"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
“A Ferret Story”
Announcer: John and Cindy Willoughby are getting ready for some big changes. In just a few weeks, they will welcome a new ferret into their already busy household. Though having a ferret of their own is something they’ve always dreamed of, the timing just never seemed right. But as soon they decided to take the plunge, there was no turning back.
Cindy: [on confession cam] I called John up at work and said, “It’s time. I can’t go another day without one.” And he knew exactly what I was talking about.
Announcer: When John and Cindy met on a blind date nearly five years ago, they knew they had a lot in common.
John: I was really into laser tag at the time and when she said, “No way, I’m into laser tag, too,” I was like, “No way!” It’s hard to find a woman who likes laser tag.
Cindy: He was handsome, with the most beautiful mustache that was so well groomed. I liked that he was athletic. He played laser tag and table hockey. Also darts.
Announcer: But there was something else the couple shared: a mutual desire for a ferret.
Cindy: All my life I’ve always known I wanted to have a ferret. It was a very strong urge. Without one, I knew I would never feel complete.
John: I love ferrets. I grew up around a lot of ferrets. I love my friends’ ferrets. I knew it was something I wanted for myself someday.
Interior, Willoughby living room: John assembles plastic flower samples into a briefcase.
Announcer: With John spending lots of time on the road as an artificial flower salesman and Cindy studying to become a certified Pilates instructor for the deaf, there isn’t much room in the schedule for the demands of a young ferret. They know they’ll have to make some changes.
John: Changing the newspaper in its cage. Keeping it away from electrical cords. It’s gonna be tough. In the permanent botanical industry, there’s no such thing as 9 to 5. I may have to cut down on the table hockey. But it’ll be worth it. And Cindy’s a real trouper.
Interior, Willoughby living room, Cindy’s shower.
Announcer: Today, Cindy’s friends and family are gathering in the couple’s home to celebrate the upcoming arrival. They’ve brought gifts, well wishes, and even a game or two.
Cindy’s friend [addressing crowd] So this is a game where you take a piece of ribbon, like so, and you guestimate how long the ferret’s front teeth will be when he — or she — is fully grown. Don’t be polite, ladies, we’re here to win!
Cindy’s mom [on confession cam] Of course, I’m thrilled for her. Also nervous. You worry when it’s your daughter. But she’s wanted this for so long. As a little girl, she used to take squirrels from the yard and push them around in her doll buggy. So it’s nice to see a dream finally come true.
Interior, Willoughby living room. Covered with bows and ribbons, Cindy unwraps a rubber chew toy. The women let out a collective “aaaw.” Cindy wipes away tears.
Title Card: 1:54 p.m., Aug. 5.
Exterior, Willoughby driveway. The family loads up the minivan.
Announcer: The big day has finally arrived. Now that their home has been prepared for the new family member, John and Cindy, along with Cindy’s mother, sister and grandmother, head out to pick up their bundle of joy.
Interior/Exterior, World of Pets.
Pet store owner: So are you ready to meet the little guy?
Cindy: Are you saying it’s a boy?
Pet store owner: Oops, gave it away!
Cindy: Oh my god!
Announcer: Leading them to a cage in the back of the store where their ferret has been waiting, John and Cindy can hardly contain themselves. It’s an emotional moment, one they’ve been anticipating all their lives.
Cindy: [crying] Look at all that hair!
John: Hey, little buddy. Who’s gonna be a future laser tag champion?
Announcer: Weighing in at just under a pound, Dakota Tyler Willoughby is one healthy little ferret. Fully grown, he’ll weigh up to 2 and a half pounds and reach a length of nearly 60 centimeters, including his tail. For now, though, he’s content to lie in his mother’s arms and gnaw on her finger.
John: Honey, you’re bleeding!
Cindy: That’s OK. I think we brought Band-Aids. They’re in the bag along with the “Daddy’s Little Mustela” onesie.
Announcer: After John pays for the newest Willoughby — $129.99 plus tax — the clan piles into the minivan, securing little Dakota Tyler into his special car cage. Sure, he’s terrified — he may even have an accident — but it’s all part of the magic of new beginnings, for ferret and humans alike.
Cindy: [on confession cam] It’s like all your priorities shift in an instant. You finally realize there’s something whose needs are more important than your own.
John: And if it doesn’t work out, we can take him back within 30 days and exchange him for a hermit crab.
James Frey is the author of “A Million Little Pieces” and “My Friend Leonard.”
I am a consumer of television. I watch it to be entertained, nothing more. I don’t learn anything from it, I’m not a better person because of it, it doesn’t inform me in any meaningful way. I watch it to laugh, to be scared, to be thrilled, to get away from the world for a little while. If I see something good, I might be in a better mood. If I see shit, I don’t really care.
Each of the past two years, I wrote a pilot for the Fox network. Neither got picked up, which is probably a sound indicator of my skills as a creator of television shows. I have also made a number of disastrous appearances on television over the past year. Both have taught me that I should avoid participating in the medium for the rest of my life. That being said, I still think about it, because what I want to watch isn’t available.
When I was growing up, I loved private investigator shows like “The Rockford Files,” “Hammer” and “Magnum P.I.” They all followed a fairly simple formula: beautiful woman arrives with case, P.I. takes case against his better judgment, P.I. starts working on case while driving a bad-ass car, case proves dangerous and troublesome and P.I. gets knocked out at least once, P.I. solves case at the last minute due to stunning combination of brain and brawn, P.I. sleeps with beautiful, and now grateful, woman who brought him the case. It’s a perfect formula for an hourlong show. You know what you’re getting each week, and you watch because you love the main character.
I miss good P.I. shows. There aren’t any on anymore. “Monk,” which is on the USA network, is the closest thing, but Monk is an obsessive/compulsive weenie. The show is violence-free, sex-free, humorless and boring. There are no car chases, no explosions, no boobs. Monk mumbles, winks and twitches, his sidekick follows him around explaining his brilliance and weirdness. It’s an insult to the genre. Every time I come across it, I turn the channel as fast as my thumb allows.
I want to see a new P.I. show. I think the time has come. We have been bombarded by scientific crime shows for the past few years (“CSI” in all of its forms, “Numb3rs,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds”). Gus Grissom is smart, and he solves cases like a motherfucker, but sooner or later, they’re going to run out of ways for him to use DNA. Character-based crime shows have all but disappeared and are primed for a comeback.
The one I want to see takes advantage of the license creators of TV shows are given in today’s world. The violence will be bigger and louder, the women dirtier and in smaller outfits, the hero will smoke, spit and swear. Spillane did it in words 50 years ago, someone should be able to do it with sound and images now. The show would have a flawed, muscle car-driving, antihero P.I. He would get drunk, drive fast, kick ass, solve cases and charm the ladies. Tonally, it would be something like Todd Phillips or Quentin Tarantino, with humor and irony balancing the sex and violence. It would have all the staples of the genre: a beautiful woman, now gone, who broke the P.I.’s heart in the past, a bumbling sidekick, a cop who is an ally, a higher-ranking cop who is an enemy. There will also, of course, be the one case that got away, and that the P.I. is constantly thinking about and trying to put to rest.
A generation of young men grew up watching, and loving, the same P.I. shows I did. Now they get shows about hair follicles and facial ticks. It’s time to get back to basics, and get back to what young men, and men of all ages, love: ass kicking, cars, laughs and women. Somebody will do it at some point soon, and when they do, I guarantee them at least one loyal viewer.
Heather Havrilesky is Salon’s TV critic and co-creator of Video Dog. She also maintains the Rabbit Blog.
“Bankruptcy by Design”
We begin our show at the mortgage broker’s office, where the Honkwinders are about to lower their monthly payment and get some fast, easy cash out of their house by replacing their 30-year $350K mortgage with a one-year adjustable-rate loan on $500K at just 6.5 percent! That extra $150,000 is sure going to come in handy when the landscapers and decorators arrive to revitalize and update the Honkwinders midcentury home! “We’d get so embarrassed when our neighbors would visit, and instead of the usual sub-zero, stainless steel fridge and bamboo flooring, they’d see our little old GE and our old, beat-up floors. That old orange oak is so out of date!” says Joanie Honkwinder, blushing in shame. But at least the Honkwinders are informed, and flip through Dwell and Elle Decor regularly. Experts say that most couples with hopelessly passé interiors don’t even know they have a problem!
Of course, $150K will only get the Honkwinders so close to their goal of a brand-new, totally now living space. Barbara Van Detlonger, the A-list designer we found for their project, still has her heart set on marble tile and frosted glass in the bathrooms, white lacquered maple panels, limestone floors and an antique bronze chandelier for the dining room, and some vintage teak benches for the garden. So the giddy couple meets with a trusty financial advisor at their bank, and, thanks to a generous (and well-timed!) appraisal of their house despite a softening housing market, the Honkwinders walk away with a $75K home equity loan at 8.5 percent APR! “I can’t wait to see the neighbors’ faces once those Mexican boys get the redwood arbor and the river stones in place in the back!” Joanie gushes.
“I did something like this for Ellen DeGeneres, and she and Ann absolutely adored it!” Van Detlonger adds. “They sold it a few months later, but still.”
Good design takes time, so our camera crews return after two months to check on the progress! Most of the house is still under construction, but the yard is complete, so we’re not surprised to find Joanie in back, relaxing with the morning paper on a brand new Summit teak chaise with Poltrona Frau calfskin cushions. Since the Honkwinders have many more bills to pay, plus their monthly payments have gone up despite that low rate on their first loan, it seems John has stepped out to the local Cash Advance franchise to get an advance on his next paycheck at 330 percent interest. “It’s just a stopgap measure; everyone has lean months,” Joanie explains casually, while sprinkling more mint leaves into her spring water. “They do this at my spa, I just love it!”
Next, “Bankruptcy by Design” flashes forward to almost a year later, when all of the construction is finally complete! A phalanx of photographers from Architectural Digest have descended on the house to set up pristine shots of the entryway’s marble flooring and to capture the clean lines of the updated kitchen. Luckily, though, they’ve been warned not to venture into the bedroom, where Joanie’s tears are soaking into the Calvin Klein buckwheat linen bedding. It seems the Honkwinder’s one-year ARM expired and their monthly payments have suddenly doubled! Throw in minimum payments on $65K in credit card debt, and you’ve got a situation that’s simply untenable — not to mention slightly declassé. “Debt is so late ’80s!” John moans, picking a stray hair off Joanie’s Prada jacket. Sadly, though, with interest rates taking an extended upward turn while the housing market stalls, even if the Honkwinders sold their meticulously redesigned home right now, they’d still owe the bank almost $200K!
We end our show — where else? — at a bankruptcy lawyer’s posh office. “He’s the bankruptcy lawyer to see in this town. He handled MC Hammer and Kim Basinger!” Joanie confides. The Honkwinders are crossing their fingers and hoping against hope that taxpayers like you and me will end up footing the bill for their lavish overspending.
Her days of posh living may be over (the Honkwinders will be moving into a one-bedroom apartment this month), but Joanie’s spirits don’t seem dampened in the slightest. “Oh, look at that!” she suddenly interjects, pointing to an antique mirror in the waiting room of the law office. “Is that Venetian Baroque?”
Next, stay tuned for “Debt Police” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Repossess?” on the Style Network!
Rich Cohen is the author of “Sweet and Low: A Family Story.”
It starts as a thriller about a master thief, the sort of dark-haired hero who cuts through the glass roof of the Egyptian wing at the Met, rappels into the Temple of Dendur, blue sensor beams dancing, and makes off with a mummy. We see him rob consulates and the townhouses of despicable high society ladies. We see him slug low-life scum and make beautiful love to beautiful women. In one episode, as he eats in a restaurant, a woman at another table talks on her cellphone. He approaches suavely, as if he intends to bed her. He asks for her number.
“Why,” she asks, flattered.
“Because I want to call and tell you to shut the fuck up.”
In the fifth episode, after a car chase and a struggle, he is captured by a New York detective. He is brought to the precinct. It’s the middle of the night but the place is bustling. The detective is cracking jokes. He sticks the thief in a cell and moves on. And we move on with him. Now it’s the “Barney Miller” show. Remember that? All those cops having funny adventures as that fat ass from Internal Affairs gives them a hard time and the city burns? It’s a comedy, and over several episodes we come to love the characters. The desk lieutenant, the kid who always has to be first through the door, the wizened detective who has seen enough of life and is just awaiting retirement. We hear of the boat he will buy, the marlin he will catch.
He is Fonzie.
Then the young cop collars a member of a Hezbollah cell, but, because this cop is a cowboy and does not follow procedure, the terrorist gets free and takes over the station. He locks the cops in the drunk tank. Remember the old detective America has come to love? His head is chopped off almost immediately. Now we have a hostage situation. There is a demand for a prisoner release. Jihadis held in Gitmo, or our brethren in the jails of Palestine.
We shift to the White House, where the president and heads of the various agencies get on it. And solve it. Because this country is good and decent. And now it’s “West Wing.” And the election is approaching. A Democratic operative falls in love with a beautiful Republican speechwriter — a woman, or maybe a man, a gay thing, for controversy, the good kind.
The Democrat wins. It’s morning in America. Our hero, because he is in power, and because he has a 2 handicap, accepts an invitation for a junket to St. Andrews, and smacks the shit out of the ball, a tiny white dot in the thin highland air.
His host, a lobbyist, an Orthodox Jew who wears a Lansky-like fedora, has a favor to ask for the owners of an Indian casino. The politician jokes, “Sure, I mean, as long we keep the mineral rights, why not let the Comanche bilk the yokels!”
Ha! Ha! Ha!
The subpoenas arrive. The lead prosecutor is played by Sam Waterston. He is determined. He says, “This, sir, is still a nation of laws!” It’s “Law & Order.” And that scumbag with the excellent handicap is sent to the pokey. It’s tough, of course — and this part comes from my own, actual, personal experience in prison, and all the cocaine I did in the joint, and the big black guys that walloped me with lunch trays — but here is the good news: The politician shares a cell with a master thief. It’s his story again. “Shawshank Redemption,” because the warden is an oily bastard, but, as we know, this guy is a wizard, and has already dug a tunnel with a playing card, an ace of diamonds, and tomorrow night, stay tuned, because that is the night he will escape.
Aaron Shure was a writer and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He now writes for HBO’s “Lucky Louie.”
Gosh, I think I’ve already written my ideal TV show. It was a pilot I pitched to one of the big networks, and, God bless them, they were willing to let me write it. Not a high-concept show, it was about me and my wife — two people each with a particular gift for making life difficult. And it was a joy to write. So little research needed, such rich terrain. So here’s what happened: The network liked all the characters except me.
They didn’t get what was enjoyable about me. They couldn’t see America liking me. Why would someone as captivating as my wife ever marry me? And then, just on a personal note: “Why doesn’t she divorce him?” My producing team leaped to my defense. “He’s a jerk,” they said. “That’s the point!” Yes, I lied, that was the point. The network, however, wasn’t interested in sticking that point in America’s eyes. I grasped at straws: “You’ve got to imagine a good actor, a charismatic, nuanced actor.” The network couldn’t imagine an actor talented enough to make me likable, and so my show was dead.
My next project was an apology letter to my wife, a little marriage counseling, and an attempt to sew my ego back together. Maybe I hadn’t written myself accurately. So I pitched a show to the other network. This show took into account my flaws. It was based on a time when I was younger and cockier, but the dynamic of the show was to punish me for my hubris, make me more of a lovable buffoon. God bless the other network; they were willing to let me write it. Here’s what happened: They liked all the characters except me.
So, what’s my ideal TV show? Apparently something that has nothing to do with me. Maybe something about a young Irish girl. Yeah, she ends up dancing in a “Lord of the Dance”-type show in Las Vegas. And she lives in a seedy apartment complex populated by drip-pan Americans who bubbled off of the strip. And maybe there’s a guy there who is a lot like … me. Shit.
Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and the founder of HDNet.
My show would star Dennis Rodman. It would be called “Geek to Freak.” It would have Dennis recruiting the shy, the introverted, those caught in life’s day-to-day rut, dying to unleash their inside freak : )
Dennis could make a comeback by being the Dr. Philenstein to a new generation. “Secretary to Stripper.” “Day Trader to Transsexual.” “Mom to Madame.” The possibilities are endless and Dennis is just the right guy to pull it off!
Greg Gutfeld is an American writer living in London. He’s the former editor of Men’s Health, Stuff and Maxim UK, and you can visit him at Dailygut.com. This is his second idea; read about “Afterlife” here.
“Interplanetary Starship Cruisers”
Traveling to faraway galaxies with a relentless urge to have sex with strangers, our three heroes pursue assholes in black holes in a never-ending quest for self-satisfaction. It’s the ultimate sexual adventure, where finding an attractive partner is less important than finding one that during sex won’t stab you with their proboscis and inject a toxin that melts your flesh. (Unless, of course, that’s what you’re into. Then the more, the merrier.)
Sir Ian McKellen plays the ship’s commander, Venga Karatou, a tough but compassionate leader whose only concern is the safety of his crew and the intensity of his double-grip hand job. Capt. Heath Hamstead is played by the great Kevin Spacey, as the first man ever to walk — and then lose — his dog in space. “I find that my unremarkable good looks is a magnet for the ugliest type of alien, which as a gay man, I have little tolerance for,” he mutters as he pushes aside his astro-thong for another grimy encounter with what the ship physician later describes as “a space cabbage with amazing adhesive qualities.” And then there’s the roguish Lt. St. James, (played to the hilt by George Michael), an ecstasy-popping rebel whose nocturnal erotic forays with alien life forms often leave him caked in sticky film.
“The show celebrates the culture of cruising, while marrying it to the excitement of space travel — a surefire winner,” enthuses TV critic Matt Roush. Guest starring Lance Bass as the mysterious “Dr. Fist.”
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)