"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)
You know it’s going to be a difficult day when you wake up with “Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera” going around and around in your head and it won’t stop. You know that probably you should not tackle healthcare reform today though brainlessness has not stopped other people from weighing in on it.
Here are mobs of flannel-mouthed robots denouncing Socialist Gummint Takeover as Medicare goes rolling along rather tidily and the private schemes resemble railroads of the early 19th century, when each line decided its own gauge and each stationmaster decided what time it is. Anyone who has tried to coax authorization for payment from Federated Amalgamated Health knows that, for incomprehensible standards and voluminous rules and implacable bureaucrats, the health insurance industry carries on where the Italian postal service left off. But don’t mind me, I’m a man with a viral song in my head and I should go soak it.
The goons who go to town hall meetings and shout down the congressmen are museum pieces. They can shout until the bats fall off the rafters, but if you really want to know about health insurance, you just look around on the Internet and it’s all there and more. The president gave a good solid tutorial on the subject back in June to the AMA, and you can still find it at YouTube. When you come to choose between him and the goons, you don’t have to think too hard.
This is the beauty of new media: It isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people e-mail it to friends and slowly it floods the country.
What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
It comes too late for Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. In the new media age, there would not be a Watergate or a Monica Lewinsky. The president could conspire to break the law or canoodle with anybody within arm’s reach and likely there would be nobody in the forest to hear that particular tree fall. And that would be just fine. All we got from those enormous Old Media events, frankly, was entertainment. They were no more enlightening than a Harold Robbins novel.
I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semi-literate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers. That was their role, crushing writers and rolling them into cookie dough. Nobody who compares newspaper writing to the swashbuckling world of blogging can have any doubt where the future lies. Bloggers are writers who’ve been liberated from editors, and some of them take you back to the thrilling days of frontier journalism, before the colleges squashed the profession.
The Internet is a powerful tide that is washing away some enormous castles and releasing a lovely sense of independence and playfulness in the American people. Millions of people have discovered the joys of seeing yourself in print — your own words! the unique essence of yourself, your stories, your jokes, your own peculiar take on the world — out there where anybody can see it! Wowser.
Unfortunately, nobody is earning a dime from this. So much work, so little pay. It’s tragic.
But one door closes and a window opens. The healthcare industry is wide open and there’s a need for writers. Old people are lonely, old people want to be listened to and their stories written down, old people need entertainment. That’s why I am opposed to the current healthcare reform bill — there is nothing in there for creative therapy and the artistic fulfillment of the sick and elderly. A humorist in every hospital ward. Laughter is the best medicine. Sick people need distraction. When you wake up in the morning with “Guantanamera” going around in your head, you forget about your troubles except for that one.
(Garrison Keillor is the author of “77 Love Sonnets,” published by Common Good Books.)
© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.More Garrison Keillor.
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)
On March 21, 2010, the House voted to approve a healthcare bill intended to overhaul the system and guarantee Americans access to health insurance. The vote was 219 to 213. Problem solved? Hardly.