,” which had just been performed on the Georgetown campus. The Hoya’s editors refused to print the column while it was still timely and gave a series of feeble excuses about why publication had to be deferred.
Swope, whom I contacted, allowed me to examine the record of his exchanges with the editors, including their contradictory and shifting responses leading to his dismissal. I conclude that the newspaper, probably reacting to multiple outside pressures, caved in to the forces of political correctness and violated Swope’s academic freedom.
While I haven’t reviewed all his prior columns, I did find Swope’s Feb. 11 critique of women’s studies on href="http://www.thehoya.com/viewpoint/021100/view3.htm">the Hoya Web site. “Women’s studies is a disaster,” he declared, calling it an “intellectually bankrupt academic fraud” that has been propped up by “cowardly”and “weak-willed” campus administrators. (Sounds right to me!) Asserting that women’s studies creates “an industry of professional victims,” Swope daringly called on alumni to protest by withholding donations from the university.
On Feb. 15, the Hoya published a lengthy rebuttal from a female associate dean, who accused Swope of purveying “misinformation” and complained that “20 inches of Hoya space” had been wasted on his views. Nothing could be clearer: The Hoya should grant ample space only to voices conforming to orthodox feminism.
Evidently, there have been voluminous other attacks on Swope, who was denounced last fall by the faculty advisor of the Women’s Center for his column questioning the political rationale of such centers on college campuses. That column, in her words, did not “represent a legitimate contribution to campus debate.” Again, nothing could be clearer: the only “legitimate” debate is one whose conclusions have been preordained by feminist overseers.
America, wake up! This incident is just the tip of the iceberg. On too many campuses, our students are in intellectual chains. How striking that at Georgetown University, a Catholic institution, the thought police and bullies are all on the left.
Indira Jacob asks what happened to “Camille Does the Oscars,” my annual camp fest for Salon since 1997. Well, after grumpily taking eight pages of notes as I yawned through last week’s boring, boring, boring Academy Awards ceremony, I said, “The hell with it!” and went to bed. I thought Chloë Sevigny and Ashley Judd looked great, as did Jane Fonda and Vanessa Williams in their own mature, seam-busting way. But that’s it.
How far Hollywood has fallen since the ecstatic evening in 1961 when a divinely radiant Elizabeth Taylor won her well-deserved Oscar for “Butterfield 8.” I will nurture those burning memories forever and try to blot out the depressing present, when a gimmicky grease monkey like Kevin Spacey (who belongs to the Daniel J. Travanti Sonorous Nosebone School of Ham Acting) takes home the gold.
Jay Cushman wonders why I have also been deafeningly silent about HBO’s lesbo polka, “If These Walls Could Talk 2,” repeatedly rebroadcast since its March 5 premiere. It’s because I’ve never gotten through the damned thing, with its lugubrious bathos, historical inaccuracies and sophomoric vulgarities.
I sampled all three parts but kept escaping to better things on other channels — such as Hurd Hatfield as Oscar Wilde’s beautiful ephebe hauntingly playing Chopin in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945), broadcast on Philadelphia’s PBS channel, WHYY. “What a relief to get back to the style, verve and class of gay men!” I trumpeted to my partner, Alison, that night, and she wholeheartedly agreed.
Now my all-star pop moments of the past three weeks. First, the smart, sexy and enchantingly luminous Jacqueline Bisset as bitchy Jackie O. in “The Greek Tycoon” (1978), broadcast on the Romance Classics channel. Second, the rampaging Tallulah Bankhead hilariously playing herself on Nickelodeon’s “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” one of my most cherished episodes in TV history.
Third, the volcanic Eric Roberts brilliantly capturing a real-life homicidal slimeball in Bob Fosse’s unnerving “Star 80″ (1983), broadcast on Bravo. Finally, blond-maned Melody Thomas Scott (willful, voracious Nikki for 20 wonderful years on “The Young and the Restless”) regally and enigmatically presiding over the nation’s grocery check-out lines from the cover of the March 28-April 11 issue of CBS Soaps in Depth, a pagan bible for our time.
Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her most recent book is "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems." You can write her at this address.More Camille Paglia.
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)