"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)
Global Village Idiot Rob Brezsny has announced his candidacy for a new Cabinet-level post that he hopes the next president will create: Fool Czar.
Roughly analogous to the role Barry McCaffrey plays as the nation’s Drug Czar, the Fool Czar would organize and lead an all-out War on Gravity — not the kind of gravity that holds our feet to the ground, but rather the absurdly sober, hyper- dignified literalism that infects every level of society.
Just as McCaffrey educates the nation on the hazards of drugs, the Fool Czar would work to show how dangerous it is to take everything so goddamn seriously all the time. He would also foster a national understanding of the threat from simplistic opinion-mongering that turns every issue into fodder for infantile arguments.
To demonstrate his sincerity and commitment, Brezsny has offered to literally kiss the bare asses of the three top presidential candidates. In the event that that would compromise their modesty, he has also indicated his willingness merely to pucker up and smooch the fully-clothed butts of Gore, Bush and Nader.
As the nation’s Fool Czar, Brezsny promises to be available around the clock to serve the buffoonery needs of the president and his cabinet. While he admits that he is not nearly as funny as, say, Chris Rock or Dennis Miller, he claims to have Herculean capacities for dreaming up laughable non sequiturs, inciting boisterous mockery and goading others to act as goofy as himself.
Upon taking office, Brezsny’s inaugural act would be to declare a spate of spanking new holidays, festivals and ceremonial traditions. They would include the following:
During this two-hour blowout every Tuesday afternoon, celebrants will have license to moan and complain and bitch about every single thing that’s driving them crazy. Having spewed all their venom in one neat ritual exorcism, they’ll be free to enjoy sweet moods and broadminded visions the rest of the time.
Dare to Be Boring Day
We all deserve a break from the oppressive demands to appear smart and be entertaining. On Dare to Be Boring Day, it will be socially unacceptable to demonstrate your wit and verve. Long-winded, rambling monologues full of excruciatingly obscure and unprovocative details will be mandatory. The more clichis and buzz words you use, the better. Discuss at length your Partridge Family album collection and the time you almost chose the baked Alaska for dessert, but didn’t.
During this week-long extravaganza, work and business will be suspended so that all patriotic adults can explore their repressed mojo with a welter of frothy erotic experiments. Orgiastic marathons will be encouraged. Orgasmic joy will be de rigueur. To promote acceptance of the holiday, the Fool Czar will head up a new Federal Bureau of Lust. Managed by advisors drawn not from the ranks of porn stars and scientific sex researchers but from poetically trained tantric masters, the Bureau will sponsor educational campaigns to help every citizen learn to honor the libido as a sacred gift from the Goddess.
Cheery Sleepy Week
Sleep deprivation has reached epidemic proportions, and the results are catastrophic. Dream-cheated somnambulists are responsible for the rise in incompetence, bad manners and mass hypnosis. During the seven-day and seven-night Cheery Sleepy Week, all Americans will be given the luxury of catching up on their lost ZZZZs. Millions of refreshed citizens will wear buttons that brag, “I slept nine hours last night and I ain’t ashamed!”
Let’s just admit that none of us will find our perfect partner until we master the art of loving ourselves with great ingenuity. As a government-sanctioned tradition, getting married to yourself will become the initial step in creating a successful relationship with a significant other. Each rite of matrimony will conclude with the celebrant gazing into a mirror and vowing, “I will never forsake you; I will always treat you with reverence and respect; I will do with you what the spring does to the cherry trees.”
The American genius for inadvertent surrealism is nowhere better illustrated than in the proximity of Halloween and Election Day. Why not just honor the obvious and combine the two into a single festival?
Break Bread With Your Nemesis
To observe this feast day, you simply invite the person who drives you crazy to an intimate dinner for two.
For 24 hours, judgmental criticism will be absolutely taboo. Revelers will stretch their imaginations as they try to praise everything and everyone as sincerely as possible, including themselves. It will be perfectly permissible for celebrants to take detours into brag therapy during which time they will boast recklessly about their own accomplishments.
Do What You Fear Festival
Here’s how the holiday works: First, you make a list of the 100 things you’re most afraid of. Next, you rate them from 1 to 100 in order of how badly they scare you. Then you agree to stop worrying about the bottom 95 fears because they just distract you from the five really interesting ones. Finally, you brainstorm about how you’re actually going to conquer those top five fears — by doing them.
YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR THIS WEEK
ARIES (March 21-April 19): It’s not a good time to buy stuff made in Indonesian sweat shops by young boys who’re paid 25 cents a day. I mean it’s never a good time to do that, but this week the karmic repercussions would be even more severe than usual. Same goes for being angry at the wrong targets, trying to slip by with a slight lack of integrity, or nursing fantasies about how unfairly you’ve been treated: You not only can’t get away with any of it, you’ll most likely be punished disproportionately. So be nice, Aries. Be as kind and sweet and loving and helpful as you’ve ever been. Force yourself if necessary. Oddly enough, the karmic rewards for magnanimous behavior will also be unusually large and immediate.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Howling the ecstatic poetry of the Sufi mystic Rumi while parachuting to earth would be good for your soul, as would bowling while wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. Other spiritually rejuvenating activities: meditating naked under a waterfall, making love in a treehouse, creating a royal crown for yourself out of a shower cap and lightbulbs, and fingerpainting your life story. Why, you ask? How could the cosmic omens possibly suggest such unusual behavior? Let me say for the record that God is by no means committed to the transitory cultural conventions of our brief slice of history. He is tricky and experimental and — most of all — loves to keep things moving. If you want to be more like Him, especially this week, imitate His fun-loving, revolutionary attitude.
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Strictly speaking, the sweet spot is the place on a tennis racquet or baseball bat where you get best results when striking the ball. But I’d like to expand the term to include the astrological phase you’re now in. You’ve arrived at the sweet spot, baby. From this vantage point, you can do no wrong. Or if you do make a “mistake,” it will precipitate wonderful coincidences. Here in the sweet spot, you are the embodiment of all that’s melodious, delicious and aromatic. Yum yum.
CANCER (June 21-July 22): Seeing double? I hope so. Deuces will be extremely wild this week. Contradictions will be sneakily helpful, and substitutes may turn out to be better than the originals. Your patron patron saint saint will be a musician friend of mine named Robin Robin. She’s a bisexual, ambidextrous, double-jointed shaman with a master’s degree in physics, and has mastered the exotic technique of singing two tones simultaneously. I’ll pray, my fellow Cancerian, that you will have her skill at going both ways. It’ll be invaluable when you come across two excellent double-or-nothing gambles.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): If you were a sperm bank baby, the coming weeks will be a good time to track down your dad. If you were raised by wolves in the forest, I suggest you return to your old haunts and hang out a while with your original tribe. If you’re the reincarnation of a 15th century Irish scullery maid, it’s a perfect moment to make a pilgrimage to the castle where you slaved away so many years. Once there, you should scrawl graffiti on the walls you once scrubbed, bragging about how far you’ve come. In conclusion, Leo, explore where you came from so you can update your memories. This is the key to unlocking your future.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Launching a new ship, are you? If and when you christen it, please make sure the champagne bottle actually shatters against the hull. If it’s intact after your first swing, keep smacking it until it does. In suggesting this, I don’t mean to give credence to the superstitious tradition that it’s bad luck for the glass not to crack. Let’s just say that smashing the bottle will be a decent symbol for a profound psycho-spiritual truth: that before embarking on a journey in a virgin vessel, it’s often wise to break an old container.
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): I don’t like the term “bitch-slap.” Everything about it is offensive to me, from its reference to a violent act that pimps use to keep their whores in line to its gratuitous use in comedy sketches and rap songs. Nevertheless, I am going to appropriate it for your needs. There is a part of you, you see, that needs a rather extreme form of therapy right now. This lazy, perverse aspect of your personality seems willing to prostitute itself for the sake of a goal that is ultimately not worthy of you. You are selling yourself too cheaply, my dear! You are devaluing your talents! Which is why I am hereby asking your fairy godmother or guardian angel to give you a spiritual version of a bitch-slap.
SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): After a long struggle, Norwegian Muslims recently won permission to proclaim “God is great” from a loudspeaker atop the World Islamic Mission mosque in Oslo. Shortly thereafter, atheists in that city were granted the right to electronically amplify their most cherished mantra, “There is no God,” from a nearby building. I bring this up, Scorpio, in the hope that it will inspire you to pump up the volume of your own communications — especially those messages you regard as essential expressions of who you are.
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Scientists recently produced a “working draft” of the human genome — an instruction manual detailing how the body is put together. I’m proud to be part of a civilization that’s smart enough to accomplish this feat, which some experts compare to the invention of the wheel. But I’m even more excited by a project that’s afforded considerably less fanfare: deciphering what depth psychologist James Hillman calls the “soul’s code.” If you’re interested in delving into your own spiritual genome, Sagittarius, this is a perfect time to do so. Here are questions to guide your investigation: What is the blueprint of your assignment from God? What mission did you come to Earth to carry out? How did the seed of your destiny reveal itself when you were young?
CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): If you threw a message in a bottle into the sea this week, chances are good you’d get an intriguing response from the other side of the world. Your range is breathtakingly vast, Capricorn; your influence is surprisingly far-reaching and your wild impulses are curiously productive. But that’s not all. I also believe you’ll be able to extract much more than the usual amounts of pleasure, insight and nourishment from every little daily experience. The depth of your resourcefulness will match the wide sweep of your vision.
AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Near the end of a walkabout through Germany’s Black Forest in November of 1978, I had a startling vision. I’d been sleeping outside and eating nothing but apples and brown bread for three weeks. My brain was scoured clean and my whole body surged with an erotic pantheistic strength. Gazing up to the top of a leafless ash tree, I seemed to see hovering there in the gray sky a silvery winged creature resembling a cross between Joan of Arc and Lucille Ball. “In the ninth month of the year 2000,” she murmured, “you must deliver to Aquarians this wonderful news: They will have a joyful opportunity to cure the ignorance that if unchecked would many years later be the source of their death.”
PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): “I come from a rich family,” begins a Vietnamese folk poem translated by Linh Dinh. “To marry me, my parents will demand/That you bring a hundred bolts of embroidered silk,/One hundred rubies,/twenty eight stars,/Two hundred bamboo trunks,/Nine vats of honey,/Ten baskets of rolled rice, ten hampers of sticky rice,/Seventy thousand goats, nine jugs of bubbly wine,/Banyan leaves plucked under a full moon/Fresh fly livers, mosquito fat and ninety widowed bats./These are the conditions that will satisfy my heart …” After you read this several times, Pisces, I’d like you to compose your own version. What tremendous gifts should your lovers or potential lovers bestow upon you in order to satisfy your heart? Use your imagination and don’t feel an ounce of guilt or inhibition. It’s time to know — and to say — exactly what you’re worth.
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HOMEWORK: Go outside after midnight, make two fists and punch the sky 10 times while you bellow, “Hey God, listen up! I’m gonna fight for what’s rightly mine!”
Rob Brezsny's weekly astrology column appears on Salon as well as on his own Web site and in print publications worldwide. Brezsny's novel, "The Televisionary Oracle," was released earlier this year. He lives near San Francisco.More Rob Brezsny.
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)