"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)
Arianna Huffington is a Salon contributor, a syndicated columnist and the author most recently of “Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America.”
With Iraq burning, WMD missing, jobs at Herbert Hoover levels, flu shots nowhere to be found, gas prices through the roof, and Osama bin Laden back on the scene looking tanned, rested and ready to rumble, this should have been a can’t-lose election for the Democrats. Especially since they were more unified than ever before, had raised as much money as the Republicans, and were appealing to a country where 55 percent of voters believed we were headed in the wrong direction.
But lose it they did.
So the question inevitably becomes: What now?
Already there are those in the party convinced that, in the interest of expediency, Democrats need to put forth more “centrist” candidate — i.e., Republican-lite candidates — who can make inroads in the all-red middle of the country.
I’m sorry to pour salt on raw wounds, but isn’t that what Tom Daschle did? He even ran ads showing himself hugging the president! But South Dakotans refused to embrace this lily-livered tactic. Because, ultimately, copycat candidates fail in the way “me-too” brands do.
Unless the Democratic Party wants to become a permanent minority party, there is no alternative but to return to the idealism, boldness and generosity of spirit that marked the presidencies of FDR and JFK and the short-lived presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy.
Otherwise, the Republicans will continue their winning ways, convincing tens of millions of hardworking Americans to vote for them even as they cut their services and send their children off to die in an unjust war.
Democrats have a winning message. They just have to trust it enough to deliver it. This time they clearly didn’t.
Camille Paglia is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. She spoke to Salon just last week. Her forthcoming book is “Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems”
The Democratic Party bureaucracy and A-list consultants need to be disassembled like matchstick men. After Kerry’s failure to win crucial states in the great red sea of the South and Midwest, it should be obvious that party strategists have lost the national war of ideas. First step: Fire DNC chief Terry McAuliffe, a shallow hack whose political expertise is at the Chamber of Commerce level. This is no way to pick the leader of the free world.
Democrats have got to go cold turkey on their tedious old rhetoric about the suffering masses in their World of Pain. The Democrats’ condescending portraits of African-Americans and the poor are manipulative, patronizing and ultimately self-destructive. The humanistic vision of progressive liberal politics (which I subscribe to) needs to be projected in inspiring, poetic language.
Democratic principles should not just be a litany of complaints, a fracturing of the body politic into pockets of greedy self-interest. This is an energetic, creative can-do nation: Democrats must celebrate independence and individualism (the spirit of the 1960s) and stop encouraging infantile dependence on the government.
In the weeks leading up to this election, the Northeastern major media (network news and urban newspapers) were caught in blatant displays of liberal bias and overt conspiracy. This can’t go on: It is unprofessional and unethical, and it alienates the heartland. But conservative talk radio and TV must admit that they too are now part of the media — and a very powerful and richly compensated one too.
Progressives must do some serious soul-searching. Too often they are guilty of arrogance, insularity and sanctimony. They claim to speak for the common man but make few forays beyond their own affluent, upper-middle-class circles. There needs to be less preaching and more direct observation of social reality. America is evolving, and populism may be shifting to the Republican side.
And don’t look to Hillary Clinton to be the party’s savior. I hope Hillary will run for president in 2008, but I am skeptical of her willingness or ability to endure a punishingly long campaign on the stump and, as a New York senator, to win more states beyond the Gore/Kerry list. We Democrats need to groom a far wider slate of national candidates, above all talented women from the Midwest and South who can make inroads into the Republican base.
But the country and world would benefit from making Bill Clinton the next secretary general of the United Nations. He will do the repairing of alliances that would have been President Kerry’s greatest achievement.
Rick Moody is the author of the novels “Garden State,” “Purple America” and “The Ice Storm” and the memoir “The Black Veil.”
The best thing that’s happened in the last 18 months, perhaps the only truly good thing that’s happened in the last 18 months, is the beginning of unity among antiwar activists and anti-Bush activists, etc. At both the antiwar demonstrations of 2003 and in the march against the RNC there was a tremendous sense of energy and enthusiasm, more than I’ve seen in the last 25 years. What would make matters worse, right now, is if we interpreted Kerry’s concession as a sign of weakness on the left. As we have four more years, now we’ve got some time to consider and to plan effectively. Despair is OK for an afternoon, but it’s important to remember: This is the most corrupt presidency in modern history. It’s unlikely to improve. So there’s lots to do.
Alan Wolfe is a professor of political science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. His most recent books include “The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Practice Our Faith” and “An Intellectual in Public.”
The one thing we do not do is panic. With invective as treacherous and outrageous as any heaped at a candidate for national office in our history, John F. Kerry showed himself to be a man of courage, principle and commitment. He fought war against opponents who treat politics as warfare and came very close to winning. Of all the candidates who made themselves available, he was the best, and we should be grateful to him for his efforts.
The real disaster is on the legislative side. The country is in a very conservative mood, far more than I (for one) realized. For the first time in their history, Americans are about to experience what conservatism really means, and I am not sure they will be pleased with the results. As the next few years unfold, Democrats should talk about such ideas as stewardship, responsibility, long-term consequences and other such ideas that are conservative in their own way, not conservative politically, but temperamentally. We are about to experience a very radical turn in our history. Reminding Americans that their traditions also embody respect for our society as a whole — for its historic values, its beauty, its sense of the common good — is the kind of conservatism to which people will respond when this particular version of our long national nightmare is over.
Jay McInerney is the author of “Bright Lights, Big City” and “How It Ended.”
I’m going to apply for an Irish passport. And starting tonight, I’m going to read “Civil Disobedience” to my kids.
Anne Lamott is a Salon columnist and the author of “Bird by Bird,” “Operating Instructions,” “Traveling Mercies” and many other books.
I don’t have a clue what we’re going to do, outside of what we always do when we are crushed — when, say, a close friend dies suddenly, which is sort of how this leaves me feeling. We’ll feel like shit for a while, together. We’ll let some time pass, together. We’ll take care of each other. We’ll especially take care of the people who were already really sick before the election. We’ll do the laundry. We’ll baby ourselves for a few days. (I personally am going to finish off every single bit of Halloween candy.) We’ll make lots of indoor domestic lights, as the darkness increases — fires in the fireplaces, candles on the mantel. Then we’ll feel better, and only feel sick to our stomachs off and on. Those of us with kids who will be of draft age soon will have to figure out where we need to move to, but in the meantime, our dogs will need to be walked. Then we’ll remember that we have a dream, and those of us in an increasingly vast left-wing conspiracy will begin to think about our strategy for the midterms.
Mark Crispin Miller is a media critic, professor of communications at New York University, and author, most recently, of “Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order.”
First of all, this election was definitely rigged. I have no doubt about it. It’s a statistical impossibility that Bush got 8 million more votes than he got last time. In 2000, he got 15 million votes from right-wing Christians, and there are approximately 19 million of them in the country. They were eager to get the other 4 million. That was pretty much Karl Rove’s strategy to get Bush elected.
But given Bush’s low popularity ratings and the enormous number of new voters — who skewed Democratic — there is no way in the world that Bush got 8 million more votes this time. I think it had a lot to do with the electronic voting machines. Those machines are completely untrustworthy, and that’s why the Republicans use them. Then there’s the fact that the immediate claim of Ohio was not contested by the news media — when Andrew Card came out and claimed the state, not only were the votes in Ohio not counted, they weren’t even all cast.
I would have to hear a much stronger argument for the authenticity, or I should say the veracity, of this popular vote for Bush before I’m willing to believe it. If someone can prove to me that it happened, that Bush somehow pulled 8 million magic votes out of a hat, OK, I’ll accept it. I’m an independent, not a Democrat, and I’m not living in denial.
And that’s not even talking about Florida, which is about as Democratic a state as Guatemala used to be. The news media is obliged to make the Republicans account for all these votes, and account for the way they were counted. Simply to embrace this result as definitive is irrational. But there is every reason to question it … I find it beyond belief that the press in this formerly democratic country would not have made the integrity of the electoral system a front page, top-of-the-line story for the last three years. I worked and worked and worked to get that story into the media, and no one touched it until your guy did.
I actually got invited to a Kerry fundraiser so I could talk to him about it. I raised the issue directly with him and with Teresa. Teresa was really indignant and really concerned, but Kerry just looked down at me — he’s about 9 feet tall — and I could tell it just didn’t register. It set off all his conspiracy-theory alarms and he just wasn’t listening.
Talk to anyone from a real democracy — from Canada or any European country or India. They are staggered to discover that 80 percent of our touch-screen electronic voting machines have no paper trail and are manufactured by companies owned by Bush Republicans. But there is very little sense of outrage here. Americans for a host of reasons have become alienated from the spirit of the Bill of Rights and that should not be tolerated.
Pop star Moby, from his blog:
… some of us might long for a secession wherein certain parts of the country declare their sovereign autonomy, but given our current state of quasi-united states, well, bush won. tonight i realized that although america is possessed of a lot of progressive people, america is essentially a right-wing republican country. we might resist this fact, but it is a fact. it’s not a fact in manhattan. it’s not a fact in l.a or san francisco. but for 100+ million people it’s a fact … and now we ask … what now? with another 4 years of a republican president/senate/house, well … what do they want? the right-wing have re-asserted their dominance. what do they want? i do hope that the democrats in the house and senate do their best to impose sane restrictions upon the more extreme tendencies of the newly empowered right-wing … the sun will rise tomorrow, and the people who voted for bush will: a) send their sons/daughters off to war in iraq; b) complain about unemployment; c) lament their lack of health care; d) complain about the high price of prescription drugs; e) complain about a low minimum wage; f) complain about high gas prices/heating oil costs; g) and so on; h) and so on … the people have made their choice. and now, for better or worse, they have to live with their choice … can someone remind me why secession is not an option at this point? i mean let’s be realistic, we live in a divided country. can’t we have the breakaway republics of ‘north-east-istan’ and ‘pacific-stan’? wouldn’t the red states be happier without us?”
Sean Wilentz is the Dayton-Stockon Professor of History at Princeton University.
What now? Take the full measure of the religious fanaticism that has seized control of the federal government. Senators who advocate capital punishment for abortion. A Supreme Court about to be filled for the next 40 years with certified John C. Calhounites and theocrats. A president who stands up for “the right God.” A mass media apparently dedicated to lobotomizing the America people and hiding these facts. An honest recognition that this isn’t because of some cheating or deception or false impression the American people have received. Participation in this election, after all, went up. This is what an electoral majority of the American people have become in the current mood. We should, in short, face facts. No recriminations: just facing the fact that, for now and the foreseeable future, we really are two countries.
Harvey Weinstein is co-chairman of Miramax Films and partner in the Fellowship Adventure Group, which produced “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
We need to make a bipartisan effort to work together and ensure proper checks and balances. The country needs to unite.
Heidi Julavits is a novelist and co-editor of the Believer.
This much has changed for me in the past few hours, after raging at 51 percent of the people in this country. To be honest, I didn’t really care much about the feelings of that 51 percent — I far more cared about rectifying our terribly tarnished image throughout the world. (As my Italian friend just wrote to me, “The fact is four more years of aggressions, lies, destruction of social systems all around the world, are just too much. It’s medieval. I’m scared.”)
Now, however, I realize that we have to treat our own country as a foreign country, with whom our relations are strained beyond the point of communication. Do we compose for that 51 percent, our alienated brethren, novels or poems to mend this rift and sway their minds? My cynical guess is that Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” for example, didn’t experience soaring sales in Mississippi — which is not to discount the importance of writing politically engaged and evocative fiction. This choir loves to be preached to. But in terms of lessening this divide, I think straight activism is the mandate — continuous visits to these red state communities in an attempt to mend this divide, person by damned person, starting with ourselves. I cannot — cannot — understand why 51 percent of the people in this country voted for George Bush — and that is a problem. We need to understand why, and if we understand why, then perhaps our attempts at communication will be more effective.
Andrew Vachss is the author of the Burke novels.
We either find a way to get all those folks who decided their participation wasn’t required, or America’s elections are going to continue to be decided by the most important constituency of all, the nonvoters. The nonvoter/slacker/I’m-too-cool-to-vote people — it doesn’t matter to them, it’s too much trouble. As long as that position is tolerated, I don’t think you ever have political representation that represents the people. Over the next four years, we’re going to find out what “faith-based” really means. This could change the Supreme Court forever, which could change — literally — the way our Constitution is interpreted. Only in America could someone win by less that 1 percent and say that he had a mandate from the country!
Jim Shepard is the author of “Project X” and “Love and Hydrogen.”
There are really only two options for this country, from here on in: Either things are going to get much, much worse before they get better, or they’re going to get much, much worse and stay that way. Fear and ignorance are a close to unbeatable combination. And each is only going to intensify. What we (and the rest of the world) are in for now is going to be something to behold. So. Maybe the best thing we can do is what we normally do, as writers: continue to work to understand how the world operates, and continue to try to communicate that understanding. The radical right is going to attempt to consolidate its stranglehold on political power. One of the crucial things writers can do, in the face of that, is to work to maintain — and it’s going to be an uphill struggle — a free press.
Abha Dawesar is the author of “Miniplanner.”
What to do now? Wheel out every writer about to flee Bush-i-stan on a book tour to the swing states so that next time round the moral vote swings in favor of peace and public liberty. Petition Philip Roth to write about “The Plot IN America.” Invite the French to join the union as the 51st state so that they can vote. Console all those kids who turned up at the polls and tell them that just because bad things happen once it doesn t mean they have to happen again. Get behind Hillary! In another four years we don’t want to be slapping our foreheads about what to do then.
Ayelet Waldman is the author of “Daughter’s Keeper” and the Mommy-Track Mysteries.
I’m hard at work drafting Articles of Secession for the Republic of California.
Doug Brinkley is a historian and Kerry biographer.
Right now a battle is on for the soul of the Democratic Party. There is no way Hillary Clinton will be able to win the White House in 2008. Only two candidates can: John Kerry or Evan Bayh. I think the Democratic party has to focus now on becoming dominant in the Midwest. Bayh is a native son. Kerry has earned the respect of the people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, etc…. Only time will tell.
Ellen Willis is a journalism professor at New York University and the author of “Don’t Think, Smile!: Notes on a Decade of Denial” and other books.
Basically, the first thing is to face up to the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party. They spent four years scapegoating Ralph Nader for Florida in 2000, and at least we’ve heard the last of that. Nader was no factor this year, and that’s not an excuse.
What you see already this year is that Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and Thomas Frank [author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?"] are already scapegoating cultural liberals. The argument is that we’ve let ourselves get separated from the heartland. Why don’t all these people in Ohio who are losing their jobs vote Democratic? Well, according to this argument it’s because liberals are all these effete East Coast elitists who are out of touch with “regular people.”
That’s ignoring the fact that the Democrats didn’t run a class campaign, and they’re essentially not a left party on economic issues. They didn’t face up to the fact that in the current circumstances the private sector cannot really create jobs. Not what we used to think of as jobs, anyway, where there’s a living wage and a future and benefits and a pension. There’s plenty of work, but there aren’t enough jobs.
Part of that is because we’re competing in a global economy, and wages are much less in other parts of the world. Part of it is because of technology — we require fewer and fewer workers to perform the jobs that do exist, yet the workers don’t benefit from their increased productivity. They’re just being laid off. Any economic program has to address that issue. Unless you have a public jobs program you can’t solve the unemployment or underemployment problem. Do you think Kerry would have lost if he had proposed a National Security Homeland Protection jobs program?
There are other issues they don’t really directly address, like healthcare and Social Security. There are many businessmen now admitting that the most practical thing to do to solve the healthcare crisis, and control the uncontrollable costs, is national health insurance. Majorities are consistently for it when you poll them, and a lot of “experts” are coming around to this view.
Did the Democrats dare to broach this topic? No, because they’re a neoliberal party. Fundamentally, they have the same economic program as the Republicans, just without the enormous tax cuts that destabilize the economy. They proceed much more cautiously, they understand that there has to be some social safety net, but they basically pursue the same programs. There’s not a clear contrast between the parties on economic issues.
On cultural issues, it’s been a long time since the political opposition in this country really defended freedom, especially sexual freedom and religious freedom. When you read Tom Frank, he seems to see abortion as some kind of peculiar elite concern, but that flies in the face of history. Americans are deeply ambivalent on these kinds of questions, but a great deal of feminism has been absorbed into the culture. All Americans ever hear is the right-wing position. The left apologizes: “I think abortion is a terrible thing, but it should be legal.”
For 30 or 35 years, the left — using that term very broadly — has pushed the idea that we have to soft-pedal these social issues. We have to preserve them in court, quietly, but without emphasizing them in the public arena. Religion is the classic example: In 2000, we had a conversation about whether it was appropriate for politicians to display their faith in public, when Al Gore and Joe Lieberman were trying to out-religion the Republicans. In 2004, that issue has gone much further to the right, and we talked about whether it was obligatory for them to display their faith. So we had the spectacle of John Kerry, and Howard Dean before him, struggling to talk about religion and seeming completely inauthentic. If one of them had simply said, “Part of religious freedom is being able to keep your beliefs private,” maybe they could actually have gotten away with it.
The left needs to have a genuinely alternative vision that emphasizes freedom, that emphasizes democracy
In terms of foreign policy, as long as people are really anxious about the economy and about culture, that also reinforces their fear of terrorism. They become genuinely desperate, looking for someone to make us safe, instead of realizing we have to take control of destiny. The debacle of war wasn’t enough to offset that, and neither the neoliberals or the left have a coherent foreign policy.
Kerry offered a realist, internationalist, neoliberal foreign policy, but against that Bush scores a lot of points by hooking into what is fundamentally a good impulse: the idea that our relationship to the world must be moral and ideological, not just realist. He channeled people’s impulses that we should defend democracy, and that we should be for the freedom of others, into the idea that thoroughgoing militarism and triumphalism is the way to do it.
This has led to disaster, but the left, on the other hand, has copped out with a knee-jerk pacifist position. Islamic fundamentalism is a real threat, and it must be connected to the war against fundamentalism at home. Again, a solution in the realm of foreign policy involves connecting to cultural issues and not running away from them. As long as the left just says, “get out now” — well, that might work in Iraq, I don’t know, we may just end up abandoning them to a horrible civil war. But it’s not much of a long-term policy.
So we need to realize that the Democratic Party is hopeless. And now that socialism has failed, we need a whole new framework of ideas, in which we recognize that economic and cultural issues are fundamentally intertwined. Moral and cultural issues are important to people; they’re not just a distraction from real stuff. And right now only people’s most conservative impulses are being fueled.
We can’t be in a defensive posture all the time: “Let’s protect Roe vs. Wade” is not enough. We need to defend freedom, which in recent years the left has not been willing or able to do. We’ve let the right define freedom. The left needs to have a genuinely alternative vision that emphasizes freedom, that emphasizes democracy.
Dan Payne is a Democratic media consultant and columnist for the Boston Globe.
1. Forget the unity stuff. When Republicans lose, they set out the next morning to challenge, undermine and overthrow the Democrats. Democrats are no less united against George Bush than they were the day before Election Day. Stay unified; stay on Bush’s case.
2. Hire a strategist, not a fundraiser, to run the Democratic National Committee. The ability to raise money is valuable, but the ability to design and execute a strategy is crucial.
3. Develop values issues, such as Internet censorship, the export of white-collar jobs, stem cell research, etc. The DNC should send every Democratic official “What’s Wrong With Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. Learn how the Republicans ate our lunch, using values issues to smother economic self-interest.
4. Target baby boomers. This cohort is anti-authoritarian because they grew up during Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate. Now, this demanding audience is facing retirement pretty much clueless. They need (and expect) economic protections, like long-term care and a solid Medicare.
5. Get thee out of Washington. Move the party apparatus out of D.C. Democrats are cut off from the real world and talk to each other too much.
6. Admit Karl Rove beat us. He outsmarted and out-organized unions, 527s and party organizations. Getting anti-gay marriage measures on 11 state ballots didn’t hurt either.
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)