"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)
President Bush hid like a coward during his pivotal visit with Tony Blair in London last week, laments former Bush speechwriter David Frum in the National Review Online. Frum applauds Bush’s major foreign policy speech on the Middle East last week as “important, splendid, and brave.” But he says that the president, by hermetically sealing himself off from the British citizenry behind some of the most intense security ever seen, allowed his critics to win the day and failed to reach out to ordinary Britons.
“Despite my fears, there were no clashes between protesters and police: In fact, the anti-Bush protests were surprisingly small and unenergetic compared to the last British protests I witnessed, back in October 2002.
“But — and here’s the catch — the reason for the comparative quiet was that Bush and Blair surrendered the streets of London to the radicals. The original plan for the visit contemplated that Bush would drive in a royal coach down the Mall from Buckingham Palace to Whitehall. It contemplated an address to Members of Parliament. Tens of thousands of cheering schoolchildren waving British and American flags would also have been nice …
“By agreeing to let the President be bottled up inside the palace, the trip’s planners reduced the risk of confrontations — but only by broadcasting to the British public their tacit acknowledgment that the visit was unpopular and unwelcome.
“By eliminating from the president’s schedule events with any touch of spontaneity or public contact, the trip planners made the president look as if he could not or would not engage with ordinary British people. Unless you see it, you can hardly believe the incredible feebleness of the American communication effort in the UK. The US ambassador is nowhere to be seen, and nobody else seems to have the mission to speak up for this administration and this president. The cocooning of the president has demoralized even those who ought to be America’s friends.”
Frum should tell it to his old colleague Karl Rove, whose election strategy clearly does not include TV footage of Bush confronting protesters in the streets.
Minneapolis-based syndicated columnist and blogger James Lileks (“the Bleat”) rips the “ignorant” producers at ABC’s “Nightline” for skipping over Bush’s big foreign policy speech in London in favor of the Michael Jackson pedophilia melee last Thursday. Citing a “Nightline” electronic newsletter to its viewing audience saying that “the staff was split” about which story to cover, Lileks is incredulous:
“You know what? Michael Moore is right. There are many Americans who are ignorant of the world around them. And they’re all TV news producers. Two big bombs in Istanbul, and what’s the big story of the day? Following around a pervy slab of albino Play-Doh as he turns himself into the police. I was stunned to discover last [Thursday] night that Nightline not only covered the Jackson case in detail, but bumped coverage of the Whitehall speech, which was the most important speech since the Iraq campaign began and arguably the most important speech of the war, period.
“Nightline, supposedly the Thinking Person’s Late Night Show, was split about whether a repudiation of 50 years of foreign policy was slightly more important than the arrest of a washed-up, crotch-grabbing yee-hee! squeaking nutball who was probably the horrid pedophile everyone already thought he was.
“The question is whether this reflects the mood of the country, or whether it reflects the mood of our Olympian betters who hand down the news from their lofty aeries. I think it’s the latter. I hope it’s the latter. Of course Jackson is an item of interest, but it’s a below-the-fold story. It’s an artifact of the noisy empty 90s, the Jerry Springer era, the time when the networks sought out the people pasted to their sofas shoveling in Doritos and watching hapless fools throw folding chairs at their ex-lovers. Watching the [networks] fall over themselves covering Jackson makes you suspect that they yearn for those days, because they are profoundly ambivalent about the conflict in which we are engaged.
“They fear Islamic terrorism, but it’s an abstract fear now. Their distaste of Bush is much more tangible and immediate; it’s part of the atmosphere in the newsroom. This is his war, not theirs. If it is a war at all.”
In an early salvo in what is certain to be a crucial debate over whether Bush’s invasion of Iraq has actually made terrorism worse, Lileks blasts war critics as spineless appeasers prepared to sell out America and Israel.
“‘It’s going to take another attack to convince the fence-sitters’: I hear this all the time. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the next attack on American soil will jolt those who’ve moved on, who’ve forgotten the aching, clammy dread we all felt after 9/11. But others will believe that we brought it on ourselves. You already read it around the web — the bombings in Turkey were a response to Britain’s assistance for toppling Saddam; what did we expect? In other words: if we fight back, we get what we deserve. If we do not fight back, and we are attacked again, you can blame it on the crimes for which we have not yet sufficiently atoned. The only proper posture for the West is supine. Curl up and let them kick until they’re spent. Give them Israel and New York and perhaps they’ll go away.
“This is either going to end on their terms, or ours. Which would you prefer?”
For his part, Gen. Tommy Franks, who retired in August 2003 after commanding U.S. forces during the invasion of Iraq, takes a darker view of another catastrophic attack on U.S. soil. According to NewsMax.com, a right-wing news site based in Palm Beach, Fla., Franks says such an attack could result in the U.S. government being dissolved in favor of a military state. (NewsMax quotes from an interview with Franks in the Dec. issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine.)
“Gen. Tommy Franks says that if the United States is hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicts large casualties, the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government …
“Discussing the hypothetical dangers posed to the U.S. in the wake of Sept. 11, Franks said that ‘the worst thing that could happen’ is if terrorists acquire and then use a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon that inflicts heavy casualties.
“If that happens, Franks said, ‘… the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we’ve seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment that we call democracy.’ Franks then offered ‘in a practical sense’ what he thinks would happen in the aftermath of such an attack.
“‘It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world — it may be in the United States of America — that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important.’”
Gen. Franks divines such sinister intentions in Saddam’s anti-American speeches:
“‘I, for one, begin with intent … There is no question that Saddam Hussein had intent to do harm to the Western alliance and to the United States of America. That intent is confirmed in a great many of his speeches, his commentary, the words that have come out of the Iraqi regime over the last dozen or so years. So we have intent.”
But perhaps because of the missing WMD, the general’s rhetoric and logic get all tangled up when it comes to Saddam’s capacity to carry out attacks:
“‘If we know for sure … that a regime has intent to do harm to this country, and if we have something beyond a reasonable doubt that this particular regime may have the wherewithal with which to execute the intent, what are our actions and orders as leaders in this country?’”
In the annals of clear and inspiring battle cries, “We have something beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular regime may have the wherewithal to strike” is not among the finalists.
In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saluted Congress for its passage of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act:
“While news from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror dominate the headlines, here at home progress is being made on another important front: the critical work of military transformation. Today, President Bush will sign into law landmark legislation that will help bring the Defense Department out of the industrial age, and into the information age.”
In the spirit of the Bush administration’s self-professed corporate style of governing, Rumsfeld explained the benefits of the Department of Defense overhaul like a true CEO. There will be streamlined labor negotiations:
“The bill … authorizes national-level bargaining authority, so the DoD can negotiate with unions at the national level, instead of renegotiating the same issue with 1,300 different union locals.”
And some sort of environmental benefit:
“The legislation will also clarify key portions of two environmental laws. Our military must protect the nation while preserving our environmental heritage. These reforms will allow us to train our forces, while maintaining the department’s high standard of environmental stewardship.”
“This legislation is an important step forward on the road to transforming the department. Already, we have reduced management and headquarters staffs by 11 percent and streamlined the budget and acquisition processes by eliminating hundreds of pages of unnecessary rules and self-imposed red tape.”
All of which Rumsfeld capped off with some of his special clarifying syntax (normally reserved for press conferences):
“But this [legislation] is only a step. Transforming is not an event. There is no moment at which the DoD moves from being untransformed to being ‘transformed.’”
Hey, baby, want to go back to my pad, drink some wine and commit spiritual suicide?
In last Saturday’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks argued that conservatives should embrace gay marriage because encouraging marriage, whether for gays or straights, will help stop society’s decline into immoral, egotistical “contingency.” This is familiar conservative high-moral-sermon territory, but more than a few readers may have choked on their coffee when they read Brooks’ weird lead:
“Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations.”
Brooks did not say whether those who have had several sexual partners in a year and a half are also committing spiritual suicide.
Spank me, please (or at least buy my doll)
Like an impetuous child in an elevator, right-of-Attila shock shrew Ann Coulter delights in wildly pressing all the hot little buttons just to see what will happen. This habit got her exiled from the “respectable” right: the über-conservative National Review Online dropped her weekly column from its site in late 2001 and after she wrote (and they published) a notorious column in which she called for the U.S. to “invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
But even if she’s regarded by mainstream conservatives as a self-promoting freak, Coulter continues to be a major player on the far right. Her “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right” was a runaway No. 1 bestseller, with more than 400,000 copies in print.
In her latest column for right-wing clearinghouse Townhall.com, Coulter is in classic form, flailing at the Democratic presidential candidates for shamelessly exploiting personal tragedy and suddenly discovering their Jewishness.
“The Democrats have discovered a surprise campaign issue: It turns out that several of them have had a death in the family. Not only that, but many Democrats have cracker-barrel humble origins stories and a Jew or lesbian in the family. Dick Gephardt’s campaign platform is that his father was a milkman, his son almost died and his daughter is a lesbian. Vote for me!…
“Howard Dean talks about his brother Charlie’s murder at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. Bizarrely, after working on the failed George McGovern campaign, Charlie Dean went to Indochina in 1974 to witness the ravages of the war he had opposed. Not long after he arrived, the apparently ungrateful communists captured and killed him. ‘Hey fellas! I’m on your s– CLUNK!’…
“In addition to having a number of family deaths among them, the Democrats’ other big idea — too nuanced for a bumper sticker — is that many of them have Jewish ancestry. There’s Joe Lieberman: Always Jewish. Wesley Clark: Found Out His Father Was Jewish in College. John Kerry: Jewish Since He Began Presidential Fund-Raising. Howard Dean: Married to a Jew. Al Sharpton: Circumcised. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to have unearthed some evidence that she was a Jew — along with the long lost evidence that she was a Yankees fan. And that, boys and girls, is how the Jews survived thousands of years of persecution: by being susceptible to pandering …”
This last line is not the obvious anti-Semitic slur it initially appears to be, but a less obvious one. It’s Coulter’s ironic put-down of Democrats, whose pandering she contrasts with the true suffering of Jews. In Coulter’s mind, it seems, you can’t be a “real” Jew and a Democrat — a weird, convoluted position that creates a whole new category of partisan anti-Semitism. But lest someone accuse Coulter of this, she immediately stakes out her pro-Jewish bona fides by making the absurd claim that the evil Democrats — who until the current Bush administration were always more pro-Israel than Republicans, and continue to be staunchly pro-Sharon — are planning to sell out Israel to the terrorists:
“The Democrats’ urge to assert a Jewish heritage is designed to disguise the fact that the Democrats would allow the state of Israel to perish as Palestinian suicide bombers slaughter Jewish women and children. Their humble-origins claptrap is designed to disguise the fact that liberals think ordinary people are racist scum. Their perverse desire to discuss the deaths and near-deaths of their children is designed to disguise the fact that they support the killing of more than a million unborn children every year. (Oh, by the way, what did their milkman and mill worker fathers think about abortion?)”
Having gotten that borderline-psychotic screed off her chest, Coulter turns to flogging her newly expanded line of personal merchandise. Just in time for the holiday season, it’s the Ann Coulter “talking action figure,” whose advertisement gets the final word on the page:
“Amuse your conservative friends and annoy your liberal neighbors with the brand new Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure. This incredibly lifelike action figure looks just like the beautiful Ann Coulter, and best of all… it sounds like Ann, too! This highly collectible doll comes in a display box with information highlighting Ann’s unique contributions to America’s political discourse. If you can’t get enough Ann Coulter, you’ll want to order the Ann Coulter Talking Action Figure today!”
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Read more of “Right Hook,” Salon’s weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.
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)