"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)
This week’s debate in the Senate whether to consider a Federal Marriage Amendment has thrust the same-sex marriage issue into the center of the presidential campaign once again. However, as Salon’s War Room noted on Monday, for some on the political right it was John Edwards’ hitting the campaign trail with John Kerry that thrust homosexuality back into the national discourse. Last week Internet gossipmonger Matt Drudge floated a “special report” apparently aimed at jump-starting the cultural-values debate.
“Hugs, kisses to the cheek, affectionate touching of the face, caressing of the back, grabbing of the arm, fingers to the neck, rubbing of the knees…
“John Kerry and John Edwards can’t keep their hands off each other! In the past 48 hours, ‘candidate handling’ has become the top buzz on the trail. News photographers have been going wild with buddy photos of the two Johns.
“‘I’ve been covering Washington and politics for 30 years. I can say I’ve never seen this much touching between two men, publicly,’ e-mailed one wire photographer.”
The denizens of the right-wing echo chamber Free Republic gleefully blogged up a storm, which included the posting of, well, several creatively enhanced images of the two Dems getting up close and personal. None of the Freepers, of course, posted comments using their real names, but they nonetheless had some incisive appraisals of Kerry-Edwards to share.
“Maybe its thier way to get the gay votes…”
“Obviously their courting a certain different rainbow coalition not a part of Jesse Jackson. Next thing you know they’ll get married in MA then a honeymoon in Frisco.”
“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘being on the stump’!”
“Have you seen their wives? No wonder they’re heavy petting each other.”
“‘Gays Gone Wild’ for prez. Terraayzaa will get tired of watching the forplay and will take action.”
“Aha! I suspected they were Russians. Is that a real picture or photoshopped?”
Commentary on the same-sex marriage issue over at right-wing flagship National Review hasn’t done much to elevate the debate. Guest contributor Maggie Gallagher, the president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, contends that “when mothers and fathers don’t get and stay married,” America spirals into a frightening vortex of societal ills.
“Bad things happen to more kids more often: more poverty, welfare dependence, child abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, physical illness, infant mortality, accidental death, homicide, premature and promiscuous sexuality, early unwed pregnancy, suicide, juvenile delinquency, educational failure, conduct disorders and adult criminality. Children suffer and whole communities pay the cost in crime, social disorder and high taxes as government steps in to deal with the needs created when families fall apart.”
Amid her “top five reasons to oppose same-sex marriage,” Gallagher insists that same-sex marriage “sends a terrible message to the next generation” because it proves that “marriage is about adult desires for affirmation or benefits, not about the well-being of children.” She also offers a helpful section, Frequently Asked Questions, which explains that homosexual couples could never be “ideal,” are foremost interested in wanton behavior, and have been abetted by a misguided American judiciary:
“Are you saying gays can’t be good parents?
Two men might each be a good father, but neither can be a mom. Children are hungry for the love and attention of both their parents — their mom and their dad. Marriage is about giving children the ideal, and no same-sex couple can provide that.
“Why do you want to interfere with love?
Love is not an excuse for adults to do whatever they want and assume the kids will adjust…
“Why are you blaming gays and lesbians for the problems of heterosexuals?
Judges are the ones rewriting our marriage laws. People who really cared about marriage and the suffering of fatherless children would not rewrite our marriage law to say that kids don’t need fathers, and that alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising children together. That’s the message of same-sex marriage. It’s not kind or compassionate to children at all.”
Gallagher might be heartened by the efforts of the Presidential Prayer Team, a private organization devoted to “serving the prayer needs of all current and future leaders of our great nation.” The group appealed to its constituents last week in hopes of alleviating a lack of qualified judges.
“Pray for godly judges to be appointed and confirmed across America. Many district appointees nominated by the President have had their appointments blocked. Pray that those whom God desires to serve in these vital judicial seats will be affirmed for service to our nation.”
John Edwards on trial
While Drudge and his ilk may think that tagging Edwards as Kerry’s new boy-toy is a sound political strategy, syndicated columnist Mark Steyn warns in the London Daily Telegraph that the GOP should reconsider the idea of ripping into Edwards for his legal background.
“If the Bush campaign is figuring on tarring Edwards as a fancypants trial lawyer, they should rethink. He spent much of his life defending kids against corporations, and, whatever the fine print, the basic outline of that terrain is not favourable to Republicans.
“For another, his own son died in a car accident at the age of 16 — the one stark tragedy in Edwards’s effortless career rise and happy home life with his college sweetheart. Today, John and Elizabeth Edwards have three children — a daughter at college, and two youngsters born since the death of their first son. What the Republicans see as a shyster the media will paint as a champion of defenceless children driven by a heart-rending twist of fate.”
Instead, Steyn goes after Edwards for his “Two Americas” stump speech, which he dubs “Dickensian gloom” that has nothing to do with today’s fast-food nation.
“It is standard on the Left now to insist that Bush’s ‘war’ is a fiction cooked up by Dick Cheney to enrich his pals. But Edwards’s two Americas are the real fantasy. Take that 10-year old girl, hungry and coatless. In America, poverty doesn’t mean hunger, it means fat — it’s harassed moms shovelling 99-cent cheeseburgers into their kids because it’s cheap and quick. Nor does poverty mean coatlessness.
“Edwards’s shivering 10-year-old can get a brand-new quilted winter coat for $9.99 at JC Penney, or secondhand for three bucks at my local thrift shop — at least until Edwards and Kerry crack down on the cheap textile imports they’ve been attacking these past two years. There may be two Americas, but Edwards’s America doesn’t exist anywhere from Maine to Hawaii. Even as a lurid Victorian melodrama designed to frighten prosperous soccer moms into voting against hard-hearted Republicans, it sounds ridiculous.”
As debate continues to burn over the influence that Michael Moore’s smash hit “Fahrenheit 9/11″ may have on the November election, Matthew d’Ancona has penned a striking column in the London Sunday Telegraph arguing that the relative truths of the movie aren’t the issue at all. “The hawks have only themselves to blame for Michael Moore’s success,” he says, noting that the right-wing attacks against Moore have been in vain.
“The forensic demolition of Fahrenheit 9/11 which has already been carried out in the American press has apparently done nothing to diminish Moore’s appeal or his popularity around the world. He has himself said that the film is not meant to be fair … This is popcorn politics, militancy for the multiplexes. And, as such, it is extremely successful. Moore uses all the techniques of modern mass entertainment with supreme skill: comic intercutting, brilliantly-selected music, shocking images of civilian casualties, a laconic voiceover interspersed with scenes of untrammelled emotion. I confess that I found it gripping.
“Unlike Moore, I supported the destruction of the Taliban regime and the liberation of Iraq. But I also have to acknowledge the aplomb of his campaign, and the cunning of his strategy. He has not only touched a nerve; he has filled a vacuum. He has identified the feebleness of the campaign to persuade the public that the war on terror is necessary and exploited that weakness to the hilt.”
He says Moore is exactly right to do so, given how badly the Bush administration has botched the ideological mission — as well as the one on the ground in Iraq.
“Who can blame Michael Moore for seizing his chance? No war in modern history has been as badly sold to the public as this one. In private, the Prime Minister [Tony Blair] admits to colleagues that, in this respect, ‘I have failed’. No Western politician, including Mr. Blair, has successfully produced a political narrative which transcends the old methods of spin developed in the 1990s and explains why the war on terror is a completely new kind of struggle … to be prosecuted successfully, the war on terror will require durable public faith in politicians and the intelligence services that inform them: the very trust which has taken such a terrible beating before, during and after the Iraqi conflict. The anti-war lobby has the slick movies of Michael Moore. And what do we hawks have? The sickening images of Abu Ghraib, that’s what.
“This is why it isn’t enough to say that Moore manipulates the facts, or that he is a charlatan, or that his arguments are glib. The reality is that his methods are working, and working for a reason. He is the grizzled face of a culture in denial, the contrarian voice of the millions who would rather hate Dubya than confront the awesome threat that stalks our age.”
D’Ancona sees the film’s commercial success — as well as Moore’s utter lack of vision on the “big issues” — as a hell of a wakeup call.
“His success is an urgent warning to those who support the war, who grasp its importance, to raise their game, and fast. Nitpicking is not the answer. It’s the big issues that count. And it’s there that Michael Moore has no answers. If he is so visionary, why is his objective — to run Bush out of the White House — so parochial? What would he do about the new horrors of our time? Dude, where’s your sense of history?”
Blogger Steven Den Beste, who studies military strategy and history, wonders whether Michael Moore “may, in the end, turn out to be the American Loonie Left’s Muqtada al-Sadr.” He predicts that the Moore moviegoing insurgency, which he believes really hates America, will ultimately hurt the Kerry campaign.
“One reason for al-Sadr’s failure was strong suspicion among Iraqis that he was an Iranian puppet and served Iranian interests. LL’s rallying around Moore’s flag will end up delivering many unpalatable messages, and one of those will be that France was actually right all along. Moore is no French puppet, but his movie was blessed by France, with the Palme d’Or at Cannes…
“Moore has planted his flag smacko in the middle of the Holy City of anti-Americanism. To defend that position, the LL’s will now vocally proclaim something many have long believed but avoided admitting: they hate America and everything it stands for. That is not a message that will sell well to the broad electorate. They will proclaim that they love this nation, but… and then make clear that they despise most of the people who live in it, and despise the very features of this nation that the majority of us see as its greatest virtues…
“Bush may be vulnerable to substantive criticism of his personal capabilities and his policies and motivation. There might be a rational and convincing argument to be made for voting for “anyone but Bush”. But we won’t find out in 2004. Michael Moore has done more than any other single man to guarantee that. Someone on the left may voice such an argument, but he’ll be drowned out by rabid LL jihadists as they stridently deliver a message tailor-made to alienate the broad electorate in style of presentation, in attitude, in substance, and in underlying message.”
But if most on the political right believe Moore’s film is a mangled ball of political expediency, Den Beste floats a provocative conspiracy theory of his own regarding Moore’s motives:
“If one was particularly cynical, one might entertain the suspicion that Moore secretly hates the left, and is laughing twice as hard. Not only is he getting filthy rich off them, and laughing all the way to his bank, he’s also helping to engineer their marginalization, and laughing all the way to their political destruction.”
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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)