"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)
“He’ll never get a blow job!” pregnant Abigail fretted, “if we don’t circumcise him.”
“Fellatio,” her husband Kent conceded, “is man’s best friend. But why won’t my son get sucked if he’s whole?”
The Berkeley, Calif., baby shower had disintegrated into yet another debate about circumcision. Every well-wisher on the festive patio knew that neo-natal Zachary already owned 15 stuffed animals, nine Dr. Seuss books and enough green overalls to costume an elf army, but the parents — like so many others — hadn’t determined yet if the tot would be sporting a foreskin.
“Smegma,” Abigail spat out the word, “is gross. Future girlfriends are going to gag if we don’t snip him.”
“Really?” Kent petitioned the room for support. “Is that true?”
Two women wrinkled their noses and nodded. The remainder said “probably.” They hadn’t actually licked any floppy fellas, but the elephantine trunks seemed potentially rank.
“Leave his weenie alone,” I spoke up. “You’re just culturally biased.”
“I’ve been there!” trilled Abigail. “I have tasted uncut men and I’ve had them wiggle inside me and I’m telling you: It’s rude and inferior.”
Her slice-happy statements terrified and conflicted me. I’m a hacked-and-bitter hetero who believes “male genital mutilation” should be abolished, but now I was wondering: Are “roundheads” actually yummier? Is my trimmed prick a superior love machine? Multiple reasons are posted in both the pro-circ and anti-circ columns (penile cancer, bloody baby trauma, zipper fodder, infant hygiene, AIDS resistance) but I had never before heard circumcision proposed as a sexual convenience for women.
Returning home, I telephoned Anne O’Leary, my San Francisco singer/dancer pal who has a promiscuous résumé with Teutons and Slavs. (Most Europeans, non-Muslim Asians and Africans, Latin Americans and Pacific Islanders are left unsevered.) She was eager to discuss her encounters with dick hoods: “Foreskin guys are more sensitive,” she revealed. “I can’t hump on them as hard and my pubic hairs chafe them. Foreskins are also like big tube socks with no elastic and sometimes it gets smelly in the tube-sock wrinkles. Especially with Germans, because they don’t consider body odor a turnoff.”
Her testimony was not an uncut recommendation. Sheaths are odoriferous, she implied, plus they’re whimpering sissies when the pumping gets passionate. What’s going on here? Two entirely different copulatory styles? Are Americans, Jews and Muslims pounding away with our antiseptic staffs while the remainder of the planet gingerly strokes a rancid, oily worm?
Cosi Fabian received my next call. She’s been a “sacred whore” for 15 years, plying her erotic trade like an ancient Babylonian temple prostitute. (Recently she was featured on a “20/20″ episode called “Women of the Night.”) “It sounds silly,” she admitted, “but I have to ask uncut men what a good touch is because I’m not sure what to do with the long, pointy, hanging thing. Esthetically, I also prefer cut to look at, but that’s a shame, really. Nature doesn’t make mistakes; my resistance is just fear of the unknown.”
Ah, the immigrant foreskin. Animalistic interloper in American bedsheets. Does the untampered organ cause queasy horror in American women, like viewing a phallus for the first time, but more of it? Are flayed penises the preference of cautious, lazy Ms. Americans, because they’re familiar? Hm …
“Tracy Traylor” — a British comedienne who insisted on using a pseudonym — sassily fielded my next assault of dirty dick questions. “Hand jobs and blow jobs and titty fucks are all easier with hooded chaps because you don’t need as much spit or lube,” she explained. “The foreskin simply glides up and down the shaft, and the taste doesn’t daunt me. Plus it’s fun to play peek-a-boo with the helmet and foreskin.”
What about intercourse? “Same thing,” she reiterated. “Foreskins create less friction, which is handy when I’m high on pot and therefore a little dry in the undercarriage. I don’t have to put up with a hard cock rubbing directly against the delicate pink tissues of my vagina or my rectum, depending what side of the fence my bloke’s on.”
Which penis is cuter? “Mind you,” Tracy frowned, “when you’re as sexy as I am you don’t often see a flaccid penis. But generally, the foreskin is not nice to look at — gobble gobble — it resembles a turkey’s neck. Very bestial. Or should I say fowl? But Yankee doodles look lonely without a jacket on. Ready for action, but sad.”
So far, my hypothesis was proving correct: Ladies prefer the meat they grew up around. This disappointed me — why isn’t imported sausage erotic? Is smegmatic flavor just too gamy for hyper-sanitary female American nostrils? I decided to dial the male queer studs I know; surely their olfactory organs weren’t as anal. Actually, “picky” is a better word.
Playwright Greg Nott (scribe of “Too Many Balls In The Air” and “Slam Bam Thank You Ma’am”) backed up my theory that gay men like it mustier. “Just thinking about that smell is enough to stir me,” he sighed. “And the gooeyness? Not distasteful. Quite the opposite. Love it love it love it.”
Poet Trebor Healy (author of “Big Cock Candy Mountain” and “The Star Spangled Boner”) agreed with Nott’s assessment. “I’m a big foreskin fan,” he raved. “It’s slimier, so you’re not dependent on lube. And the musky scent is a male pheromone hit!”
Performance artist Keith Hennessy completed the trio of homo pro-cap adherents, with some reservations. “I like a musty crotch,” he admitted. “But I’ve had moments when I’ve thought, whoa, that’s nasty! I have one (I’m Canadian) and several of my lovers have preferred me after a shower, so they can focus on the texture of my loose skin in their mouth, instead of the odor.” I couldn’t find any statistics that graphed gay infatuation with foreskins, but I did track down four wildly diverse studies that examined women’s cock choices.
Two University of Iowa professors, Marvel and Paul Williamson, claimed in the fall/winter 1988 issue of the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy that 71 to 83 percent of new mothers of sons “preferred circumcised penises for sexual activity … visual appeal and … hygiene.” Eighty-nine percent of these women had their sons’ organs abbreviated despite the American Academy of Pediatrics confession that circumcision is medically unnecessary. Obviously, Midwestern mommies are molding their boys’ genitalia into a shape they view as sexually pleasurable.
Another American survey posted on Circlist.org by James Badger, states that 57 percent of women find circumcised penises more visually attractive (33 percent disagree, 10 undecided) and a 2-1 ratio prefers sucking sliced meat.
Hand jobs, however, are more fun with a foreskin, by an identical 2-1 margin. Penis-in-vagina preference was evenly split in the U.S., but a similar survey that Badger e-mailed around Australia concluded that 83 percent of Down Under dames reach orgasm with circumcised men, while only 53 percent climax with natural dongs. That’s a whopping 30 percent better change of getting off with a baldy.
Internet surveys are scandalously sloppy. Perhaps that explains why two British doctors, K. and J. O’Hara, arrived at an opposite summary in their meticulous “The Effect of Male Circumcision on the Sexual Enjoyment of the Female Partner” study that was published in BJU International (a urology journal) in 1999. Females answering the O’Hara questionnaire were more likely to have vaginal orgasms, multiple orgasms, increased lubrication and eagerness “to really get into it” with an unaltered partner. The doc duo concluded that the sheath-within-a-sheath of intact penises leads to gentler strokes, increased contact with the clitoris and better sexual relationships.
What happened to the reek dilemma? Why aren’t UK women whining about stench? (Smegma is defined by sexologist William F. Fitzgerald as “the stuff that accumulates in the pouch, composed of oils, traces of urine and sloughed-off skin. It smells awful and tastes acrid.” He advises women to combat the crud with handi-wipes.) Apparently, Brits familiar with Stilton cheese don’t find anything offensive or even noticeable about uncut odors.
The majority of women worldwide — 60 to 80 percent of all males are uncirced — have also adapted their noses and tongues to accommodate foreskin cultures.
Are women ethical when they annihilate flesh that harbors dick-slime? “Of course not!” gasps Marilyn Milos, a registered nurse and the founder/director of NOCIRC. “I tell mothers, ‘Ask yourself what you’d smell like if you didn’t wash your crotch for three days.’” Intact males who are urged by girlfriends to chop off their hoods often call Milos for support. “I say to those guys, ‘Tell ‘em: You first, honey, I don’t like your clitoral hood.’” The feisty Marin County, Calif., nurse sees America’s foreskin-phobia as primarily psychological. “If you’ve been told your whole life ‘Ick, that’s dirty,’ how would you enjoy sex with it? We’ve got to stop that and start praising the sexual sensitivity of the foreskin and the enclosed mucus membrane of the protected glans.”
Abigail and Kent eventually decided to leave their son’s genitalia intact, persuaded partially by my crotch information. Will Zachary’s organ be loathed in his homeland? Traveling abroad, his happy cap would be foreplayed and glided inside and sensually sniffed by lovers who regarded him as sexy and tasty. But many American females will continue to view him as disgusting and stinky, unless we all learn to stop butchering the small, wrinkled controversial cap.
Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.More Hank Hyena.
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)