"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: Entertainment News
I’ve let too much time pass without giving you your say, so today’s “the readers write” column will catch us up to the beginning of this week, and I promise I’ll do another one soonest with your letters about Roger Clemens and the All-Star Game, Bob Feller and Muhammad Ali, and the Shaquille O’Neal trade.
Onward, organized by subject.
Poll of baseball players says three of four “wouldn’t be bothered” by having a gay teammate
Catherine Bracy: I’m a bit more skeptical about that three out of four. I think some players are trying to be politically correct by saying they wouldn’t have a problem with it. Athletes (should) know better than to express controversial opinions to the press, even if this is an anonymous survey. Don’t you think a couple of guys hesitated when they read that question and decided to put down the “right” answer, not the answer they really felt?
King replies: I really don’t have a feeling for how many were holding their tongues due to political correctness, but on the other hand, does it matter? If they’re unwilling to say something negative because of political correctness, they’re probably going to be unwilling to do something negative also. Holding their tongue is a sign that they know what the appropriate behavior is.
Chris Owen: There’s at least one precedent for a male professional athlete coming out of the closet: Ian Roberts, an Australian rugby league player, revealed he was gay in 1995. Roberts was already an established star who had played for Australia, and the announcement came towards the end of his career. I don’t recall a firestorm of controversy accompanying the revelation — but no other league player has come out since then either.
King replies: At his retirement press conference in 1998, Roberts said that the positive public reaction to his coming out “is my highlight over anything I’ve accomplished on the field.”
Fans being pelted with junk statistics during TV broadcasts
Peter Frase: Watching for these marvels of incompetent sports broadcasting can be an amusing pastime when you’re watching a boring game. Still, all these pseudo-sabermetric displays do make me worry for the intellectual health of the nation — I mean, if you believe that it matters how a guy hits on odd-numbered days of the month, it’s not much of a stretch to think that Saddam planned the 9/11 attacks.
Pan Demetrakakes: [Reminds] me of something I heard on a recent Cubs broadcast. A little context (something you don’t get with these stats): The Cubs broadcast team consists of play-by-play announcer Chip Caray, grandson of Harry, and color man Steve Stone, whose job mostly involves not being too obvious about correcting Chip’s inanities.
Chip: Opponents are hitting .250 against [Glendon] Rusch when his pitch count is below 100, but only .166 when it’s above 100. What do you think that means?
Steve: It means he doesn’t throw more than 100 pitches very often.
Jason in N.Y.C. I’m writing because I wonder where I fall in your 76.9 percent figure on how many readers click through to Page 2. I usually don’t click through, because I print your articles out immediately and go read them in the bathroom at work. When I go to the print page set up for your article, am I counted in the click-through category? I’d hate to think I wasn’t counted as a full reader of your work.
King replies: Several people asked this question. The answer is you’re not counted as clicking through to Page 2, but your click on the “print” page is counted, and, more importantly, I don’t think anybody looks at these numbers at that level of detail. Use Salon however it works best for you, Jason, and, uh, happy reading.
Matthew Powers: You forget 48.67 percent of all statistics are made up.
Michael Berman: Great column on meaningless (or at least context-free) stats during broadcasts. Here was one of my favorites (I can’t remember the player):
Batting average: .304
Batting average on the road .306
Wow. This guy was quite a menace on the road.
Dave Perez: I thought I smelled a rat when I first heard that stat. [The column dealt with ESPN crowing about the Anaheim Angels scoring 40 percent of their runs with two outs.] They bank on the notion that nobody will take the time to look it up like you did. Just like politicians’ ads.
Ray Radlein: Your column also reminded me of the classic “Dilbert” strip where the pointy-haired boss’s secretary gets inside his head by revealing the shocking statistic that 40 percent of all employee sick days are on a Monday or a Friday.
Interview with Jeff Benedict, author of “Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence, and Crime,” about the book and the Kobe Bryant case
Melody Blass: Just wanted to say I really appreciate your interview with Jeff Benedict and your thoughts on Kobe. As a counselor who works in the Bronx with victims of domestic violence and rape, obviously this is an issue I confront every day.
The reaction that Kobe’s case has gotten has made me angry and frustrated, though not surprised. The sports fans who write, call and e-mail their favorite sportswriters and TV and radio personalities have unleashed a torrent of vindictive anger at Kobe’s accuser, and others have threatened her directly. I spoke to a prosecutor who works in the sex crimes division in Manhattan, and she told me the case has had a chilling effect on the victims she works with. After seeing what happened to the woman who made the report against Kobe, they are afraid to bring their own perpetrators to justice.
And meanwhile we have a country full of sports fans who believe they know a man because they’ve seen him play a game on TV, and yet they’re ignorant to the real issues.
Eulas G. Boyd: I think Benedict’s research is implicitly racist in that his motivation appears to be a white man’s sense of outrage at the perceived inability of the system to adequately control black professional athletes. The real issue is why people like Benedict feel it’s the NBA’s job to punish the criminal behavior of its employees. Of course a 10-game suspension for a sexual assault is inadequate; the NBA can’t do anything that is.
This is about a class of black people having access to the same kind of flexible, resource-based justice that affluent white men have always taken for granted. Benedict isn’t calling for greater regulation in the business sector of convicted embezzlers or forgers, he’s calling for the employers of men whom he doesn’t see anything “admirable or beautiful” about to sanction and control them because he doesn’t like that the system has a class-based glitch that can trump race.
Brick: Maybe it’s time to take a break, Mr. Kaufman.
Seems to me that when you spend an entire [column] talking about yourself, you are no longer reporting. You are talking about yourself. It happens to most all reporters and columnists at some point. The good ones on occasion. The bad ones — the O’Reillys and Drudges, say — well, they do it for a living. And people love it. I just don’t know if that is good, though.
I suppose after a while all the stories tend to blur together, and it’s always a lot easier to get a grip on the guy in the mirror than the guy on the ice or court or whatever. I just rather think that the opinion — and character — of the writer can come through in the stories themselves, without having to be enunciated.
Kevin J. MacDonald: I just wanted to give you props for a fun column today. Half the joy of sports is telling your friends why you love what you love and hate what they love.
Jerry L. Gale: I have long maintained that the best sport of all sports is rugby. It is far, far superior to the second best sport to watch, which is football, because everyone has to touch and run with the ball and because they play without a suit of armor.
C. Manion: Have to disagree with you on hockey being a faster sport [than lacrosse]. Sure, the use of skates means the players move down the field/ice faster, but as a general rule, a lacrosse ball moves much, much faster than a hockey puck.
Last year, at the NHL skills competition, I believe the hardest shot was around 99 mph I think it is safe to say that every professional (indoor and outdoor) lacrosse team, as well as any good Division I or Division III college team, has a player that can hit 100 mph or more. Not sure what the record for the hardest hockey shot is, but David Evans of the Boston pro lacrosse team hit 108 last year. Also, check out the padding — or lack thereof — worn by lacrosse goalies vs. hockey ones.
King replies: Yeah, but I’m talking about the speed of the players. And anyway the hardest hockey shot was 105.2 mph. So, do you really say that lacrosse is a faster sport than hockey because they can shoot 108 instead of 105?
Comparing Eric Gagne’s save streak to other famous baseball streaks
Jason Owens: I hate to break it to you, but Gagne’s streak is far more impressive than either Joe DiMaggio’s [56-game hitting streak] or Cal Ripken Jr.’s [2,632-game appearance streak] from an on-the-field, actually affecting games perspective. A save might be a seriously flawed statistic, but at least it means something in the context of an actual game.
Contrast that to DiMaggio’s streak. As impressive as 56 games is, what’s more valuable to a team: all those consecutive games with a base hit or 56 consecutive games where DiMaggio went hitless three times, yet also hit six more homers, drove in 15 more runs and got on base 10 more times than he did during his hitting streak? If I’m a manager, I’m taking the non-streak with the extra production since that equals wins. Remember wins?
Chris Railey: On the question of which of those streaks is more impressive, I wholeheartedly agree with you that Orel Hershiser’s [59-inning shutout] streak is the tops. Theoretically, a hitter can put together a bunch of 1-for-5′s in a row and it’s a streak (for the record, Joe D. was 91-for-223 during the streak, an average of .408). And Ripken’s streak: well, fuck that guy. But all those zeroes Orel was piling up — that’s dominance.
Another point: Hershiser’s streak, more than both DiMaggio’s and Ripken’s, is more obviously tied to that player’s team winning games. In other words, Hershiser’s streak transcends individual accomplishment in a much more profound way. For pure drama’s sake, I think the hitting streak ranks first, if only because of situations like a guy being on-deck in the ninth inning without getting a hit yet, and things like that. I doubt Hershiser’s streak is in much danger in the Steroid Era.
Yajur Parikh: You state, “Ripken’s was remarkable, but all he had to do to keep it alive was show up, not perform.” I’d have to disagree here. If Ripken hadn’t performed well both at the plate and on the field, its unlikely he would have been playing every single day for such a long period of time. I always thought what was really astonishing about Ripken’s streak is not just that he avoided injury for so many years, but that he was good enough for his manager to put him out there for so long as well.
King replies: Of course Ripken was a great player. You can’t put together that kind of streak without being one, but he had some pretty sub-par years in ’92, ’93 and ’95, the year he broke Lou Gehrig’s record late in the season. You don’t think he’d have had some pine time if he hadn’t had the streak?
The streak absolutely kept itself going, independent of any normal baseball judgment of his performance. To have a streak like that in the first place, Ripken had to be great. To keep it going once he was within sight of the record, all he had to do was show up.
Dusty Baker’s one-game-a-week comment
Stephen Hope: Aren’t you mistreating Dusty Baker’s “game a week” quote? [Baker had said the Cubs, down by seven games in the N.L. Central, only had to make up a game a week. This column's response was that that statement is always a white flag in the division race, code for "Hang in there, boys, there's still the wild card."]
All the guy is doing is turning a large deficit into something that seems manageable. In something as streaky as baseball, it’s not like this means he’s really expecting to gain exactly a game each week of the rest of the season — Dusty knows that. But the point that a performance differential of a game a week between two teams can be sustained over a half-season is perfectly valid.
King replies: I’ve been in the doghouse with my boss ever since that column. It’s a Dusty Baker-autographed doghouse, by the way. Doggedly pursuing the matter, she pointed out that Baker made the game-a-week comment in 1997, and his Giants won the division. In fact, he says it every year his team doesn’t go wire to wire.
I give. Uncle. I was totally wrong about this. I take it all back.
But the next time you hear a manager making this statement, even if it’s Dusty Baker, and you want to bet on that team’s chances of winning the division, you know where to find me.
Previous column: Shaq to the Heat
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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)