"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)
When the call came, the striking blonde whose professional name is Veronica Monet donned a gray wool pinstripe Escada suit with a skirt cut slightly above the knee. She packed an overnight bag with the tools of her trade: condoms, lube, a sheer French maid’s outfit and a $2,000 black cashmere cocktail dress by Armani.
The client was a regular, so she did not request her usual 10 percent deposit upfront. He said he would pay by check when she arrived in Chicago. That was a relief. Monet, 42, never discusses her fee, but says that other jet-set escorts typically charge several thousand dollars for a one-day date — and she dislikes flying home with that much cash. Like most of her other clients, this man was white, married, around 50. A well-educated, self-made multimillionaire. He was into art, so on the way to the airport, she picked up a few art magazines to immerse herself in his interest. At SFO, a round-trip business-class e-ticket was waiting for her.
Veronica Monet is a prostitute. But she is more like a 21st century geisha or Renaissance courtesan than a street hooker. She’s a well-informed, intellectually exciting, sexy woman who uses her brain as much as her body in pursuit of her professional goal — to make her clients feel like kings and make a good living for herself. The men want sex, of course, but the reason they are willing to pay Monet her sky-high fees is that she offers them much more than the T&A they could get from any hooker. As she says, “The more I charge, the less sex I actually do.”
Monet is also a writer, actress, video producer and outspoken activist for prostitutes’ rights. Her essays have been anthologized in “Whores and Other Feminists” and “Porn 101.” Playboy called her video, “Real Women, Real Fantasies,” “a groundbreaker in the feminization of porn.” She has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, among them, “20/20,” “Politically Incorrect,” A&E’s “Love Chronicles” and several shows on the Playboy channel. And she’s happily married to the love of her life, a computer-industry executive who knows exactly what she does and is well acquainted with the Web site she uses to market her services.
The client picked her up at O’Hare in a limo and had the driver take them to a gallery in the Loop showing the oils of a hot Belgian painter. On the way, she lavished all her attention on him, making him feel very special as she unzipped and sucked him, while he ran his hands under her skirt and blouse. After the gallery visit, there was more sucking and groping on the way to a four-star hotel by Lake Michigan, where they enjoyed the view and fooled around some more as she changed into her dinner dress. They met some of his colleagues at a five-star restaurant. He showed her off proudly. Her top was cut low enough and her skirt high enough to raise blood pressures around the table without looking trashy. Her client enjoyed hinting that he could snap his fingers and Monet would fly across the continent to be by his side. He also enjoyed the fact that she held her own in table talk ranging from Middle East politics to the restoration of antiquities at the Acropolis.
After dinner, back at the hotel, they had sex — once. He liked half and half, some oral, some vaginal. She worked hard to make him feel like the luckiest man in the world. The next morning, he sent her back to O’Hare in the limo, and she flew home wearing her conservative suit made zingy with high ankle-strap heels and bright red lipstick. She spent part of the flight reading “When God Was a Woman” by Merlin Stone.
Then she chatted up her seatmate, dropping oblique hints about what she does. He figured it out and seemed interested. She slipped him a business card with her 800 number and URL. She also pondered what she would tell her husband about this job. The view from the room, she decided, the panorama of the Lake and the Loop. That was special.
When she pulled into her two-car garage and entered her four-bedroom, three-bath home, she was tired and hungry. Her husband was out back, playing with the dog by their swimming pool. He came in, embraced her, and announced that dinner was takeout sushi and steamed asparagus. She changed into jeans while he put the food on the table. Over dinner they talked about the past two days. He’d seen a deal involving a large computer system unexpectedly fall apart, and another unexpectedly come together. She told him about the art gallery, the fabulous restaurant, and the spectacular view from the hotel. Afterward, they cleaned up and turned on the History Channel. By the end of the documentary, they were cuddling. They went to bed and made love. Later, as she drifted off to sleep, Monet thought about how lucky she was to have a career she enjoyed and a husband she adored. And to think she’d once been a feminist crusader against prostitution.
Veronica Monet grew up with a different name near Portland, Ore., in a working-class family. Her mother was a homemaker, her father a welder who never made much money. “My parents know what I do. My mother and I are very close. We talk all the time. My father disowned me. That’s been painful, but he disowned my sister too, and she’s not a prostitute. She’s a security guard, so we figure it’s his problem.”
With a talent for writing, Monet put herself through Oregon State on scholarships and with a job tutoring jocks in grammar and composition. She majored in psychology and minored in business. “It’s funny — in my line of work, I use them both every day.” She also became a feminist, with strong feelings about prostitution: “I viewed it as one of the many ways that male-dominated society degrades and oppresses women — and then stigmatizes them for it.” In 1982, she graduated with honors.
She moved to Silicon Valley and for six years worked secretarial jobs for computer companies. Then, incredibly bored and in search of a creative outlet, she became the volunteer producer of a public-access TV show, “Survival Skills.” “Nobody watched, but it was fun, and I had this dream of getting a job in television.”
At work, she met the man she eventually married, whom we’ll call Adrian. He was 13 years older, a Vietnam veteran. “He was a computer technician, I was his dispatcher, and there was instant electricity between us.” He was just her type physically: tall, dark and handsome with blue eyes and a full beard. “I’m a sucker for beards.” He also had a huge personality. “When he walked into a room, he lit it up.” Monet felt so attracted to him that it scared her. So did other things. He had two ex-wives, several kids and a few girlfriends. He was also deep into alcohol and cocaine. The drugs didn’t bother her. “I was young and it was the ’80s. Alcohol was everywhere, and back then we thought coke was nonaddictive.”
They flirted. Then Adrian moved to Los Angeles for a year and they had no contact. When he came back, he turned the full force of his personality toward winning Monet’s heart. She felt ambivalent. “We fucked a lot and fought a lot. I was very possessive and jealous and insisted he get rid of his other women.” Eventually he did. “He kept calling me the love of his life. I was head over heels for him, but I wasn’t convinced he was the love of mine. What did I know?”
Monet and Adrian moved in together in 1983. It was a tempestuous relationship. “Looking back, I blame it on the drugs. We were doing a great deal of coke and booze. We had violent fights.” To hurt one another, they had affairs. “He’d fuck a woman he picked up at a bar, and then I had to fuck a man I met at a bar. Several times I woke up with no idea where I was, in bed with men I didn’t remember fucking.” Monet was going to work drunk. She had several alcohol-related fender-benders. Then she got arrested for drunken driving.
The arrest led her to an A.A. meeting, which she hated. “The people seemed like losers, and I didn’t believe I was an alcoholic.” She tried psychotherapy. “The therapist said, ‘No one can help you until you realize you’re an alcoholic.’” Monet decided to quit drinking on her own and went 30 days. Soon afterward she was injecting cocaine. “I looked at that needle in my arm and realized I had no control. On Sept. 4, 1985, I stopped drinking and doing drugs. I haven’t had any since. I went to A.A. every day for years. I still go about once a week.”
Once Monet sobered up, she urged Adrian to do the same, but he refused. They broke up in 1986, and she didn’t see him for five years. She dated A.A. friends and invested in psychotherapy. “I worked on myself. I grew up.”
She was still producing her TV program, and one day, she filmed a male strip show. “The phones lit up. People were actually watching. I learned an important lesson: Sex sells.” She also started dating one of the strippers. “I loved his shows. He had a sexy body and was a great dancer. Watching him got me so hot.” She didn’t care that every night dozens of other women became equally aroused and stuffed bills deep into his jock. “They all wanted him. But I got to go home with him. I got turned on knowing my lover was desired by so many other women.” But there were complications. He was also involved with a woman who stripped at the Mitchell Brothers’ San Francisco strip club. They had a child together. Eventually, he broke up with the stripper and moved in with Monet.
The relationship was Monet’s introduction to the world of sex work — and to consumers of those services. One was a man who was hot for her. “He introduced me to a woman he knew who was a prostitute. He was interested in a threesome. She and I hit it off. I had no idea I was bisexual, but that quickly became apparent. I wound up going to bed with her instead of him.”
Becoming a prostitute’s lover pushed all of Monet’s feminist buttons. “I felt sorry for her. She had no college education. She wasn’t a feminist. She had no intellectual framework to understand how oppressed she was, how she was selling out to the enemy.” But the two women had great fun together, and the relationship deepened. Monet was surprised to learn that her lover was married, the mother of three children, with a husband who worked for IBM. They were also swingers who made amateur porn videos. Monet and her stripper boyfriend entered the swing world and were welcomed with open arms — and other limbs. “I was running with a sexually wild crowd and loving it. I was 29, and my libido was just kicking into high gear. People talk about the raging hormones of teenagers. Well, they have nothing on a woman hitting 30 who discovers her sexual self.”
Monet felt that her life was finally flowering, but at work she had nothing but trouble. “My boss said I wasn’t obsequious enough, that a mere secretary shouldn’t be producing TV shows. Finally I resigned.” A few other jobs didn’t work out. In spite of herself, Monet began considering prostitution. “I kept thinking about my girlfriend. She was her own boss. Sure, she rented her body, but no one owned her. On the jobs I’d had, they wanted your soul.”
In the fall of 1989, Monet became a prostitute. Her lover set her up with clients for one-third of the fee. She also insisted that Monet get organized. “She helped me get a fictitious business name, showed me how to pay quarterly taxes, and how to list my occupation as ‘relationship consultant’ for tax purposes. She told me, ‘Screw your clients, but never screw the tax man. Report your income. Prostitution is a misdemeanor. But if you run afoul of the IRS, they take your life apart.’” Monet’s business acumen came in handy some years later when the IRS audited her. She’d not only paid all the taxes she owed, but she’d also kept impeccable records. “My secretarial experience came in handy.”
Monet’s lover ran a high-volume, low-cost operation, and the pace — sometimes 10 men a day — wore her out. In addition, Monet’s lover was deep into amateur porn and wanted her to participate. Monet did a few scenes but didn’t enjoy the experience. “Porn is mean and boring. The amateur stuff felt dirty to me. As for mainstream porn, well, I like to fuck, but I don’t like to get fucked over.”
After nine months with her mentor, Monet went out on her own, intent on developing a lower-volume, higher-priced career. She advertised in the Spectator, a Berkeley-based sex weekly. “I realized that the feminists were wrong about prostitution, at least the kind I was doing. It wasn’t demeaning at all. In fact, the clients wanted me to have a strong personality, to tell them what I thought about the world, and sexually, what I would and wouldn’t do — and mean it. Their libidos fed off of my personality, my energy. I’m more assertive as a prostitute than I ever was in any of my jobs in the computer industry.”
Monet developed a clientele with several regulars. “I didn’t work that much, just enough to pay the bills.” The rest of the time, she was at A.A. meetings or in therapy. She began to see herself as a kind of therapist. “Men go to prostitutes for many of the same reasons they go to therapists: They’re lonely. They’re unsatisfied with their marriages. They’re frustrated in their careers. And they want a relationship without emotional complications. With a therapist, you just talk. With me, men talk and then get something extra — which lets me charge a lot more than therapists get. Over the years, I’ve met a surprisingly large number of women psychotherapists who moonlight as prostitutes.”
The hardest part of prostitution, Monet contends, is not the men and not the sex. It’s the public’s narrow-mindedness. “Prostitutes elicit pity or contempt, but never respect.” Monet set out to change that. She became a public advocate for prostitutes’ rights and was eventually interviewed by Geraldo Rivera and profiled in the business section of the New York Times. Her mission, to get some respect for whores, was good for her soul and the media attention was good for business. “Even when the media dis me, the phone rings and the e-mails come in.” Her business prospered.
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In 1991, three years into self-employment and five years after her breakup with Adrian, he called her. He was completely sober, reveling in it, and he wanted to see her.
No, you don’t, she warned. “I told him everything — the prostitution, the porn, everything. I figured my career would put him off, and I’d never hear from him again.”
But Adrian kept calling. He claimed he didn’t care how she made a living, that she was the love of his life and he had to be with her. “We’d talk on the phone, and everything I’d always liked about him came flooding back to me. He was so charming. And once he got sober, his drug-induced nastiness disappeared, and he was the sweet, fabulous person I always knew he was. I realized I missed him and still loved him.”
Still, Monet was reluctant to see Adrian. Their relationship had been so rocky, their fights so disturbing. But he kept calling and wore her down. Adrian was living in Tahoe. Monet was in San Francisco. After several months, he talked her into meeting him for dinner in Sacramento. Monet agreed but insisted that their date be nonsexual. He agreed. “But once we got together, there was enough electricity to power a small city. We jumped into bed, and it was great.”
Adrian got a job in the Bay Area, and he and Monet moved in together again. They were married in 1992 at the chapel in Yosemite. “It was hilarious,” Monet recalls. “My mother was there. Adrian’s friends were there. I’d invited lots of prostitute friends, and they all showed up dressed in conservative business suits. Then my old girlfriend-mentor showed up wearing clothes right out of Frederick’s of Hollywood. My husband’s friends were scandalized.”
Monet was still bringing in business with Spectator ads. But she became dissatisfied with the paper. “It was seedy. I wanted to project a classier image, one that would attract business travelers with lots of money to spend.” It was the early 1990s. Several early computer bulletin boards invited her to advertise for free. Her posts didn’t bring in much business at first, but as bulletin boards gave way to Web sites, Monet saw the potential. She launched her own site in 1997. It features photographs that leave no doubt about her occupation. In one, she’s on her hands and knees, wearing a black teddy, her shapely butt raised and receptive. In another, she’s on her knees unzipping the fly of a well-dressed man, her black chemise partially exposing her breasts. It didn’t take long for her to start making the big bucks with local rich men around the Bay Area who wanted a courtesan. That work led to even higher-paid gigs as a jet-set escort.
“On the street,” she explains, “prostitution is all about the sex. To make a living, the girls have to do everything — anal, blow jobs without condoms, and submissive scenes with guys who can be scary. But when prostitution moves off the street, into apartments, it’s less about the sex and more about the ambiance, the relationship. The girl becomes more of a mistress. She fucks, of course, but what keeps guys coming back is who she is, how she makes them feel. At my level, it’s even less about the sex. My job is to make my clients feel very special, to stroke their egos as well as their cocks, to look glamorous, speak intelligently, and give them my undivided attention. If my clients wanted just sex, for the fee I charge for a one-day date, they could buy an entire Nevada brothel with several girls for a whole weekend. But they want more than sex. They want to be treated like kings, which is exactly how I treat them.”
What do ultra high-end prostitutes do sexually? Monet says she is happy to have vaginal and oral intercourse, to give full body massages, and play with S&M and bondage as long as she’s the top, the dominant one. “I’m never submissive, never. And I don’t do anal. At my level, very few women do.”
Monet doesn’t look her age, especially on her Web site. She works out regularly and is particularly proud of her firm, compact ass. But surprisingly, in an occupation dominated by young women, she is completely candid about being 42. “Men who are looking for young girls shouldn’t call me. I don’t have the face of a 20-year-old. But lots of rich, successful men aren’t interested in young bimbos. They want intelligence and personality. They want to be fascinated. They want to feel pampered. They want a peak experience, and I give it to them. You’d also be surprised at the number of young, rich businessmen who want an older woman. So far, my age hasn’t hurt my business at all.”
But Sept. 11 did. Before the terrorist attack, in addition to her local business around the Bay Area, she was flying several times a month all over the country. Afterward, business travel plummeted, and so did calls to jet off to meet rich business travelers. But with her public advocacy of prostitutes’ rights and her writing, she projected an image of iconoclastic accomplishment that gave her some celebrity. “Rich men like that.” A year after Sept. 11, she says business has bounced back.
Of course, Monet knows that in another 10 years, when she’s 52, her Web site and her notoriety may not work their current marketing magic. She’s already preparing for the next phase of her career: She’s toying with the idea of actually doing what her tax return says she does — working as a relationship consultant, providing “professional sex advice from a pro.” She’s also been lecturing more at colleges. “I love talking to college kids. We always have great discussions.” And she’s focusing more on her writing. She recently finished a book titled “Porné.”
Monet says she hopes to become a sexual philosopher: “Porné was a Latin term for both prostitution and idolatry. The fact is, prostitution was a key element in many pre-Judeo Christian religions. Many ancient temples had prostitutes and were constructed to resemble women’s wombs. There was a great deal of sexuality around ancient religious rites, which focused on the fertility of women, animals and the soil. With the rise of Judeo-Christian monotheism, religion became less about the body and more about spiritual purity. My book is a collection of essays about prostitution and its place in the world. I haven’t spent all these years sucking dick just to pay the mortgage. I’ve done it to learn about humanity, about how men often use prostitutes to preserve their marriages. I have a great deal to say.” Her agent is shopping the book to publishers.
When Monet and Adrian got back together, he accompanied her to some media appearances. They once had sex together on camera for Playboy TV, and he appeared with her on the Montel Williams talk show as the husband of the prostitute. But a few of his business colleagues saw him, and he didn’t like all the teasing. He decided to withdraw from Monet’s public career. “He’s not ashamed of my work. Quite the contrary: He’s proud of my Web site and my media credits. His close friends all know what I do and are cool about it. But Adrian no longer does interviews or appearances as the husband of the prostitute.” Adrian declined to be interviewed for this article.
Part of the reason Monet and Adrian no longer speak to the media as a couple is that it’s boring. Everyone asks the same few questions. To Adrian: What’s it like to have a wife who’s a prostitute? What’s it like to have sex with her when you know she’s fucking so many other men? To Monet: What’s it like to be a prostitute, then come home and have sex with your husband? And when you and Adrian socialize with your prostitute friends, aren’t you nervous that they’ll try to steal him away?
To hear Monet tell it, her husband relates to having a prostitute wife the same way other men relate to having wives who work in other occupations. “My job really hasn’t been that big of an issue for us. I only do safe sex, so he’s not concerned about catching anything. I screen my clients carefully and have my regulars, so he’s not concerned about my safety. We’re pretty much like other married couples. He tells me about his day. I tell him about mine. One of the things I really love about Adrian is that he’s supportive and nurturing. If an issue comes up for me at work, he’s very good about providing perspective.”
Monet says her husband relates to having sex with her the same way she felt about sex with her stripper boyfriend. “It turned me on to know that other women found him so sexually magnetic. Adrian feels the same way. But there’s a big difference between my professional sex and our married sex. At work, it’s business. Sucking and fucking well happen to be part of my business. At home with Adrian, it’s not business at all. It’s love, and that makes a tremendous difference. I care about my clients, but I don’t have the same spiritual connection with them that I have with my husband. What I have with Adrian is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I couldn’t possibly confuse it with any other relationship. I enjoy being sexual with my clients, but in terms of love, I consider myself monogamous. The only man I love is Adrian, and that makes our sex very different from my business sex.”
Monet says she and Adrian have about the same level of libido. “We’re both pretty horny. Sometimes he comes on to me. Other times I come on to him. We don’t turn each other down much. It’s comfortable.”
Monet and Adrian socialize with some of her prostitute friends, but says she never feels that they threaten her marriage. “Most of them are happily coupled themselves. They’re not lonely and looking for love. And they make very good livings, so they’re not stuck with their husbands or boyfriends because of money. That’s not the case with many wives. Wives often feel bored, and unloved, and horny, and financially trapped. Put my husband in a room full of prostitutes and I’m much less concerned that someone is going to try to steal him than I would be if he were in a room full of other men’s wives.”
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A few days after Monet’s trip to Chicago, she and Adrian have lunch together at home. They rarely eat breakfast together. His alarm is set for 6, while local clients often keep her working until 2 a.m., so she doesn’t get up until around 10. But Adrian works close enough to the house to come home for lunch fairly regularly. Monet has prepared a salad. He pops open a Pepsi. She sips water. Monet listens as Adrian discusses all the money his company has riding on the project he’s just been assigned. She wishes him good luck. Then he listens as she discusses the client she’s seeing that afternoon after the guy leaves work, a referral from a regular. She mentions the name of the hotel where they’re meeting and says she’ll be home late for dinner. Adrian says he’ll wait to grill the steaks until she returns. He finishes his soda, takes Monet in his arms, and kisses her.
“Have a good day,” he tells his wife.
“You too,” she tells her husband. “See you tonight.”
Adrian leaves. Monet pulls out the paper and reads the business section. Her new client is deep into the stock market, so she needs to bone up on the latest financial news. Then she opens her closet and selects an outfit she thinks he’ll like, one that will make him feel like a king.
Michael Castleman is the author of "Sexual Solutions: For Men and the Women Who Love Them."More Michael Castleman.
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)