"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)
I’m happy to announce that this is a perfect moment. It’s a perfect moment for many reasons, but especially because I have been inspired to say a gigantic prayer for all of you. I’ve been roused to unleash a divinely greedy, apocalyptically healing prayer for each and every one of you — even those of you who don’t believe in the power of prayer.
And so I am starting to pray right now to the God of Gods … the God beyond all Gods … the Girlfriend of God … the Teacher of God … the Goddess who invented God.
Dear Goddess, You who never kill but only change:
I pray that my exuberant, suave and accidental words will move you to shower ferocious blessings down on everyone who reads this benediction.
I pray that you will give them what they don’t even know they want — not just the boons they think they need but everything they’ve always been afraid to even imagine or ask for.
Dear Goddess, You wealthy anarchist burning heaven to the ground:
Many of the divine chameleons out there don’t even know that their souls will live forever. So please use your blinding magic to help them see that they are all wildly creative geniuses too big for their own personalities.
Guide them to realize that they are all completely different from what they think they are and more exciting than they can possibly imagine.
Make it illegal, immoral, irrelevant, unpatriotic and totally tasteless for them to be in love with anyone or anything that’s no good for them.
O Goddess, You who give us so much love and pain mixed together that our morality is always on the verge of collapsing:
I beg you to cast a boisterous love spell that will nullify all the dumb ideas, bad decisions and nasty conditioning that have ever cursed the wise and sexy virtuosos out there.
Remove, banish, annihilate and laugh into oblivion any jinx that has clung to them, no matter how long they’ve suffered from it, and even if they’ve become accustomed or addicted to its ugly companionship.
And please conjure an aura of protection around them so that they will receive an early warning if they are ever about to act in such a way as to bring another hex or plague or voodoo into their lives in the future.
Dear Goddess, sweet Goddess, You sly universal virus with no fucking opinion:
I pray that you will help all the personal growth addicts out there become disciplined enough to go crazy in the name of creation, not destruction.
I pray that you will teach them the difference between oppressive self-control and liberating self-control, awaken in them the power to do the half-right thing when it is impossible to do the totally right thing.
Arouse the Wild Woman within them — even if they’re men.
And please give them bigger, better, more original sins and wilder, wetter, more interesting problems.
Dear Goddess, You pregnant slut who scorns all mediocre longing:
I pray that you will inspire all the compassionate rascals communing with this prayer to love their enemies just in case their friends turn out to be jerks.
Provoke them to throw away or give away all the things they own that encourage them to believe that they are better than anyone else.
Show them how much fun it is to brag about what they cannot do and do not have.
Most of all, Goddess, brainwash them with your freedom so that they never love their own pain more than anyone else’s pain.
Dear Goddess, You psychedelic mushroom cloud at the center of all our brains:
The curiously divine human beings reading this prayer deserve everything they are yearning for and much, much more.
So please bless them with lucid dreams while they are wide awake and solar-energy-operated sex toys that work even in the dark and vacuum cleaners for their magic carpets and a knack for avoiding other people’s hells and their very own 900 number so that everyone has to pay to talk to them and a secret admirer who is not a psychotic stalker.
Dear Goddess, You fiercely tender, hauntingly reassuring, orgiastically sacred feeling that is even now running through all of our soft, warm animal bodies:
I pray that you provide everyone out there with a license to bend and even break all rules, laws and traditions that keep them apart from the things they love.
Show them how to purge the wishy-washy wishes that distract them from their daring, dramatic, divine desires.
And teach them that they can have anything they want if they’ll only ask for it in an unselfish way.
And now dear God of Gods, God beyond all Gods, Girlfriend of God, Teacher of God, Goddess who invented God, I bring this prayer to a close, trusting that in these mysterious moments you have begun to change everyone out there in the exact way they’ve needed to change in order to express their soul’s code.
Amen. Awomen. And glory halle-fucking-lujah.
YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR THIS WEEK
ARIES (March 21-April 19): I predict that by the year 2050 most everyone will have a sweet-tempered android or two that will function as best friends and personal servants, sometimes even as lovers and spouses. The downside of this development, which will be regarded as an upside by most people 50 years hence, is that these artificial life forms will be programmed to act as if their owners can do no wrong. Our descendants may therefore have little incentive to cultivate intimate friendships with unpredictable humans who don’t treat them like royalty. But that’s then. This is now. Nothing would be better for you in the next few weeks than to intensify your quest for intimate friendships with unpredictable but trustworthy humans who treat you well but not like royalty.
TAURUS ((April 20-May 20): No one around you seems capable of seeing, let alone appreciating, the radical nature of your recent labors. To ensure that you don’t take this as a sign that they’re not worth much, I will name them. You’ve been learning, for instance, to love what you can’t control. You’re seeing that you don’t need to imitate humorless drones and greedy jerks in order to match their proficiency. You’re finding out that you can actually change yourself by adjusting other people’s images of you. And finally, you’re figuring out that sometimes it’s to your advantage to slip through the cracks in the system.
GEMINI (May 21-June 20):The Greek philosopher Plato believed we suffer from amnesia about our real origins. He thought that the soul dwells in paradise before incarnating in a body, but loses all recollection of it at birth. “Anamnesis” was Plato’s term for the process by which we might overcome our forgetfulness and recover the wonderful truth. In recent years, many people have experienced a dark variant of anamnesis, resuscitating childhood traumas they have long repressed. I say it’s high time to revive the original sense of the word, Gemini — and you’re the perfect candidate. The planets say you’re on track to remember who you are and where you came from. Now get yourself to a comfy sanctuary and gaze at the inside of your mind until you’re basking in your most pleasurably pivotal and reassuring memories.
CANCER (June 21-July 22): I’m in a cranky, out-of-sync mood. So why don’t I wait to compose your oracle until I’ve banished my blahs? Because that would go against the grain of everything I believe in. As a practicing artist and honorary female, I never ignore my feelings and try to power through with business-as-usual. I’m devoutly committed to learning from my sour states. They almost always harbor valuable secrets that become available to me only if I treat them with patient respect. The trick, of course, is to not go too far and begin wallowing in them. There’s a fine line between taking my suffering seriously and taking it too damn seriously. All of what I’ve just said is meant to serve as role modeling for you, Cancerian, as you navigate your way through this week.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): The Relationships Olympics will get under way shortly. Your early compulsories include Freestyle Commitment, Synchronized Mind-Reading, Endurance-Kissing, and the Jealousy Squelch. In a few days, if you make the cuts, you’ll have earned the right to compete in the Triple Backwards Leap of Faith and the Sexual Healing Pentathlon. You have a realistic shot at a medal in both these categories–especially if you’ve studied and used all the secret tantric tips I’ve slipped you in recent months.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): The planets are sentient beings whose intelligence is beyond our capacity to perceive. Still, they love to be acknowledged by us humans. To assist you in remembering them in correct order (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto), I’ve cooked up mnemonic devices. In the following phrases, the first letter of each word corresponds to the first letter of a heavenly body. 1. Many Virgos’ Errant Mirages Joyfully Sink Under Nimble Prodding. 2. Murky Valuable Emotions Might Just Solidify Upon Nuanced Persistence. 3. Melodramatic Victimhood Entirely Melts, Jettisoning Silly, Ugly Nostalgia Pains. 4. Monkish Virgos Embrace Muses Jubilantly, Spurring Utopian Nuzzle Perfection. (By the way, these phrases are magic spells specially designed for your use this week. And they really work!)
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): The past few weeks have been a test. They have only been a kick-ass, crazy-making test. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been given poetic license to dance naked down a busy street at high noon while caterwauling a German translation of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” in a Cajun accent. As I hope you can plainly see now, though, it makes no difference whether you truly went to hell and back or just performed a simulated version of that trip in the privacy of your own mind. The result in either case is exactly the same. You used to just be smart. Now you’re freakin’ wise.
SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): If you were about to graduate (which in a sense you are), and you handed me your yearbook, this is what I’d write in it: “May you stay as fiercely cute as you are. May the transformations you bravely unleash next in your life be greeted with excitement and curiosity, not fear and resistance. May you think deep thoughts without becoming a pretentious know-it-all. May you stay on really good terms with G spots, X factors, and the C students who seem to be in charge of running everything. May you never have a cat food jingle running through your head while you make love. Adoringly, Your Secret Admirer.”
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): The Kiriwina society of the Trobriand Islands have a word, “mokita,” that refers to a truth everyone is aware of but no one ever talks about. Do you know what the “mokita” is among your own people? If you want your tribe to avoid becoming stagnant in the next few months, I believe you should lead the way in dealing more forthrightly with its least discussed but most draining limitation. Even if it means deflating the illusion you’re most fond of. Even if it requires you to ask people you respect to explore mysteries they’ve staunchly ignored.
CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): As I woke up this morning, a voice from my dream said, “Tell Capricorn that the juggler should go for the jugular.” Let’s analyze the symbolism of that enigmatic oracle. A juggler is skilled at an art that looks simple but takes a lot of practice. With a light touch and burning concentration, the juggler improvises buoyant stability in the midst of bubbling flux. Maybe the informant in my dream was suggesting that this is the frame of mind you should be in as you close in on your prey.
AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Congratulations, you slippery survivor. You’ve reached the end of the Big Squeeze. You’ve served your time in the bottleneck. You may hereby relax your pinched expression, your puckered expectations, and your anal sphincter. Now let the Hour of the Guinea Pig begin. A host of elegant experiments will soon be available for you to browse. Please research each one thoroughly before volunteering, and try to get yourself allied with researchers who have a wealth of adroit experience and a fondness for playing.
PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): You want epic prophecy in the style of the ancients? Here it is, baby. You will soon take the first step in a rambling journey that will begin near the magic garage and lead you to the painted forest. There, after defeating the servants of the lazy wizard, you’ll encounter a giant midget through whose influence you will be faced with too many choices. Will you opt for the golden eggs, O seeker, or the silver chalice? A blissful dunk in the river of forgetfulness or an ascetic vacation in the cave of knowledge? The key to fishy treasure in the haunted parking lot or the map to the pot of shoes at the end of the dark rainbow? Heed well these magic passwords, O pilgrim, for they will keep you focused when the decisions seem too momentous: slunky dunky poochy patchy goo … itchy crunchy wibblie wobblie boo.
- – - – - – - – - – - - Tell what heroic deeds you plan to pull off before the year ends. Write freewillastrology.com
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)