"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)
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[Read "You're Supposed to Marry the Person You Love, Mom," by Ayelet Waldman, and Letters in response to that column.]
I think most people are overreacting to Ayelet Waldman’s column. I found it to be a fun, whimsical piece of writing. It scares me that the left is getting as moralistic as the right. So what if she wants a gay son for what other people deem inappropriate reasons — why is it their business? If parents think they don’t have expectations of their child (no matter how open-minded and accepting) they are deluded.
I applaud Waldman for touching on an issue that has stirred up a well of raw feelings from a number of people.
— Hrag Vartanian
After reading the latest round of letters condemning Ayelet Waldman, I have to say something: I thought the article she wrote about her son was about the fact that if her son was gay, it would be hard, but he would be more accepting and loving toward the world. And let’s face it, isn’t that what we all want for our children?
As for pulling the plug on her, I have to remind Salon readers that you don’t have to read her! Heck, I skip several columnists on Salon, but I respect their rights to write what they feel.
Plus, let’s face it: I can’t remember a time on Salon that so much passion and anger was fueled by writing.
Like her or don’t, let Waldman have her say. I might not agree with her all the time, but I’ll still read her.
— Jennifer Gibbons
In her first column, Ayelet Waldman proffered a long list of reasons why she must use her children as writing fodder, all of which came down to her needs as a writer. She then promised “to do it more thoughtfully, and, I hope, to more meaningful an end.” If her second column is an example of this new restraint, then it’s clear that Waldman merely intends to invade her children’s privacy only when it’s something significant (read: really, really embarrassing).
The fact is, Waldman has painted a target on her kid’s back as surely as if she had blown up that picture of him in the pink peignoir set and nailed it to the wall of his school. It may take awhile before Zeke’s peers find out, but find out they will — if he’s flagged by classmates as eccentric, and thus worthy of bullying.
I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion that children’s lives are intertwined with their mother’s, and that the mother has a right to write about her life, though I second the pleas of other readers that she at least use a pseudonym. I can only speculate as to what her children will do when they’re old enough to realize Mom can’t be trusted to respect their privacy: They’ll withdraw, and Mom will get marginalized. If Waldman really wants to have an “inappropriately intimate” relationship with her son, she should think about this.
— Bonnie Gibbons
I had not read any of the columns by Ayelet Waldman, but I read the letters to the editor that resulted. I have read several of her books, so I was curious. Shocked at the tone and vehemence of most of the letters, I then read the columns. I am really puzzled now by those strong responses. The columns seemed to me to be thoughtful and honest, and nothing I read struck me as being especially self-absorbed or callous. The truth is, we are the center of our own universe, we have to be — there is only one filter through which we can see the world, and that is our own consciousness. I am not saying that I agree with her opinions, but I do admire her ability to express herself so clearly and to analyze feelings that most people wouldn’t want to even acknowledge. I will be reading her columns, because they make me think.
— Sharai Pollock
I thoroughly enjoyed Waldman’s column and am baffled at the strong negative reaction from so many of my fellow Salon readers — especially my fellow queers. Let’s not let the constant oppression from conservatives destroy our sense of humor. Yes, it was fluff but also quite delightful. I am not interested in reading only political “real news” articles on Salon. My partner and I have consistently enjoyed Salon’s irreverent take on LGBT issues and gay marriage. Please keep up the good work.
— Shana McDavis-Conway
In reaction to the letters about Ayelet Waldman’s column: I’m gay and black and it appears to me that many Salon readers are leftist puritans who have a hard time dealing with messy honesty.
I have friend who has commented that if her 5-year-old daughter turned out to be gay that she would be “a leather dyke with bike.” She said it would be fun — a momma on the back of her daughter’s bike. We laughed and moved on. Loosen up, folks!
I’m more disturbed by all this fear of the hardships of being gay — life is hard for everyone. Waldman knows this and she is raising her son so that he will be able to handle whatever life throws at him. He will have no delusion that life is or should be easy. Look — he already knows people hate his best friend because of who she loves. And he thinks it’s wrong.
The kid will be fine. Even if he grows up and discovers that he is a lesbian.
— Mike Smith
Ayelet Waldman’s “You Are Supposed to Marry the Person You Love, Mom” was well written and truly a joy to read.
— Maria Blum
I can’t help having the sense when reading one of Ayelet’s columns — whether in Salon or the New York Times — that I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion.
She has admitted that she has mental instability. She has been willing to write what she insists she didn’t realize was a suicide note and publish it online. And now here come the Times and Salon, willing to publish whatever flits through her head without regard to coherence or content.
I can imagine some at Salon are delighted by the reader response — hey, even hate mail means people are reading, right? — but I can’t help reading Ms. Waldman’s columns and feeling sad. She is not provocative in a thoughtful way; she comes across as a person I would veer to the other side of the street to avoid, for fear she’d do something “wacky” that would turn out to be dangerous, or hurtful.
This may not be the person she is in real life; I can’t say I know her. But the person who comes through in her columns — in more than one publication — projects an instability and lack of comprehension of the world that feels like a cry for help.
Please stop enabling her, Salon.
Ayelet Waldman said she gave up her blog to stop airing so many of her children’s stories, and she compromised by starting a Salon column instead. But isn’t it more probable that her audience is now actually larger than it was before? And what are the chances that she didn’t do that calculus?
— Lindsey Shinn
I was struck by the letters in response to Ayelet Waldman’s column about her son Zeke. At first they sounded reasonable, but I slowly recognized something that ran throughout them — a complete amnesia about how kids are raised in this country. Kids are constantly being bombarded with heteronormative influences, from their parents constantly asking ‘is she your girlfriend?’ to entreaties for little kids to kiss (only the opposite sex), to the entire culture of heterosexual marriage that surrounds most families and society at large. But one woman’s desire that her son be gay turns the world on end and is something to be denounced? If my mother had been able to even say the word “gay,” or accept who I was, my life would be immeasurably richer now. It is so easy to disabuse people of trivial nonsense that gay men like to shop with their mothers. It is not so easy to find true, unconditional love from a parent to a gay child. Sure, it’s hard to be gay in this homophobic country, but it is who I am, and maybe who Zeke is. And when a mother like Ayelet Waldman embraces the thought of her child being gay, we should embrace her.
— John Kirk
The letters in response to Ayelet Waldman’s columns are much more intelligent, well-reasoned and interesting than the columns themselves.
In other words, a lot of people write material that is more worthy of being read than Waldman’s. Please give a column to one of them instead of Waldman.
— Jim Kasprzak
Wow. I cannot believe how uptight and shrill Salon’s readers can be. Unbelievable. I thought Ayelet Waldman’s article was cute and funny. What a bunch of whiners.
— Brad Malmberg
I enjoyed the article by Ayelet Waldman about her wishing her son would grow up to be gay, and then read all the responses to that article.
I can’t believe that people think she should be ashamed of herself, and in reading the reasons why they think she should be, I find that they should be ashamed themselves. To say that she’s wishing pain upon her son, is mean-spirited and, to be honest, strikes me as homophobic. So she wants a gay son, so what? As one letter writer wrote, we all have hopes for our children. Some hope their child will grow up to be president. She wants him to grow up to be gay. I’ll be brutally honest: Looking at all my straight male friends and all my gay male friends, I’d hope that any son of mine would grow up to be more like the gay men that I know, regardless of who he sleeps with. I’m sure most people are taking umbrage with her choice of reasons, but at the heart of it, maybe she relates well with gay men, and merely wishes to maintain that same kind of relationship with her son.
Perhaps if more parents wished their kids would grow up to be gay, and would help to shape the world accordingly, to be a welcoming place for their gay kids, we could someday move past all the bigotry and pain.
— Jason Tucker
Wow. Ayelet Waldman’s latest made me really glad my mom wasn’t a columnist publicly obsessing about the details of my life as I grew up.
— Hunt Wellborn
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)