"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)
Topics: Life News
Larry Smith’s piece on Ecstasy was evocative and excellent. What was most striking is how many of the users Smith profiled seemed primarily drawn to the drug not for any psychedelic fireworks or potent euphoria, but because it allowed them to deeply “feel connected” to other people. In an era in which many Americans (especially the demo represented by Salon’s readership) are urged to replace dating with udate.com, strip clubs with nerve.com, attending actual sporting events with watching them on TV, grass-roots political activism and talking face-to-face to fellow citizens with blogs, flames and moveon.org, is it all that surprising that people find themselves craving a pill to “feel connected” with others?
– Adam Morrow
Since when does Salon publish wanton advertisements for moderate recreational drug use? In Larry Smith’s self-justifying tripe on Ecstasy, he never misses a turn to discredit the potential harmful effects of chemical use and glamorize the “Ecstasy adventures” of him and his friends. Hopefully his immense bias, as subtle as it is disgraceful, is not lost on the less perceptive of your readers.
“Recreational drugs are best left to the young”? Does he really believe that? And what’s with all the misplaced psych and philosophy references? Trying to manufacture a little credibility?
Please use your editorial discretion so that we leave the bullshit rationalizations to the kids, and the scientific conclusions to more professional writers.
Reliable neurotransmitter regulation is very important to a stable, normal sense of well-being. Either way I’ll bet Larry’s brain doesn’t do as good a job as it would have had he not used E even once. Then again, maybe it’s just the natural aging process. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
– Justin Lipphardt
Thanks for publishing Larry Smith’s articles on Ecstasy. I’ve never read such frank, well-balanced, and well-composed writing on such a taboo subject as recreational drug use. Many of the stories he wove into the fabric of his piece brought back memories of my own amazing journeys taken on the E train.
I don’t do E anymore — my antidepressants (unrelated to the use of Ecstasy — at least I think … ) completely wipe out its effects. I only did it for a couple of years, but those were wondrous, life-changing, uplifting, and expansive times. I learned how to be loving and honest with others, and I did carry over those experiences into my daily life. Thanks for giving voice to what has been too long left unsaid: Some drugs can help us humans explore ourselves and each other. We should stop making criminals out of such explorers and start ensuring that their journeys are safe and efficacious.
– Jamie Wagoner
I gladly subscribe to Salon Premium because the bias of the people who write and edit the stories here generally agrees with my own socially liberal bias. The one area where that is not true is drugs.
I abhor the very concept of drug use. I don’t want to read morally neutral articles about it. I don’t want to read or subsidize articles that imply that doing drugs a few times or in small quantities is acceptable.
Larry Smith’s article was well-written, well-researched, and balanced. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want my son or someone else’s child to read it. Kids aren’t generally mature enough to realize “That worked out OK for him, but the risk is still too high for me to emulate his example.”
As I have observed firsthand in working with troubled adolescents, drugs are so dangerous that every attempt should be made to reduce even the possibility of someone using them. My strong preference would be for Salon to avoid any reporting which places drug use in even a marginally favorable or neutral light.
– The Rev. C. Joshua Villines
Larry Smith is a skilled and evocative writer; this I acknowledge. Still, it is odd to see a savvy and smart publication like Salon lead its front page with a two-part, first-person account of Ecstasy highs and the inevitable attendant burnout. Such tales are great for, say, coffeehouse readings and the like — but I subscribe to Salon for its unique coverage of politics, arts and society, not for breathless druggie memoirs.
While I agree that Ecstasy use is a part of society, it is confined to a relatively small subculture that, from the outside, offers nothing of interest or use to the larger world. When the epiphany of “loving everybody” is the effortless, ephemeral product of lofty serotonin levels, instead of the hard masonry of reason and intellect, it offers little foundation to help society develop for the better.
I have nothing against Mr. Smith, and I wish him well. I just question the prominent showcasing of his story: These are not slow news times we’re living in. Look, guys, I’m sorry to learn that the transformative powers of X may dwindle and fail, but, truthfully, I don’t care in the slightest. And, though I am no arbiter of taste, I have to wonder why Salon does.
– Jonathan DiMarco
It has been quite clear for at least 10 years, at least to myself and my friends, that Ecstasy is a physically dangerous drug. You don’t need any more evidence for that than the hangover; the fact that the hangover can be averted with supplements doesn’t change the fact that the drug is obviously doing something serious and potentially dangerous.
Given that the author and his friends are intelligent people, they obviously knew this. And they obviously knew that once you have depleted your serotonin, any more E you take will only have methamphetamine effects; even 100 percent pure E is still basically a methamphetamine, remember. Yet they still took lots of it all the time, multiple hits a day sometimes, days in a row.
And after all that it’s not addictive? Please. Obviously it is when used regularly. Physically? Well, no, but so what? It’s obviously emotionally addictive, and it sounds like the author was quite the addict whether he thinks so or not.
To be quite frank, he and his friends were fools for taking E in large amounts at regular intervals. They should have known better. I hope that they don’t pay a terrible physical toll years down the road.
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)