"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)
Hath not a groom taste? Hath not a groom senses, preferences, passions? Tasting the same food, hearing the same bands, subject to the same crazy family as a bride is?
So writes Doug Gordon, a television writer, in the Oct. 27 entry for his weblog PlanetGordon.com: What Happened to Him After She Said Yes. Gordon, 29, is in the midst of planning his August 2004 wedding to Rabbi Leora Kaye at a summer camp in Wisconsin.
Over at The Mighty Geek, a 33-year-old graphic designer from Brooklyn who will marry an MTV online producer named Jessica in January, titled one of his wedding blog entries “Groomzilla: Part 1.”
“I’ve become a monster,” writes the Mighty Geek, who more simply goes by the name “G.” “At what point does an otherwise normal man, with the typical dismissive male attitude towards his own wedding, suddenly become so infatuated with a stupid and trivial wedding decision, the invitation font choice and color for example, that he is willing to throttle his own mother rather than back down from his font of choice?”
Groom blogs written by Gordon, G and their technologically nimble affianced brethren are becoming an increasingly popular way for engaged men to communicate wedding details, vent frustrations, and chronicle engagements. They are also poking holes in one of the longest-standing assumptions about the multibillion-dollar wedding industry: that grooms are passive, stoic creatures who have no feelings about their impending nuptials.
“You don’t get a groom’s perspective anywhere,” said Gordon, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s like the groom is another accessory along with the bridal gown, along with the cake and the flowers.”
The call of the wild bride should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts or has had a friend between the ages of 26 and 32. High-pitched and tremulous, it traditionally involves endless diatribes about uncooperative bridesmaids and debates over the virtues of salmon vs. chicken.
Perhaps you’ve heard it.
What you may not have heard — ever — is a peep out of her mate.
The ideal modern groom — as imagined by Hollywood executives — is essentially mute. Attractive but not too pretty, he will appear on time and shave when told. Patient and empathic, he will step in when his intended becomes overwhelmed by her ardor for lilies of the valley and Spode, but he will certainly not spend more than 30 seconds contemplating either. Under no circumstances will he have sex with the strippers at his bachelor party.
In short, the desirable groom behaves like a particularly obedient potbellied pig — a supporting player and pet for the overworked and overzealous bride, who has probably already been slapped with the Bridezilla label.
But troll the Internet, and you may find a passage like this, from National Public Radio editor J.J. Sutherland’s wedding blog: “The flowers will be cool, fall colors, no carnations, roses. Neat stuff. One thing we are including are ‘coffee beans’ which are these reddish berries that look like, well, coffee beans. But they seemed to have ended up the one unifying factor in all the flowers.” Sutherland married media planner Veronica Ruiz in October 2002.
As his “throttle his own mother” entry suggests, G experienced intense feelings about his wedding invitations.
“I’m used to having things done a certain way so it all looks like a cohesive whole,” he said. “I designed the invitations and the save-the-date cards, so I was very meticulous with that.”
G also confessed that together, the couple physically visited 88 potential reception sites before agreeing to do the deed “in Jersey at a place we can afford.”
Diane Forden, the editor in chief of Bridal Guide magazine, which recently published a list of 50 things a bride can do to get her groom more involved in planning, said that a recent survey conducted by the magazine showed that 50 percent of the responding couples were paying for their own weddings.
“That means that grooms are signing the checks and becoming more interested in where their money is going,” said Forden, who added, “I think there are areas that the groom won’t really get interested in, like the bridal party colors. And I can’t really see him getting involved in the flowers.” (Clearly, she’s never met J.J. Sutherland.) “But there is certainly a growing interest from grooms in things like the music selection, the reception venue, the food, the wine, the registry. Couples are now registering together, and the registries are changing. You’re seeing a lot more sports equipment, electronics, bar ware… things that men like to have in their homes.”
What, no mounted grizzly bears or machine guns?
Registries, dresses, finger food — these high-priced nuptial trappings have been aggressively marketed to women for so long that it is almost unthinkable that a man might have as much enthusiasm for flowers as his bride. That he might even have more enthusiasm for flowers. And china patterns and crystal and party planning.
Graphic design student Andrea Hyde Owen, who married blogger Will Owen on Oct. 11 in Minneapolis, says her husband was “a lot more stressed out in the end than I was.”
No kidding. In a Sept. 30 blog entry Owen wrote, “Fears mounting over ‘official’ number of guests expected and actual number of guests expected. Seems that we modeled our reception contract on the assumption of about 90 people and from the RSVP it looks more like 40 people, but from the information that comes through non-official channels (a la NOT via RSVP) it feels more like 60ish people. So, could be anywhere from 60-90 people? Well, apparently that’s an entired [sic] extra person (staff) at the reception. Ugh … We’re still making out final preparations for the rehearsal/grooms dinner, and of course we’re super sper [sic] nervous and stressed about all of the final details that we can’t really do anything about until THE WEEK … Am I going a little nuts here? Yeah, I think so.”
“I know that writing the blog made him more aware of what was going on,” said Hyde Owen, “but I don’t know if he kept the blog because he was already more invested and interested in the wedding or whether the blog made him more interested and invested.”
“To my groomsmen, I actually became a kind of Groomzilla,” Owen said, remembering his agitation with his attendants when they had not all sent him their measurements on time.
Getting tetchy about suit fittings is one thing. Copping to one’s own metrosexuality on a Web site is another. American pop cultural iconography has so permanently linked the notion of wedding kvetching to the image of a Xanax-popping bride that grooms’ reasonable complaints and concerns come off as slightly … well … maybe just a bit emasculating.
J.J. Sutherland — he of the cool fall colors and coffee bean bouquets — went so far as to drop a mention of the fabled “women’s sports pages,” the weekly wedding announcements in the New York Times Sunday Fashion and Style section. “No one really good to hate this week,” wrote Sutherland of one particular crop of blissful marrieds. Later he wrote of the New York Observer’s Engagements column, which includes longer anecdotes about couples, that it “gives you a glimpse into people’s lives and you get to hate them based on some actual information.”
Sutherland’s observation cuts straight to the pleasurable core of ritually reading these box scores of age, profession, education and wealth. But it also makes him sound more like a character in a Nicole Holofcener film about girlfriends than a self-respecting groom.
G said that the way he represents himself in his blog is as “an emasculated nerd,” but that his wedding blogging “hasn’t ruined my masculinity. I actually feel good helping out.”
Raven Brooks, a San Francisco consultant who married Mona Tedjarahardja Brooks in May 2003, said: “Every guy in college, every friend I have who is getting married, every story you hear in movies, the men are never involved because that’s the masculine deal. It’s one of those boundaries. But I’ve never paid much attention to those. I enjoy a lot of things that most guys wouldn’t think are very masculine — going to musicals, cooking — and the truth is, the wedding really is just more enjoyable if you’re involved in planning it!”
Brooks, whose new wife had asked him to start his wedding blog precisely because he was “notoriously bad at communicating feelings,” said that he grew to enjoy his freedom to vent. “It’s a good way to get things off your chest if there’s something bothering you,” he said. Brooks got good at it, at one point breaking down and writing about the “relationship brinkmanship” that the wedding planning was inspiring. “We are both trying really hard to make this wedding happen … But along the way we have this knack for pushing each other’s buttons and that has made for a rough past few weeks … We have had some of the biggest blowups in our relationship.”
If it’s a good way to express frustration, blogging is also a way to express joy. And grooms who do not have built-in “Oh my god can I see the ring” conversations are relieved to have a platform where they can tell the world just how thrilled they are to be getting hitched.
Peter Boulay, a 34-year-old ISP technician from Rochester, N.Y., who blogs as the Blurf and got married last Saturday, was happy to talk about why he blogs — “because it’s uncensored,” “because I get to vent and rant sometimes” — but he was really pumped to talk about his wedding ceremony.
“I had the most beautiful wedding ever,” said Boulay, launching immediately into a description of his first dance, to Elton John’s “The One.” “I am in a wheelchair,” explained the happy husband, whose new wife, Suzette, is not. “So it was hard to figure out how to do the first dance.” But the couple worked it out. And, said Boulay rapturously, “it was just amazing.”
Some grooms also use their blog space to muse about some of marriage’s more surreal rituals. Take this tale of a strip club bachelor party from Raven Brooks:
“I had a good time just drinking and talking with everyone. Some of the people there I hadn’t seen in months or years. Of course they bought me some really nasty shots. My dad bought me something called a smurf and it was freakin disgusting.”
Brooks’ bachelor party did not, apparently, get much crazier than the smurf shots. His entry continues: “I’m not sure what to think about this whole idea of a ‘bachelor party’. To me it means celebrating what you are giving up one last time. I don’t look at it that way because I don’t think that I am losing anything, I’m gaining everything. Women in strip clubs are fake in every sense … How am I supposed to be saddened by giving that up exactly? I’m going home to an extremely sexy woman with real breasts that loves me unconditionally. What the hell would I want with a stripper?
Brooks is 25 years old and met Mona through Match.com when he was just out of college. His blog chronicles his feelings about his engagement in detail, right down to the fun of registering.
“Playing with that scan gun in [Macy's and Crate and Barrel] is just so much fun,” writes Brooks. “It is like being a kid in a candy store.” Then, more wistfully, “I wish every weekend could be like this. I suppose we just have to start taking time out for each other and not get caught up” in the wedding meshugas.
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We want to make you a part of this series. What is the state of your union? Did you find the one and never look back, or has finding lasting love been a marathon of trial and error? Did you have a fairy-tale wedding only to watch things crumble once the reception was over, or have you glided along in marital bliss since Day One? We want to hear your stories of joy, romance, heartbreak and pain. After all, partnership, as we all know, is a complex concoction of all of those things. (Please remember: Any writing submitted becomes the property of Salon if we publish it. We reserve the right to edit submissions, and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories to email@example.com.)
Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.More Rebecca Traister.
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)