"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)
The political left may well remember it as the Red Scare of 2004. Whether or not issues of “morality” and “values” actually sailed Bush to victory on a crimson sea of heartland states, right-wing activists are fired up and looking to cash in on the Republican election sweep and accompanying hoo-hah over America’s bitter red-blue divide.
But which came first, the chicken or the hype?
“I think people are becoming emboldened,” Michael D. Bowman, director of state legislative relations at the Christian advocacy group Concerned Women for America, told the New York Times this week. “On legislative efforts, they’re getting more gutsy, and on certain issues, they may introduce legislation that they normally may not have done.”
“People were mobilized during the election and they’re still mobilized,” added Judy Smith, CWA’s state director for Kansas, where the group is working to put a measure banning same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2006. “We would be stupid not to act now. This is exactly what we had hoped for.”
According to the Times, conservatives are currently rallying for another wave of state ballot initiatives from Maryland to Texas to Kansas, looking to block stem-cell research, limit abortion, ban same-sex marriage and push creationism in the public schools. But while right-wingers may be feeling electrified in the national spotlight, it’s not exactly an extreme makeover for the movement — much of the rhetoric flying today has been around at least since the so-called Moral Majority got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980.
Many on the far right have simply applied a fresh layer of rouge with the latest news. For her part, Jan LaRue, Concerned Women for America’s chief legal counsel, is exploiting the Scott Peterson trial this week to flog the group’s pro-life agenda. In an article tastefully titled “Scott Peterson’s ‘Choice’,” LaRue argues that the death sentence handed down “leaves no doubt about the jury’s perception” of Peterson’s unborn child.
“There would have been no murder charge if Laci Peterson had ended Conner’s life by abortion on Christmas Eve,” LaRue declares, “and Scott Peterson would have been powerless to stop it. The same statutes and Supreme Court decisions that would have prevented Peterson from saving Conner’s life permitted him to be convicted of Conner’s murder and sentenced to death.
“Does how he died and who killed him change the facts about Conner? Did it matter for Conner? Some have suggested that Scott Peterson’s motive for murdering Laci and Conner may have been that he didn’t want to be a father. He was already a father — an evil one — but a father nonetheless.”
Dubbing 2004 the “year of the values voter,” American Values president Gary Bauer is waxing triumphant. “The election is finally over and our values have prevailed,” he says. “Eleven states passed marriage amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and we now have the most pro-family/pro-life leadership our country has ever seen.”
Even so, Bauer still seems to be struggling over the craven insensitivity of a liberal media on the loose. “Though our values prevailed on Election Day, even I have been shocked by the growing anti-Christian bigotry that infected many columnists and commentators in the wake of the election.” Indeed, the liberal media, he says, is a divider not a uniter: “For too long, liberal political pundits have been telling us that issues like marriage and life divide us as a people. But it’s clear that while those issues may be controversial, they are not divisive because people reach across such boundaries as party, economic status and ethnic group to join together to support and protect the American family.”
Battling the liberal jihad
Republican Missouri state Rep. Cynthia Davis, also a Christian radio fan who owns the Back to Basics Christian Bookstore in St. Charles County, is working on two new bills for the next session of the Missouri Legislature. One would remove the state’s requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence, reports the New York Times. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter on alternative theories to evolution.
“These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent,” Davis told the Times, “and I’d be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn’t feel they were the right solutions to these problems.”
Davis also elaborated on the connection she sees between supporters of birth control and mainstream science, and the foreign terrorists who used airplanes to murder thousands of Americans on 9/11.
“It’s like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn’t want to go,” she added. “I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don’t want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we’re going to take it back.”
The Indonesian dwarf curriculum?
In one of many nods to his right-wing base during the campaign, President Bush, regarding the issue of evolution, said that “the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth.” Now, from Kansas to Pennsylvania, heartened right-wing Christians are mobilizing to join school boards in order to push the teaching of so-called intelligent design, a more recent spin on creationism, in the public schools. Advocates of the curriculum dismiss evolution as just another theory.
“We have as much right as the evolutionists to be on our school boards,” Patricia Nason of the Institute for Creation Research told the Mail & Guardian this week. “I feel that if we don’t make progress in the next four years, that window of opportunity will close.”
Meanwhile, ICR, which bills itself as a “Christ-Focused Creation Ministry,” is touting the recent discovery of an 18,000-year-old Indonesian dwarf to bolster the case for creationism. For ICR scientist Frank Sherwin, brain size appears to be a key issue.
“Although evolutionists on both sides of the Atlantic are very excited about this find, problems are legion,” Sherwin writes. “The size of the brain appeared to fluctuate with nature.com reporter Rex Dalton (San Diego correspondent) stating it was ‘one-third the size of that of modern humans’ and CNN.com (Oct. 27, ’04) saying the ‘brain was about a quarter the size of the brain of our species, Homo sapiens’ (modern human brains are about 1200 cubic centimeters).
“Is this individual a ‘new species’? It’s hard to say with the non-fossilized remains (skull, mandible and most teeth) that have been unearthed — especially because the skulls of people today fluctuate considerably between people groups. Three-foot tall individuals do not mean an evolutionary throwback. We have humans today of a reduced stature (dwarfs). Furthermore, evidence from Indonesia indicates that Flores Man could organize hunts, make stone tools and had the ability to make fire.
“Evolutionists have rapidly gone to press with much research still to be done on Flores Man, but creation scientists have adopted a cautious wait-and-see attitude. One fact remains, the title of the nature.com story by Rex Dalton speaks volumes, this discovery once again ‘forces [a] rethink of human evolution.’”
Rush Limbaugh, meet Michael Powell
Most everyone is familiar with the FCC’s indecency crusades in 2004 against the potty-mouthed Howard Stern and Janet Jackson’s right breast, but will Rush eke his way onto the hit list before the year’s out? Blogger Atrios has cataloged a little no-no uttered on the air by America’s favorite right-wing radio host this week. In reference to a “Miss Plastic Surgery” pageant in the second hour of his Dec. 13 show, Limbaugh used the term “dick” in a rather colorful manner:
“LIMBAUGH: Miss Plastic Surgery. (chuckle) And – I’d – I’d – I – I don’t – I don’t know what the winner – I – and, oh, I didn’t print out both pages, so I don’t know what the – I don’t know what the winner gets. Probably a certificate to go to San Francisco to have an add-a-dick-to-me operation.”
Per FCC guidelines, Limbaugh’s little geographic survey of gender issues may officially qualify as obscene:
“Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. To be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test:
“An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
“The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
“The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
OK, so maybe there was a bit of serious literary value. Or scientific. Nonetheless, Limbaugh’s riff — delivered on the air around 1 p.m. EST — almost certainly makes the grade for the FCC’s less damnable, but still problematic rating of “indecent,” which includes “patently offensive” language that depicts or describes “sexual or excretory organs or activities.” While the courts have determined that such indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely, it is restricted, according to the FCC, during hours when “there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience” — between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
It remains unclear how many of Limbaugh’s 20 million weekly listeners sport diapers or braces, but surely there are a few — which would seem to qualify him for the federal agency’s “indecency enforcement action.” (Which perhaps even involves being hauled off to San Francisco for some punitive measures?) Atrios (linked above) has a form letter all ready to go, and you can file your official complaint with the FCC here.
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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)