"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 weather outside is frightful (literally!) but the fire is so delightful (except in Malibu!), so if you’ve no place to go, settle in to read Salon’s annual recap of the so-called erotic antics of the year that was.
So let’s get a move on. As always, organized into entirely arbitrary but organizationally useful categories, your Year in Sex.
You may not ever have heard of Disney Channel cherub Vanessa Hudgens. If you are between the ages of 17 and 40, perhaps you’ve been forced to watch the “High School Musical” canon while visiting your sister’s kids. “Oh, there’s a sequel? Be a dear and pass Auntie the scotch.” Hudgens is the milk-fed star of the films, and dates squeaky-freaking-clean costar Zac Efron (Right, like Judy Garland dated Mickey Rooney. Aren’t we too smart for this kind of thing yet? Um, no). But when nekkid photos of 19-year-old lass Hudgens groping and touching tongues with a female friend hit the Internet, many of those who wouldn’t know “Bop to the Top” if it clubbed them over the head with its synthetic Latin beat, suddenly perked up.
Just as arresting in the junior-bits department was the decision of 18-year-old Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe to disrobe onstage in the revival of “Equus.” You know how sometimes it’s just too easy to make a wand joke? This is one of those times.
Then there was the 21-year-old “American Idol” contestant Antonella Barba, who endured the release and proliferation of snaps of her engaging in some of the wackiest cheesecake ever, including an “American Beauty”-style rose petal thing. There were also photos of her in a drenched shirt, apparently pleasuring herself in the middle of the fountain at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Not since Pearl Harbor was attacked has the Central Pacific seen such … uh, well, it’s really just a pretty girl grinding around a fountain in a wet white turtleneck. While the softcore stuff was real, and, according to the aspiring singer, meant for personal use only, alleged photos of Barba administering a hummer were fakes. All right, fine. You’re going to Google them anyway. Here they are.
Sex Tapes of the Moderately Rich and Utterly Un-famous
It pains me to tell you that the year’s biggest and most important sex tape was made by a woman named Kim Kardashian. Prior to her sex tape, Kardashian was best known as the daughter of O.J. Simpson’s friend and lawyer Robert Kardashian, and the stepdaughter of Olympian Bruce Jenner. Naturally, she’s also friends with Paris Hilton. At some point in the midst of a life in which she has done nothing for which she should be well-known, she was taped having sex with a man named Ray-J, who has an absolutely enormous penis and says the following awesome things to the camera: “Talkin’ bout fuckin’, talkin’ about lovin’, who you kissin’, who you huggin’.” Now, Kim Kardashian has her own reality show and was featured in a big spread in Playboy. Kardashian swore that the tape was supposed to be private and had been leaked without her knowledge, a claim cast into doubt by the fact that she repeatedly addresses the camera with lines like “Hey everybody!” and “For everyone who thinks my boobs are fake? They’re real.” Ray-J doesn’t do a lot to help her claim of wide-eyed innocence by looking into the camera himself and greeting “all of you jacking off to this right now.”
Then there was a video that might have been a sex tape of the White Stripes’ Meg White, or it might have just been a dirty clip that you opened up at work because you were sort of curious, but immediately realized it was not Meg White and thought, “Even if it was Meg White, why would I have wanted to watch her having sex? I don’t even listen to the White Stripes” and your browser window wouldn’t close and so then there was just this wildly graphic video of two total strangers going at it on your computer at work in the open newsroom. Or maybe that was just me.
The biggest news in this category was the seemingly biblically ordained marriage of “One Night in Paris” leading man Rick Solomon and the star of the Greatest Celebrity Sex Tape of All Time, Pamela Anderson. It’s like a royal wedding of the two greatest achievers in the Celebrity Sex Tape game, though it brings with it the fear that without their original partners, neither will be able to top past feats: After all, Pam would never answer her phone during coitus like Paris did, and Solomon would never, alas, honk his boat’s horn with his flaccid penis, a move executed with such classy aplomb by Tommy Lee.
In late December, Kate Moss reaped further rewards from her Bad Idea relationship with scuzzerific former paramour Pete Doherty. Drug addict and Babyshambles frontman Doherty has stopped getting his cat high long enough to negotiate the sale, for around a million dollars, of a tape showcasing his and Moss’, er, “love.” Ladies, a tip: When your junkie lover with a cashflow problem whips out the camcorder, consider it a red flag. Another red flag? When a story about Kate Moss and Pete Doherty really classes up a category.
Movies That Did Not Include Money Shots (but did include a crowning shot)
So have you heard about “Knocked Up”? The funniest movie you’ve ever sort of hated? Yeah, it was hilarious. But there was that niggling concern — expressed most recently by Katherine Heigl — that the movie might have been “a little sexist.” Ooooh, just a smidge around the edges. Like how all the women were uptight moody baby-factory bitches who sucked all the fun out of the lives of their previously fun-loving, leg-humping, bong-hitting men. But again: hilarious.
“Knocked Up” was also the standard-bearer for a new 2007 movie trend: Call it the “Papa Don’t Preach, I’m Keepin’ My Baby” nouvelle vague. From “Knocked Up” to “Juno” to “Waitress” to “Margot at the Wedding,” Hollywood was all about the sanctity of embryonic life — so much so that, unbelievably, none of the characters who found themselves unexpectedly up the stick (with the notable exception of young wiseacre Juno) even paused to consider what Apatow’s movie so helpfully called “a smushmortion” before heading out to Buy Buy Baby and commencing with the mood-swings-and-barfing shtick. Around the world, at post-”Knocked Up” drinks, the following conversation took place between professional women: “So seriously, you’re 28, you’ve just gotten a promotion, and you get pregnant by that Seth Rogen dude: Do you have that baby?” Fuck, no!!!! “Ha ha ha ha ha! Heh. Heh. Huh. Wow. Yeah. Hey, should we get another drink?”
So it was the Year of the Schlub, which brings us to the sextastic opening scene of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman totally nails — I mean, not since “Don’t Look Now” have you wondered whether they actually did it — Marisa Tomei. Which is so like the time that a movie opened with a really graphic scene of Brad Pitt having sex with Rosie O’Donnell. Except that that would never happen. Also, I know that Rosie O’Donnell isn’t a good example because Philip Seymour Hoffman is a highly respected actor and leading man who happens not to be an example of physical perfection, but guess what, there are no well-respected actresses and leading ladies (younger than Kathy Bates) who are not examples of physical perfection! Man, why does this piece always put me in a bad mood?
Out, out, damn wizard!
Yep, Dumbledore is gay. We know because his creator told us so, and also because of the bazillion-odd clues scattered throughout the books, including the dirty one, when it is leeringly suggested that when Dumbledore dueled with hot Nazi wizard Grindelwald, he didn’t take him by force, but instead “conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly.” Rowr. (Incidentally, J.K. Rowling also impressed the Year in Sex by coming perilously close to performing the year’s most astonishing nip-slip.)
So it looked like a 150-something imaginary wizard who likes other dude wizards was going to be the most famous of all 2007 ‘mos, until yet another late-breaking news cycle yanked Jodie Foster from the closet (also known as a private life) in which she has tried to make herself comfortable in the decades since a crazy guy shot a president in her name.
It began in April, when Out magazine put an image on its cover of two models holding up masks of Foster and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, illustrating its story “The Glass Closet: Why the stars won’t come out and play.” Classy. In December, when accepting an award at the Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast, Foster thanked “my beautiful Cydney, who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss.” Granted, she did not use the last name or indicate the gender of the person she was thanking, though it was clear to many that she meant producer Cydney Bernard, with whom she has had a long-rumored 14-year partnership. But it was good enough for CNN (coincidentally, Anderson Cooper’s network!), which ran a segment about Foster as a lesbian, and for the “Today” show, on which guest Joan Rivers dangerously quipped, “She didn’t come out of the closet; she tripped over Tom Cruise and fell out.” Did Foster mean to tell the world she was a lesbian? It doesn’t really matter now, does it? Jodie Foster is a lesbian.
The year’s best fake outing came when Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler wrote in his book “The Confidante” that Condoleezza Rice co-owns a house with a woman — former Bill Moyers producer Randy Bean, prompting excited reporters everywhere to begin crafting “Rice and Bean” headlines. But, sadly, it was not to be. Bean later stated that their co-ownership is a real estate deal only, telling Radar, “Condi and I have been friends for 25 years … We co-own an investment property in Palo Alto. We do not share a home,” adding that being called gay was no insult, but being called closeted was. “For the record, I’m straight,” said Bean. “Anyone who knows me knows how strongly connected I am to my values and political beliefs. If I were gay, I’d be out, loud and proud.” OK. But Condi owns a house with a former Bill Moyers producer?
This year’s Oprah-and-Gayle-Still-Totally-Not-Gay award goes to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, when asked by Advocate reporter Sean Kennedy about the “occasional rumors that [she's] a lesbian,” replied, “People say a lot of things about me, so I really don’t pay any attention to it … It’s not true, but it is something that I have no control over. People will say what they want to say.” Yes they will. And what it seems they want to say is that Hillary is a lesbo Vince Foster-killing man-robot with cheek implants.
Oh speaking of the gays, did we mention Larry Craig? No? That’s because this story makes the Year in Sex too sad to make jokes. Sorry.
From the grave, Stormin’ Norman Mailer walks with the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award for this passage, from “The Castle in the Forest,” describing the conception of Adolf Hitler:
So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless … The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.
Reproductive Rights, or the year in Scary Shit
This spring, the Supreme Crapweasels upheld a federal law that allows state legislatures to criminalize a form of second-term abortion that is colloquially known as “partial-birth abortion.” Abortions are typically performed after 12 weeks only if there are severe problems with the fetus or if the pregnant woman’s health is in danger, and account for a minuscule percentage of abortion procedures. The language of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision made crystal clear everything that was terrifying about this ruling, his every sentence vibrating with the prioritization of fetal well-being over female well-being. “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child,” Kennedy writes, a sentence that prompted critic Francine Prose to observe that in this decision, “the most important — the only important — thing about [a woman's] life is its potential for motherhood.” Kennedy’s decision also deployed gory splatter-film terminology to make clear how “abortion doctors” (there are no obstetricians here, folks) rip the legs off fetuses, pierce the skulls and vacuum the “fast-developing brains” of “unborn child[ren],” and how in one instance, a “baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping” while it was being aborted. It could only have been oversight that led Kennedy to excise his original passage about Freddy and Jason cutting the pink cupids from their mothers’ inhospitable wombs; can you hear the lambs screaming, Clarice?
In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Kennedy to stick it up his ass. Actually, that is not that much of an exaggeration.
In related news, the cost of birth control on college campuses is skyrocketing!
Rounding the Bases
We don’t always have a sports category here at the Year in Sex, but former Knicks vice president Anucha Browne Sanders prevailed in her sexual harassment suit against Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks, and the New York Post prevailed in its attempt to nab married Yankees star Alex Rodriguez heading to a hotel room with a blonde who was not his wife, headlining the story “Stray-Rod.” To Rupert Murdoch and his tribe of tabloid monkeys: Never Change.
On the Campaign Tail
You may have read in a reputable newspaper or two that many of the presidential candidates have trophy wives. What qualifies them as trophy wives is that … they are not ugly, and not old, and they are chicks.
It has undoubtedly not escaped your attention that not all of the candidates have trophy wives; that, in fact, not all of them have wives. One has a husband, and boy, is that fun for everyone. As the novelist Mary Gordon so sagely observed earlier in 2007, “I think no woman is electable in America, and particularly not Hillary … because she is married to this guy whom everyone is libidinally attached to. I think there is unconscious sexual jealousy of her among women.” Apparently, Mary Gordon also thinks that women, overwhelmed by their unconscious desires, will emerge from voting booths only to have huge shrieking pillow fights and then bond over Ben & Jerry’s and brush each other’s hair.
But seriously, folks, Hillary Clinton wants you to know that she does not regard you as a one-night stand. She wants to have a long, complicated marriage with you. Even if you have a wandering eye and sometimes don’t tell the whole truth and maybe once did your intern and even if you compromise her career in service to your willy, she will stick by you. Actually, you know, as far as arguments for someone’s willingness to commit go, this one is pretty persuasive. In other Hillary news: She has ta-tas! She has ta-tas!
Also, occasionally animatronic-looking candidate for president John Edwards dodged an extremely nasty bullet this fall when a story about him having an affair with videographer Rielle Hunter got smushed with quickness. And John, we who admire your wife, the toughest nut in town, a woman who is living with cancer and throwing her every last bit of energy behind your presidential bid, certainly hope that that was because the story was really, seriously, seriously not true. Because, dude, if it was…
Oh shit. Late-breaking: Rielle Hunter is pregnant, and the Enquirer is claiming that she’s claiming privately that the child is Edwards’. But publicly, she’s claiming the baby daddy is Edwards aide Andrew Young. Whuh? Oh, wait, there’s more: Hunter has moved into the housing development in North Carolina where Young resides with his wife and children. And still more: Young has issued a statement in which he confirms that he “is the father of [Hunter's] unborn child” and emphasizes that “Senator Edwards knew nothing about the relationship.” Yes, this story is really freaking weird. Like “Days of Our Lives” weird. Like soon it will be revealed that Marlena is the real mistress of Andrew Young, and that around her neck she wears a locket containing the DNA results proving the baby was actually fathered by Bernie Kerik.
The Year in Alsos
Also, there are no gays in Iran.
Also, there was a fad for showing realistic male sex (see: Philip Seymour Hoffman, etc.), which echoed the trend a few years ago when William H. Macy went down on Maria Bello in “The Cooler” and Mark Ruffalo went down on Meg Ryan from behind, and … I’m sorry. Was I talking?
Also, they finally shot the “Sex and the City” feature film. Batten down the hatches, urban girls, and get ready to return to the days when everyone saw you as a social stereotype who blew her money on high heels and high-end lubricant!
Also, high-end lubricant.
Also, news that will surely not come as a shock to anyone out there who has had the pleasure of doing one of us, but research now shows that feminists have better sex.
And in conclusion… A message for those of you clamoring for this column’s most regular denizen: Folks, Britney is not sex. Britney is tragedy.
Except, oh dear: Britney’s very little sister, Nickelodeon star Jamie-Lynn Spears, is pregnant by her boyfriend, whom she met at church. And guess what? The 16-year-old television star with a potentially bright future will not be getting a shmushmortion. Huh. Wow. Yeah. Hey, should we get another drink?
And to all a good night!
Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.More Rebecca Traister.
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)