"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)
Bianca Jagger is an internationally famous political activist.
I was born in Nicaragua, in a country where we had a dictatorship for 43 years. I grew up as a child not knowing what free elections meant. I longed through those years to be able to live in a country that abides by the principles of democracy. I used to think that America was a place where the will of the people elected a president. Having observed elections in third-world countries and having observed the irregularities that took place in the elections in America, I saw similarities. If a parallel situation had taken place in a third-world country, we would have called it fraud. We would have called for reelections or a recounting of the votes.
This is not a shining moment for American democracy because, in the end, Americans have opted to preserve the institutions rather than to preserve democracy. Vice President Gore was pushed into a wall. From every side they urged him to be gracious and to come out and concede defeat. But the truth, which we all know, was that this election was won by Gore, and that President-elect Bush is usurping the position of the presidency. He has stolen the presidency from Gore. I think a lot of people are frightened and too cautious of using plain English. The American media is afraid to use the word “fraud.” Why? It is important for Americans who believe in democracy, its principles and independent legal institutions to speak up.
Electoral reform is imperative, but that comes after. Why are we not talking about today? Why are Americans so willing to accept an election that is fraudulent?
George W. Bush will never have respect or legitimacy. I do hope that someone — a newspaper or institution — will under the Freedom of Information Act count the votes so that there will be no doubt that Gore was the winner, and that Gore’s victory was stolen from him and that a president who did not win the race is in place in America. America has to address and face up to that because the rest of the world is already speaking about it.
In America, people are using conciliatory language about how we need to unite the country. But no matter how conciliatory the language is, you cannot erase the fact that these elections were fraudulent, that there was intimidation and that the vote of minorities was constrained. In any other place where I have been an observer to the elections and have seen that, we have cried foul.
The time will come when this travesty will have to end and people will face up to the fact that the will of the people was not respected in America, and that the president-elect is not the president that the voters wanted in place.
Roger Ebert is a film critic.
For me the great symbol of the Florida recount does not involve Bush or Gore, Daley or Baker. It involves the three election commissioners of Palm Beach County, holding open meetings in the bright Florida sunshine. Their names were Judge Charles Burton, Carol Roberts and Theresa LePore.
It was possible, we thought at the time, that they held the outcome of the election in their hands. Yet the world could see them debating the issues and taking their votes, right there on live television. There were no commissars or dictators lurking in the shadows. No jail cells or exile in their future–not even for Ms. LePore, who designed the ill-fated ballot. Meanwhile, our current president, far from planning a coup, was on the other side of the world, visiting our former enemy Vietnam.
These three citizens, plucked from obscurity by the chance of a close vote, performed their civic duty as if they were born to it. Like all Americans, they were. They assumed they had the right to try their best to figure out this thing.
Later, we had the sight of hundreds of citizens performing the hand count. The sight of ordinary people, holding a ballot up to the light, trying to ascertain the will of every single individual voter, was a powerful image in the service of democracy. How much light is allowed to fall on the ballots in many of the world’s elections, and how much scrutiny does each one ever receive?
The Florida affair also dramatized the role that women play in our democracy. In many nations women do not have the vote, and in some they essentially have no rights as all, except to be property. At times during the Florida recount process the whole struggle seemed to come down to two women: Secretary of State Katherine Harris, hell-bent to stop the recount, and Election Commissioner Carol Roberts, steel-willed that it continue. Roberts told her fellow commissioners, “There are three remedies under the law for us to choose from,” and in her voice you heard democracy speaking from the people up, not from the top down. As the process entered its endgame, a third woman appeared: Judge Nikki Clark, calm, firm and sane as she guided two overheated legal teams through the Seminole County case.
There was a lot of talk among the pundits about how impatient the people were getting, questions about how long the process could or should be drawn out. I heard none of that talk. Did you? The average citizen, fascinated by the process, wanted it to continue until a winner was made clear.
Of course a winner was not made clear. One was selected by judicial default rather than elected. But to stubbornly look on the bright side, even this was done in the full light of day: Anyone who cared enough could figure out, in the words of the immortal limerick, who did what, and with which, and to whom. The Florida episode may have shaken my faith in a lot of things, but I still believe it concealed no conspiracies or plots: What was done, for good or ill, was seen to be done.
We should take that image of an election volunteer peering intently at a single ballot, and put it on a postage stamp. A stamp with the correct postage for international mail.
Todd Gitlin is professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University and the author of “The Sixties,” “The Twilight of Common Dreams” and a new novel, “Sacrifice.”
These felt to me like high-school-level consolation talks in which each tries to persuade the followers of the other that the result isn’t so bad. The term “presidentiality,” which has spread like an ooze to cover the emptiness of what mainstream politics has to offer, has deservedly been invoked to describe what these men had to offer, demonstrating nothing more than the reasons why so much of America was not ignited by either of them.
There’s not much that I have to say about these talks as such. They were written for the pundits as rituals to soothe, but I doubt that they will deliver much soothing — nor do they deserve to — to those who doubted the stature and merits of the candidates in the first place.
Once again we were treated to the spectacle of the commentary chorus heralding the forthcoming “bringing us together” theme. I thought the pundits outdid themselves in blather. Chris Matthews [of MSNBC] spoke of Al Gore’s “sublime masculinity.” I think we need more investigation of what that might have meant.
I heard that Al Gore made a beautiful speech. I don’t know where I was when that speech was delivered. I heard a labored and forced incantation, vastly less eloquent than the look on Joe Lieberman’s face, which in its gravity spoke of social consequences that will likely be considerable.
To me this was a grave anticlimax. The country has been subjected to an appalling abuse of democratic rights, in particular the right to vote. It’s a trauma that has to be faced squarely and not smothered in empty unity talk, and I profoundly hope that Democrats will not forget why they received 50 percent of the vote.
David Horowitz is a Salon columnist.
Gore’s concession was as good as it could be. I can’t say he redeemed himself, but he certainly positioned himself for the next run. I think it was what was needed. For the moment, he’s effectively isolated Jesse Jackson, which is a good thing.
Bush was a lot more relaxed than he has been. People are going to be very surprised. He has it in him to be a great president. It’s going to be hard to resist the charm. His agendas are very much where the American people are. He’s been tremendously underestimated, and I’m looking forward to this presidency.
Bush should take steps on Social Security, education and healthcare. He needs to do a few bipartisan things. This was a brutal campaign. He’s been attacked as a moron and a racist — both of which are ridiculous. He’s going to have to take some time to establish himself. In the sense that he’s a people person, he’s a true leader. He has the ability and the patience to bring people along with him.
He’s going to give the African-American community a chance to take a look at their absurd voting postures and their absurd attacks on him. For the African-Americans of the inner city, I sure hope that the leadership gives him a chance and reciprocates his gestures.
I’d like to see them reform the electoral system. I don’t care how much money they spend to get the decent machines. They need to ensure that people don’t vote two and three times and to make sure that the voting procedures are standardized and that the counting is more objective and not subjective.
Larry Flynt is the publisher of Hustler.
Bush is going to be a one-term president with a popularity rating that will fall below 30 percent. It’s going to be a disaster.
Arianna Huffington is a political columnist and the author of “How to Overthrow the Government”
The morning after Al Gore’s “perfect” concession and George W. Bush’s humble acceptance, I was flipping through a magazine when an ad for an investment company caught my eye. It featured a smiling, gray-haired couple playing on a swing. An equally toothy representative of the investment firm named Pamela was pictured glancing in the direction of the swinging seniors. The ad copy was a transcript of a conversation between an “Investor” and a Company “Rep” (the grinning oldsters and Pam, I assume). There is even a time and date: “August 17th, 2000, 1:21 p.m.” Here’s the exchange:
INVESTOR: We’re calling for no other reason than to say thank you.
COMPANY REP: That’s a wonderful reason to call. Thank you.
INVESTOR: My wife and I are truly enjoying our retirement and want to thank you for your wonderful assistance throughout the years.
REP: Well … that makes me feel great. And I’ll pass that message along to everyone here.
INVESTOR: Especially a Mr. David Coyne. Is he still with the company?
REP: Oh, yes David’s been with us for close to 30 years.
INVESTOR: Well, he’s a gem. He really is. He’s the one that got us started.
REP: He’s a very good man.
INVESTOR: Well, I just want to you to know that we feel very fortunate.
REP: Thank you.
INVESTOR: No. Thank you!
End of copy.
Sure, it’s a little mushy, I thought — but heartfelt. Then my eyes drifted down to the bottom of the ad. In the tiniest of print were the words: “Dramatization, may not be representative of the experience of actual customers.”
That’s how I felt listening to the speeches of Gore and Bush. I mean, there was Gore waxing poetic: “In the words of our great hymn ‘America, America’: ‘Let us crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea’.” When what he really wanted to say was: “I wuz robbed. I won the popular vote! Popular vote!!” Bush, meanwhile, praised Gore’s “distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator, and as vice president” — a radical departure from the Bush campaign’s familiar theme of “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”
Too bad the networks didn’t add a small print disclaimer: “May not be representative of the feelings of these two actual politicians.”
Diana Furchgott-Roth is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Insitute. She formerly served as the associate director of the White House Office of Policy Planning under the Bush administration.
Bush should step forward and name his Cabinet — the people who are going to be in power and create his policies. He’s had huge success bringing the parties together behind his Republican legislation [in Texas]. I think that economic circumstances, not love for Bush or love for a united United States, are going to require the Democrats to fall behind certain things that Gov. Bush wants to do.
The economy is slowing down. There’s already pressure for tax cuts from some Democrats. It’s clear that Social Security needs to be reformed. The idea of private accounts is popular — so popular that when Bush announced it, Gore, after attacking it for two weeks, felt a need to have his own private account program to match it. Many of the things Bush wants to do are so popular that the Democrats are going to be cutting their own noses off their own faces by opposing them.
Douglas Brinkley is director of the Eisenhower Center and professor of history at University of New Orleans; he is also the author of “The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House.”
Bush took the first step [toward conciliation] last evening by making the bipartisan gesture at the state Capitol of Texas in front of the bipartisan legislators. The problem is that Democrats in Texas are so conservative that they are essentially Republican. So he had an easier audience than when he is going to start having to listen to the shrill rantings of Rep. Barney Frank, [D-Mass.].
He is going to need to appoint a couple of leading Democrats in his Cabinet, but not necessarily at major posts. It could be the head of Veteran’s Affairs or the Department of Energy, but a couple of Democrats would show symbolism. Then I think he’s going to need to do a couple of what I would call celebrity Democrat appointments to ambassadorships — just like Ronald Reagan sent Walter Mondale to Japan.
My hunch is that you will see Bush doing a lot of consulting with Bill Clinton, who will be willing to mug for the cameras and do it. There will gestures of bringing Jimmy Carter and Clinton, the former Democratic presidents to the White House. Then he’ll do some highly visible things with Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and John Breaux of Louisiana, who are his friends. He needs to give the perception that he’s listening to what the Democrats think.
But mainly, he can no longer tackle any major issues that were on the campaign trail — be it Social Security or HMO reform or education. He’s going to need to do something like focus on election reform, which might be even too bitter right now — or start worrying about foreign affairs. The strength of Bush is that he has people like Powell and Cheney surrounding him, and that to suddenly talk about the U.S. military and take some trips abroad to Russia or China. He’s somebody who’s spent virtually no time outside of the United States. He’s got to break the provincial yoke that surrounds him, get out there and talk to some world leaders and start at least seeming presidential on the nightly news before he becomes a puppet of “Saturday Night Live.”
Linda Chavez is a syndicated columnist and former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1983-’85).
The first and most visible thing Bush is going to do is name a Cabinet, and I think you are going to see good nominees and people who have reputations for reaching across party lines and across ideological divides.
I would be very surprised if he doesn’t name a Democrat to a high-level post. I think he will do that, and I think that the convention that George W. Bush held was a bridge builder, an attempt to reach out. I suspect you will see brown and black faces in that Cabinet — more than what one normally associates with a Republican administration. He will do some things in education early on. He cares a lot about education for the disadvantaged and he might have a different set of policy prescriptions, but his focus is very much where a liberal focus is in trying to help the kids who are most disadvantaged. You are going to see a lot of that kind of outreach.
Bush is a really likable guy, and he is somebody who people are comfortable with. I think in that sense he’s going to be a lot like Reagan. As much as people disagreed with Reagan’s policies, at least liberal Democrats, from [Speaker of the House] Tip O’Neill on down, they found him somebody that they could talk to and who was warm. Bush has that going for him, as well. It’s not just rhetoric that he is a uniter. If you look at his history with the Legislature in Texas, particularly when it was controlled by the Democrats, you’ve got him reaching across party lines and working with the Democrats, and I think you are going to see that again.
Ralph Neas is president of People for the American Way.
I thought Gore’s was a classy performance, which is exactly what those who have supported him would have expected all along. He took the high road with considerable grace, dignity and humor.
That aside, I want everyone to know that the progressive community will remember November. There are still a lot of questions about this election that need to be answered, and we will not stop pursuing them.
Bush sounded fine, moderate and soothing. But it’s not the first time he’s sounded like that, and there’s often been this disconnect between how he sounds and what he stands for. I’m wary because he’s been totally dependent on the right wing to get him where he is, whether it’s Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in South Carolina, or Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
He will be the president, and we’re going to support him when he’s right, but we’ll correct him when he’s wrong.
Noam Chomsky is a professor at MIT.
To be frank, I find it hard to understand the attention given to this topic. The election was a statistical tie. Whatever the numbers are (if that’s even a meaningful question), the difference is surely overwhelmed by the inherent noise in the system. Since someone has to be picked, the sensible way would have been to flip a coin. There are interesting questions: e.g., why was the election a tie? There are also some plausible models that would yield that conclusion, and are probably close to accurate. But that’s another topic.
Robert George is a New York Post editorial page writer.
I have to admit, I was very impressed with Al Gore’s speech. I think he hit every graceful note that even some of his hardest critics on the conservative side were demanding or insisting on.
I thought it was particularly appropriate that he was the first American to call George W. Bush “president-elect,” which was a good, appropriate gesture. He used the word “concession.” There was a lot of talk about whether he would actually use that word, and he did.
One of the most interesting things is he was probably more relaxed and, I guess, human than in almost any speech that I’d ever seen before. It’s ironic that Al Gore, who at the Democratic Convention said he was his own man, didn’t become his own man until after the elction. The past 36 days is when he emerged from President Clinton’s shadow and finally, when he’s bowing out, he arguably gives the warmest speech of his career. It was self-deprecating in places but also statesmanlike as well.
I think we’ll see him in four years, but I don’t know if he’ll actually get the nomination in four years. There has not been a Democrat who has come back to get the party’s nomination after losing the presidency since Adlai Stevenson. Hubert Humphrey ran again in ’72 but he lost [the nomination] to George McGovern.
I thought Bush’s speech was good. I think rhetorically Gore’s speech was actually better, but Bush said what he had to say. The nicest thing about Bush’s speech was the setting. Having the Texas Democratic speaker of the House introduce him — I thought that was a good, atmospheric gesture. It was good for him to list the consensus agenda that was battled over in the campaign: drugs and education and defense and so forth.
I think there’s a lot of bipartisan stuff Bush can tackle that there’s already support for, whether it’s the marriage penalty or the death tax. There’s an agenda out there for him to pick up and run with that can go a long way to assuage some of the raw feelings that came out during this campaign. But I don’t think pardoning Clinton right off the bat would sit well with his base at all.
I think Bush can pick and choose who his friends are going to be in Congress. We saw during the campaign that he wasn’t too hesitant to stiff-arm the House Republicans when it served his purpose. I think, for one thing, Dennis Hastert is going to be more of his best friend than, say, Tom DeLay is going to be. I think just in terms of temperament, Hastert is more simpatico with Bush than DeLay is. In terms of Trent Lott, that’s kind of hard to say. In a certain way, you’ve almost got three majority leaders in the Senate. You’ve got Lott, you’ve got Tom Daschle and you’ve got Dick Cheney.
The Democrats are going to work with Bush until it’s no longer in their interest. That was the mistake that George Bush Sr. made.
Ward Connerly is the author of “Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences” and the founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. A member of the University of California Board of Regents, he headed the anti-affirmative action California Civil Rights Initiative, which campaigned for the passage of the state’s Proposition 209.
America is a deeply divided nation, with events of the past five weeks exposing and accentuating some of those divisions. Tonight’s speeches to the nation by Vice President Al Gore and President-elect George W. Bush must be viewed in the context of the divided nature of the American people and the national imperative for unity. By that standard, both Gore and Bush rose to the occasion.
Each speech was gracious and fit the role that was expected. Gore conceded unequivocally and offered the hand of cooperation to the victor, while Bush glided into the role of president-elect without appearing to gloat. America demonstrated its strength tonight, thanks to Gore and Bush.
Imagine! Five weeks of counting and recounting ballots with less than a few hundred votes out of 6 million separating the two contestants. And, at the end of the day no blood was shed and the two contestants appealed to their supporters to put the interests of the nation ahead of their self-interests. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Gore supporter. But tonight was his finest hour.
One should not become intoxicated, however, by one night of appeals to national unity. The real question is: Will you respect me in the morning? In this vein, will Jesse Jackson and other black “leaders,” for example, follow the leadership of Gore and accept this outcome without further inflammatory rhetoric? Will further attempts be made to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Bush presidency by Democratic partisans before Bush has any chance for a honeymoon? Will Republican ideologues demand that President Bush govern more as a prototypical Republican or will they give him sufficient wiggle room to govern from a centrist perspective?
Let us pray that tonight marked a new beginning to unite our nation.
Andrew Sullivan writes the TRB column for the New Republic, essays for the New York Times Magazine and daily commentary for www.andrewsullivan.com.
Was it just me or did Al Gore look liberated tonight? Part of me thinks he never wanted to be president — he just always thought he ought to want to be president. When he put his mind to it, he tried, but it was all perspiration and very little inspiration. I so desperately wanted him to give a good speech that maybe I’m biased, but I thought it was almost perfect. Crisp, eloquent, even moving. He’s a man, I think, who is always liberated by being told what to do. That’s why he was a good vice president, that’s why he gave a good concession speech — he had no credible alternative. But give him a multiplicity of choices and he freezes, loses confidence, turns to the slickest advisors out there and comes off as completely fake.
The speech tonight helped me come to terms with my mixed feelings about him. Finally St. Albans Al doing his duty, instead of that phony, grating populist claptrap we had to endure for months. He’s a nastily effective fighter, but he is never better than when losing. I am so relieved that he has finally given up that I’m almost prepared to forgive him the five weeks of insanity he put us through — for no good reason. In a race where the margin of error was always greater than the margin of victory, it was a horrible piece of narcissistic ambition, which has done nothing but tarnish our democratic institutions and the rule of law. Maybe that was why he kept going on about law and God in his speech. Maybe he was making amends to himself and the country. But, whatever the motivation, I am grateful that this lost and clueless soul will never be president of the United States.
As for Bush, someone needs to tell the guy how to use a teleprompter. He was effective nonetheless. The word that comes to mind is “mild.” He’s a mild and human man, almost kind, and the way he wrinkles his brow when he’s trying to say something important is almost affecting. It’s kind of a tic, like the way small children stick their tongues out when they’re writing. For the first time, he looked like a president. His priorities were those of a New Democrat (remember them?), which makes him almost designed for this moment, unless the Republican nutballs and Democratic whiners chew him apart. I have a feeling we may continue to underestimate him. Gore sure did. Gore’s supporters are still going around in their smug, self-serving way, talking about how dumb W. is. If he’s so dumb, how come he’s on the verge of becoming the most powerful man in the world, after Alan Greenspan? Oh, never mind.
As to what he needs to do, it’s pretty obvious: Stroke John McCain, kick Tom DeLay in the balls and appoint Condi Rice (National Security Council), Colin Powell (State), Frank Keating (Justice), Christie Whitman (Health and Human Services), Ward Connerly (Education) and Jim Kolbe (trade representative) to his Cabinet. He should make education reform his first priority, and get a whole bunch of easy bipartisan legislation passed soon — a ban on partial-birth abortion, the end of the marriage penalty, a reduction in the estate tax. The he needs to go after school vouchers and Social Security reform. Got that? Well, we can always dream.
Deirdre English is former editor of Mother Jones.
In retrospect, it’s clearer than ever that Clinton should have resigned back at the beginning of the Lewinsky scandal, that dog. He would have spared the nation that media nightmare, and the whole impeachment mess. Gore would have been made president, untainted by Billy’s moral turpitude, as it was gradually revealed, and would have had an unbeatable advantage (all other things being equal) in the current contest.
If Clinton had really sought to promote Democratic Party fortunes, rather than his own ego, that’s what he would have done. But no, he was willing to put a future Gore presidency at risk. People should think about that when they criticize Gore for not having unleashed Clinton in the campaign. Gore knows Clinton all too well.
Patricia Williams is a professor of law at Columbia University and columnist for the Nation.
I find the decision stunning. I hope it will come to be known as a departure in Supreme Court jurisprudence rather than a signal of things to come. Even Scalia’s history as a rather activist conservative did not prepare me for this bulldozing intervention. The morning after the decision, I was standing in the kitchen listening to the news on NPR, and my son came in and said, “Mummy, you look flabber-gassed.” That does just about sum it up.
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)