"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)
Men and women are different. Thank god we’re all old enough to know that now. Thank god we no longer waste our time asking each other impossible questions, like “Why can’t we communicate soulfully, like Gwyneth Paltrow probably does with Chris Martin? Why can’t you smell that smell that I’m smelling? Where are your pants? What’s that on your face? Are you insane or just very stupid? Should I have another margarita?”
If only we knew when we were younger what we know now, that men and women come from different planets, both of them spilling over with their own distinct clichés. Women can try to date touchy-feely types who fold their clothes neatly and put stuff away and meditate, men can try to date “SportsCenter”-watching, back-slapping gals who know how to “hang,” but the divide between the sexes is still too great. Women like to overanalyze, digress, split hairs, muse, contemplate, obsess. Men like to stare at pictures of ass cheeks.
Eventually we figure it out: “I already have to spend the rest of my life with me, why would I want to spend the rest of my life with another person who’s just like me? Isn’t one of me enough?” Ask any gay man: Communing with a like-minded soul mate is no walk in the park. Better to cohabitate with a complete alien whose odd habits and non sequiturs confuse and confound you, since these endless differences will distract you from your own flaws, thus freeing you up to luxuriate in the comfort of self-righteous indignation for the balance of your days on Earth. Dr. Phil be damned: Intimacy is a small price to pay for always being right!
I know what you’re thinking. “How does this have anything to do with TV?” Or, if you’re a man, “Did she just say ‘ass cheeks’? What about ass cheeks?” Well, we’re going to tackle TV and ass cheeks promptly, because I’ve recently abandoned the new wave of terrible reality shows like “Dancing With the Stars” for terrible old-school classics like “The Bachelor.”
Excuse me! I mean “The Bachelor: Officer and a Gentleman” (9:30 p.m. EDT Mondays). Yes, that’s right. ABC, the network run by big, dumb girls, actually added that absurdly dorky subtitle — you know, the one that really makes you want to watch the show even though you already know from experience that you hate it?
I can’t explain how this happens. I loved “Dancing With the Stars” the first season it aired. It was so deliciously cheesy, so charmingly stupid, so repetitive and corny and achingly bad. But I watched the two-hour season premiere the other night, and I couldn’t stand it: the sequined outfits, the horrible music, the braying judges. Plus, how many times can you sit through a really bad fox trot?
Then I tune in for “The Bachelor” and even though I’ve hated the show for years, I find myself taken in by the story of “Lieutenant McDreamy” as one contestant described him: He was a Navy ROTC at Duke, he’s a doctor, he’s into charity, he does Ironman triathlons, he loves his family, he loves this country, and joining the Navy was, hands down, the best thing that ever happened to him. Apparently, “The Bachelor’s” producers decided to abandon their typical Rich Jackass prototype, replacing him with the Most Sincere Man Who’s Ever Lived.
Not only that, but Lt. McDreamy, M.D., says that he can’t believe how smart and successful all of the women are! He actually mentions their big brains and their jobs, as if those are good things, things that matter almost as much as how their ass cheeks look underneath the 15 or so pounds of hot-pink taffeta most of them seem to be wearing. Then Dr. Aw Shucks announces that it’s his birthday and adds, without irony, that he can’t believe he’s going to meet the woman he’s going to marry on this incredible day. What a wonderful birthday present it will be!
In case you doubt that this guy is the real deal, check this out: One of the lovely ladies (only about a third of them are extremely pretty this season — reality shows must’ve fallen out of favor among the beauty pageant set) decides to sing to him, and what does she choose to sing? The national anthem! But not only doesn’t Officer/Gentleman laugh so hard that his martini blows out of his nose, he sits there and listens with a sweet, happy look on his face, and then he actually wipes away real tears as she gets to the good part.
It was a shockingly corny moment, in the best possible way, the kind of moment that provides a nation of high-strung women a brief, fleeting respite from the unbearable, unrelenting burden of being right all the time.
It was also cool when the mean sea donkey called the falling-down-drunk sea donkey a jackass, but needless to say both sea donkeys were dismissed by the end of the episode because Lt. McDreamy, M.D., didn’t think they were smart enough or successful enough or down-to-earth enough to hold his attention. Impressive!
Not that I think this guy is going to make a good choice or anything. He’s a hopeless romantic, he’s starry-eyed and sweet and idealistic and full of big dreams. In other words, he’s dead meat. Those sea donkerellas are going to eat him alive. Muhahaha!
Don’t be such a posse!
If you’re a man, though, and are therefore free to kick up your heels and relax and enjoy the fact that you’re wrong all the time, then you’ll probably want to hear about the brand new season of HBO’s “Entourage” (premieres 10 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 8), in which a spirited ensemble of wisecracking dicktards hangs out, plays video games, gives each other shit, and festoons their general environs with lots of ass cheek.
Yes, ass cheek is merrily strewn about on “Entourage,” as is the kind of witty banter that is neither witty nor banter, really, just idle ribbing and eye-rolling that reminds you of just how charmless and mundane these guys are, with their backward baseball caps and their shiny cars and their competitive flirting. They don’t actually flirt, either, they just mention that they’re with It Boy Vince. Mistaking these guys for smooth-talking Romeos is like mistaking a pilot fish for a shark. That’s the punch line here, sort of — so why does it never seem like the writers are in on the joke?
But as irritating as Vince’s (Adrian Grenier) crew can be, Ari (Jeremy Piven) more than makes up for it this season with his manic, thoroughly entertaining schemes and crises of conscience. Obviously Piven has always been the main (and sometimes only) reason to watch “Entourage,” and whenever he’s absent from the action, the show suffers. But this season, I’m happy to say, Ari is front and center, with all of his usual swagger and panicking and absurd shifts in perspective. In fact, Piven is better than ever, gesturing wildly and dashing around in circles and milking each line for every last ounce of comedy,
It’s bizarre, really, how lively and fun Ari’s story lines are, when the rest of those guys are so patently dull. I like Vince just fine, and the addition of Carla Gugino as his new agent, Amanda, is fantastic — loyal chickens will recall how adamantly I recommended the downward-spiraling series “Threshold,” largely because of Gugino’s appeal as a heroine. I’m even willing to admit that Drama (Kevin Dillon) is a solid, sometimes funny character, and his pathetic maneuvering is a nice counterpoint to Vince’s superstar life — although the worst episode of last season, in which Drama imagines that his massage therapist is gay, was an unmitigated disaster. But Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) are both weak. Turtle speaks entirely in frat boy clichés, and Eric is at once bland and unlikable. These two may be realistic — they do act exactly like the kinds of seriously dull guys that would follow their star friend around instead of getting lives of their own — but that doesn’t mean we want to spend a second of our time with them.
I’m going to go out on a disappointingly small limb here and say that “Entourage” probably appeals to men more than it does to women. Even though I’m always right, I don’t pretend to grasp the innermost machinations of the male mind or what makes its tiny little gears grind and whir. That said, though, the first few episodes of this season of “Entourage” are some of my favorites so far, and Ari provides enough hearty laughs to counterbalance Vince’s posse of flaccid sidekicks.
And speaking of gender bias, there’s a brand new comedy from the big, dumb girls at ABC, the Big, Dumb Girl Channel: “Notes From the Underbelly” (10 p.m. EDT Thursdays), a sitcom about getting pregnant and having children. This means that half of you will hate it for no reason, and the other half of you will love it for no reason.
Up until a few months ago when I had a kid, I might have hated it for no reason. Back then, when groups of moms blathered endlessly about epidurals, I cringed. Now I blather endlessly about epidurals. To be fair, epidurals are heavy drugs, and when people do heavy drugs at some point in their lives, they tend to blather endlessly about it from then on.
Still, I feel it’s my duty to admit to you that the jokes on this show generally fall into the blathering-about-epidurals ballpark. There are jokes about getting fat, using a breast pump, labor pains, the lives of stay-at-home vs. working moms. Yes, men will find most of these jokes about as funny as women find those endless scenes where Drama and Turtle lie to some girls to get into their pants.
Even so, I’m also obligated to tell you that once you get past the girl talk, this show is surprisingly funny. Take this little bit of post-birth dialogue between Julie, a pampered married woman, and her husband, Eric, right after they find out that their baby girl is actually a baby boy:
Julie: I don’t know what to do with a boy!
Eric: You’ve done OK with me!
Julie: I know, but what if he’s really masculine?
Making any big predictions about whether “Notes From the Underbelly” will get more funny or turn into a lame harried-mom dead end would be like predicting whether your pregnant friend will give birth naturally, in a tub of cherry Jell-O, just like God intended, or whether she’ll never go into labor so they’ll send in the Torture Guy from “24″ and he’ll inject her full of Truth Serum and she’ll labor for 15 hours and then they’ll cut her open anyway, leaving a long, crooked scar that looks like a grimace (which is an appropriate souvenir of the whole ordeal, when you think about it). All I can tell you is that right now, this show captures the highs and lows of parenting pretty damn well, and those of you who like that sort of thing should give it a shot.
The Bada Bing is dead!
Long live the Bada Bing! In case you live under a rock, the final season of “The Sopranos” starts tonight. You can check out the odds on what might happen here and you can read my piece about the first two episodes here. And no, there are no more spoilers in the piece than there are in most movie reviews. But if you’re like me and don’t read movie reviews until you’ve seen the movie, then I’d skip it. I will say this in the meantime: The first two episodes are fantastic. I’m sure going to miss Tony when he’s gone!
Speaking of avoiding painful goodbyes, though, Entertainment Weekly speculated this week that “Friday Night Lights” will be back for a second season! I hope they’re right. I know I can’t stop blathering on about it, but honestly, this is one of the most heartwarming, sweet shows I’ve ever seen. Every single week, it gives me the chills. I can’t believe the season finale is this week (8 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 11 on NBC).
So why aren’t you watching yet? What the hell is wrong with you people? You do know that this isn’t a show just for guys who love football, don’t you?
Uh-oh. I knew this would happen. Coach Eric Taylor wants to speak to you. In his office. Now.
“Sit down, son. Now you listen to me, and listen good. I know that you don’t watch a lot of television. I can respect that. But you’re missing one of the best new dramas in years, and I cannot sit by and watch it happen without sayin’ something to you about it.
“Now I recognize that you’re an independent type of person. You make your own choices. Maybe you don’t like football all that much. But I’m here to tell you, this show is not really about football. It’s about trying to be a good parent, or a good ball player, or a good boyfriend, or a good daughter. It’s about finding your way in spite of things being real messed-up around you.
“Look, I know that doesn’t sound like much, so you’re just going to have to trust me, OK? This show is original, truly original, and that’s a rare thing. There is nothing else like it on TV right now. Are you following me? So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to sit your ass down in front of a computer and you’re going to go to the NBC Web site and you’re going to catch up on the last few episodes. Then, this Wednesday, you’re going to watch the season finale. Do you hear me? ‘American Idol’ can wait.
“Do not miss the boat on this one, son. I’m counting on you. We’re all counting on you.”
Next week: Yau-Man of “Survivor: Fiji” takes one small, feeble step for feeble geeks everywhere!
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.More Heather Havrilesky.
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)