"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)
“Most effective liberal legislator of his time.”
This assessment of the late Edward (Ted) Kennedy by one of the Massachusetts Democratic senator’s more illustrious constituents, the economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith. More bouquets, and a few brickbats, from a large cast of notables which includes Lauren Bacall, Bob Geldof, Sumner Redstone, William Westmoreland and Shelley Winters and Newt Gingrich.
Ted Sorenson, JFK aide and international lawyer. “Resilient survivor”
I first met JFK’s brother Edward, then a Harvard student, in the fall of 1953, when we visited the Kennedy family home in Hyannis Port on the same weekend. We didn’t see each other much in the next few years. But I got to know him better when he played a key role in the 1960 presidential campaign, particularly in the Western states, and still better when he sought the Democratic nomination in Massachusetts for JFK’s vacated Senate seat in 1962.
Jack’s death, followed by Bobby’s death less than five years later, deeply changed Ted. He matured rapidly. He knew he bore responsibility for the family name, assumed the mantle of family leadership from his brothers, and took on the job of nurturing and guiding their children, comforting their widows and supporting their causes.
For one man to have survived so many tragic and traumatic blows — the assassinations of the two brothers he loved, the airplane accident that almost killed him in 1964 (after which I visited him in the hospital, finding him amazingly brave, determined and cheery), and the fatal automobile accident in which he was involved, as well as the final frustration of his presidential ambitions — and still be able to lead, laugh and offer hope to others, is testimony to Ted’s amazing resilience and capacity for survival.
from “Counselor: Life at the Edge of History,” by Ted Sorenson (HarperCollins, 2008)
Judith Campbell Exner, mistress of John F. Kennedy. “Baby brother”
… at Frank’s [Sinatra's] table in the Sands lounge … dinner in the Garden Room … I sat next to Teddy and Jack sat across from me … Teddy was such a rosy-cheeked little boy. Very good looking, full of Old Nick, a great teaser with a ready laugh, and eyes that never stopped flirting. But he had nowhere near the charm and sophistication or just plain likability of Jack. He was the baby brother walking in his older brother’s shadow. (Las Vegas, 1960)
from “My Story,” by Judith Exner (Grove Press, 1977)
Robert Novak, pundit
. “Lightweight playboy”
My first [presidential] election campaign was 1960, and the last when I would be on the road continuously from before Labor Day to election day, beginning in California to report on the contest for that state’s big bag of electoral votes … My most memorable interview during a week’s reporting there, however, contributed nothing to my story. I was told the youngest Kennedy brother, whom I had never met, had been assigned to Los Angeles as western states coordinator for Jack’s campaign. I got an appointment to meet Teddy in a newly rented office on Wilshire Boulevard, furnished with leased metal furniture and free from the clutter of a real working office … Edward M. Kennedy was then twenty-eight years old, a year younger than I. He was robust, trim, and good-looking. When I asked him about the tense battle for California, he floored me by telling me this state was not included in his domain as western coordinator. That meant he was in charge of thinly populated states with few electoral votes that [Richard] Nixon was going to win anyway. I wasn’t much interested, but asked about his states to be polite. He replied he was brand-new on the job and didn’t know anything about them. Teddy was neither charming Jack nor ferocious Bobby. He had the reputation of a playboy but also seemed a lightweight.
from “The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington,” by Robert D. Novak (Crown/Forum, 2007)
Shelley Winters, actor. “Political savvy”
… I suddenly became aware of a very young man standing next to me [at the Democratic National convention], stuttering somewhat. It was the very young Ted Kennedy. From my height of movie stardom, I looked down my nose at him. He managed to blurt out:
Miss Winters, my brother [presidential candidate John F.] would like very much for you to join him on the platform. He knows the contribution you made to the Democratic Party in New York State, and Ohio’s Democratic Party needs you too.
I smiled at the kid, and said, “Are you all born with political savvy, or do you acquire it with your mother’s milk?” (Columbus, Ohio, 1960)
from “Shelley II: The Middle of My Century,” by Shelley Winters (Simon and Schuster, 1989)
Clark Clifford, counsel to presidents. “Football player’s build”
… ten years earlier Teddy Kennedy had been asked to withdraw from Harvard College for cheating on a Spanish examination. The president [John F. Kennedy] and Bobby [Kennedy] wanted my judgment as to its effect on their brother’s possible candidacy [for the Senate, from Massachusetts] … during his freshman year at Harvard, a classmate, William A. Frate, had taken two Spanish-language examinations posing as Ted Kennedy … In my first meeting with Ted Kennedy, I listened carefully as he outlined the incident. As Ted understood fully, there were no extenuating circumstances. He knew that he and Frate had made a huge mistake. He had immediately thereafter enlisted in the Army for two years, during which he had received several commendations for superior service. He was readmitted to Harvard in the fall of 1953, and graduated in 1956 in the second quarter of his class. As I looked at his academic record, I noticed that his grades had gone up each year at Harvard … When he came to see me, I was struck by how different Ted was from his brothers. He was much bigger than Jack or Bobby, with the build of a professional football player. He was only twenty-nine, and the age difference had created a certain separation between him and his two older brothers. While they obviously loved him, they treated him very much as a kid brother. Ted had immense charm and a boyishness I found appealing. Next to him, the President and the Attorney General no longer seemed quite so young. (Washington, D.C., 1961)
from “Counsel to the President,” by Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke (Random House, 1991)
John Kenneth Galbraith, economist and diplomat. “Effective liberal legislator”
Edward Kennedy’s age and youthful inexperience were, at the beginning, sadly adverse circumstances. But not always. Arising early one morning in his first campaign to shake hands with the workers arriving at a Massachusetts factory, he was greeted by a man of mature years who came rolling down the line.
He said, “Teddy, m’boy, I hear you’ve never done a day’s work in your life.”
It was the candidate’s most vulnerable point; he braced himself to make a reply, but the old man didn’t wait for it: “Let me tell you somethin’, lad. You haven’t missed a thing.”
J.F.K.’s decision on his successor was better than he could ever have imagined. Edward Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962 and went on to become the most diversely effective liberal legislator of his time.
from “Name-Dropping: From F.D.R. On,” by John Kenneth Galbraith (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)
Henry Grunwald, editor of Time magazine. “Thirty-one and clean”
… a huge Time celebration of its fortieth anniversary … the event in May 1963 marked the height of Time’s power and self-assurance … Some researchers, writers and editors, myself included, were drafted to write background notes [on cover subjects] to help [publisher Henry] Luce and other designated toastmasters with their introductions … and to provide conversational fodder for the various table hosts. … The only member of the Kennedy clan in attendance was Senator Edward Kennedy, who had made the cover as part of a family group portrait. At thirty-one, he was slender and handsome and spoken of warmly in the background material (exuberant, patient, sensitive), with no hint of future blemishes.
from “One Man’s America: A Journalist’s Search for the Heart of His Country,” by Henry Grunwald (Doubleday, 1997)
Oleg Cassini, couturier. “Bold skier”
The atmosphere at Sugarbush [ski area] was informal and almost collegiate. Every weekend seemed a breezy, high-society version of the Dartmouth Winter Carnival, with games and contests and practical jokes … Various Kennedys … would arrive from Boston and New York, including Senator Ted Kennedy, who was one of the boldest skiers I’ve ever seen, taking what I thought were unreasonable risks, especially when we had downhill competitions. (Warren, Vt., mid-1960s)
from “In My Own Fashion,” by Oleg Cassini (Simon and Schuster, 1987)
William Westmoreland, U.S. Army General. “Compassionate pose”
While several legislators came with preconceived ideas and left unchanged, none was as disappointing as Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who made a five-day visit in late October 1965. I got the impression that Senator Kennedy embraced the refugee problem in Vietnam because it afforded an opportunity to be critical while achieving a pose of compassion, meanwhile avoiding specific commitment on the large issue of the war itself.
Several young, overbearing aides preceded Kennedy and by the time he arrived had located a refugee camp with probably the worst conditions to be found in the country. Although the senator’s escort officer pointed out that a new camp for those refugees was under construction a few miles down the road and would soon be occupied, Senator Kennedy insisted on holding a press conference with television cameras present in the heart of the old camp. He obviously came to Vietnam with political malice aforethought and had no inclination to observe anything that conflicted with the pose he chose to assume.
from “A Soldier Reports,” by William C. Westmoreland (Doubleday, 1976)
Bruce Hutchison, Vancouver Sun correspondent. “Knew his lines”
The third brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, received me some months after the latest murder [of Robert F. Kennedy] and again the man denied the public persona. Like Bobby, Teddy was cool, quiet, and thoughtful, but, unlike him, tall, physically impressive, plumply handsome, and immaculately dressed — a man of distinction anywhere, a man of intelligence also, and a talented actor who knew his lines, though not the plot of his private drama. (Washington, D.C., 1968)
from “The Far Side of the Street,” by Bruce Hutchison (Macmillan, 1976)
Willie Morris, magazine editor. “Another scotch and soda”
Jean [Stein] had a large apartment in one of the established buildings with their ornate front columns and opulent towers along Central Park West, and she had a “salon” there which brought people together … [The bartender] went away for a moment and I was standing near the bar alone in my shirtsleeves. Suddenly Senator Ted Kennedy came up. Mistaking me for the bartender, he said: “Another scotch and soda, please.” I was so taken aback that I mixed the drink and handed it to him. I glanced toward the corner of the chamber and saw [James] Jones laughing so hard he had to prop a hand against the wall. Later I heard the author of “From Here to Eternity” tell Ted Kennedy, “That’s not the bartender, that’s the damned editor-in-chief of Harper’s Magazine.” (New York, late 1960s)
from “New York Days,” by Willie Morris (Little Brown, 1993)
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., historian and author. “Merry on drink”
A party at [Kennedy brother-in-law] Steve Smith’s … for Lauren Bacall. Ted and Joan Kennedy came in about Midnight … One way Ted Kennedy differs from Jack and Bobby: he is the only one who seems to be affected by drink. JFK, of course, drank sparingly in the years I knew him well; RFK perhaps drank a little more but never showed it. Ted becomes a little high in an entirely merry way, lurches a little, his face grows a little flushed, and he wants to sing. (New York, 1969)
from “Journals 1952-2000,” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (The Penguin Press, 2007)
Alan King, actor, comedian and film producer. “Ombudsman”
He and I have been pals for a long time. People either love him or hate him, the way they do all the Kennedys, but even with the problems he’s faced — a lot of them self-inflicted — he’s still one of the hardest-working senators in the United States. And he may be one of the few voices left in American politics to take up the cause of the less fortunate. He’s an ombudsman; he has two offices filled with mail asking for help, and it isn’t just from his Massachusetts constituents.
Right after Chappaquiddick, I went up to visit him in Hyannisport. There was a sailboat race scheduled, the family was insisting that Teddy take part in it. “Come on, we gotta do something.” He in turn insisted that I tag along. I’d never been on a sailboat; it was like Rabbi Wise getting on a motorcycle. And there was Teddy screaming at me, “Hang over here!” “Shift your weight the other way!”
When we crossed the finish line, somebody took my picture. Teddy sent it to me. In the shot, I’m hanging off the side of the boat, and the inscription reads: “To Alan. Because of the events of the past summer, many of my friends jumped ship. I’m glad you decided to hang on.” (1969)
from “Name-Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King,” by Alan King with Chris Chase (Scribner, 1996)
C.L. Sulzberger, journalist. “Neither profound nor quick”
… I went out to McLean, Virginia, for a drink with Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy at his lovely house on a bluff over the Potomac.
Teddy took me around, first showing me the view and then displaying some mementos, including President Kennedy’s statement on the Cuban missiles as amended in his own handwriting, and also his completely re-edited (in his own handwriting) statement on Teddy’s decision to run for the senate while Jack was president. He also showed me several paintings he had done, including one of the family house in Hyannisport. They were somewhat better than Eisenhower’s. He uses the new quick-dry paints.
Teddy is a massive, handsome young man (thirty-eight), He is about six foot one and looks as if he weighs about 210 pounds. He is strongly and heavily built rather than fat, although he may well have trouble with his weight in another decade. He has broad shoulders, huge arms, and great square hands. His features are conventional, his complexion clear, and his eyes frank, open, and blue. He talks glibly but his intelligence is neither profound nor quick. (1970)
from “An Age of Mediocrity: Memoirs and Diaries 1963-1972,” by C.L. Sulzberger (Macmillan, 1973)
Rita Mae Brown, novelist and gay activist. “Smooth, well prepped”
… I stuck my head in his offices and an aide allowed me to speak to him. He was courteous, spoke forcefully about ending the [Vietnam] war, and when I asked him about job security for gay people he didn’t bat an eye. I know I had to be the first person to ask him that. This was shortly after Chappaquiddick, and people were saying Kennedy was finished in politics, but I found him smooth and well prepped. (Washington, D.C., 1970)
from “Rita Will: Memoirs of a Literary Rabble-Rouser,” by Rita Mae Brown (Bantam, 1997)
Mike Douglas, television talk show host. “Thunderous applause”
… In the entire history of “The Mike Douglas Show,” the loudest, most prolonged ovation was given to Ted Kennedy, just for walking on the stage. That was in 1971, only two years after the Chappaquiddick incident that almost ended his career and in the midst of a Republican administration that had left him in the shadows of national affairs. It didn’t matter. The audience would not stop and would not sit down.
That smile didn’t hurt, or the movie-star good looks, or that unmistakable Kennedy profile. Still, the thunderous applause surprised us both. I had wanted Ted on the show for a long time and was pleased to have finally landed him as a guest, but I was unprepared for the kind of reaction he elicited. I had been looking forward to a spirited conversation about issues, but all that changed when I heard that response. For our audience, this man was beyond issues, beyond mundane politics. He wasn’t just Ted, but the personification of every good thing the Kennedys meant to so many. (Philadelphia)
from “I’ll Be Right Back: Memories of TV’s Greatest Talk Show,” by Mike Douglas with Thomas Kelly and Michael Heaton (Simon & Schuster, 2000)
Jean Shrimpton, model. “With models”
… Teddy Kennedy’s birthday party … The guests were on three big separate tables. I found that I had been placed next to Teddy Kennedy while another model called Anne Turkel (who was once married to Richard Harris) was on his other side. Neither of us knew him and he certainly did not know us. I sat quietly and watched. Teddy Kennedy did most of the talking with Anne Turkel, who was much more his type than I.
Halfway through the evening Teddy’s wife Joan left the party. She had an alcohol problem, and as I watched her leave I thought that I, too, might have taken to the bottle if my husband on his birthday was sitting next to two strange women who had been asked merely because they looked good. I felt terribly sorry for her. Teddy Kennedy professed not to notice her departure while he chatted up Anne, but perhaps he had his problems living with the reality of being Jack Kennedy’s brother. Often fame is not much fun. (New York, early 1970s)
from “An Autobiography,” by Jean Shrimpton with Unity Hall (Ebury Press, 1990)
Sumner Redstone, media mogul (Viacom). “Liked to exchange ideas”
During the [1972 presidential] campaign Senator Ted Kennedy frequently called to compliment me on the job I was doing for [Edmund] Muskie. I just as frequently said, “Fine, Senator, but how about endorsing him? How about giving us your people to work for him?” That never quite happened.
Apparently some people had noticed my involvement in the Muskie campaign and thought I knew something about politics because a short time later I was invited to a small meeting of seven or eight business executives, at which I first met Senator Kennedy. We were all sitting around talking and everyone was lauding him when I said simply, “Look, I don’t want to disagree with everybody, but Senator, the problem is that you believe — or these people believe — that you can solve any problem by just throwing money at it. It doesn’t work that way.”
Conversation ceased, glances were exchanged. Everyone was appalled. Then Senator Kennedy said, “Sumner’s right.” He was clearly a man who relished an exchange of ideas, not one who insisted upon being agreed with. I think he appreciated that trait in each other. After that, Senator Kennedy called me regularly when he came to Boston and we developed a lasting friendship.
from “A Passion To Win,” by Sumner Redstone with Peter Knobler (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
Andy Warhol, pop artist. “So sweet”
I went to the Loyola church for the 11:00 wedding of the Michael Kennedy kid to Vicky Gifford. … I went through the receiving line. Senator Kennedy was so sweet to me and thanked me again for doing the [campaign] posters for him. He and Joan were together at this thing. (New York, 1981)
from “Diaries,” by Andy Warhol (Warner Books, 1989)
Helen Caldicott, physician and Nuclear Freeze activist. “Humane politician”
… the [nuclear] freeze movement had several key supporters, including Ted Kennedy, who had sponsored the resolution in the Senate. He was always hospitable and rather formal: like Tip O’Neill, he addressed me as ‘Doctor.’ I found his large office poignant, the walls covered with Kennedy photos and memorabilia. I consider him to be one of America’s most humane politicians; for years he has pushed for a nationalised health care system, for decent wages, and for justice in many areas. ‘You’ve done more for this country than both your brothers combined,’ I once told him. (Washington, D.C., early 1980s)
from “A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography,” by Helen Caldicott (Norton, 1996)
Bob Geldof, rock musician and promoter. “Irish living room”
Meeting Teddy Kennedy was unsettling … [A friend] and I were shown into his office to wait for him. It was a small room in the Senate building. We were told as we waited that senior politicians tended to get larger offices. Kennedy is a senior senator, but he preferred this small one. All around Edward Kennedy’s room were snapshots which have become icons of history … Kennedy came in. He smiled and was affable, but something of the atmosphere of those photographs clung to him. It was like someone’s living room in Ireland come to life. That familiar Boston twang. He was getting jowly. The pores of his skin were large, the teeth still white, and the broken veins were visible through his florid complexion. I examined this man I already knew intimately. He cupped his forehead in his hand and rubbed his temple as he sat in his armchair. He seemed agitated. “Aah,” he said, his jaws working and his mouth moving. I ran through a quick analysis of what we were doing [with the Band Aid concert for famine relief] and what I thought needed to be done. We talked about his visit to Ethiopia. He had been there just before I had. Some of the images of his trip had set themselves in my mind as examples of how I did not want to do it. Now he seemed to be coming around to Reagan’s way of regarding the Ethiopians. “So long as they are an unfriendly government the practicalities of the situation are that things will not substantially change.” (Washington, D.C., 1984)
from “Is That It?,” by Bob Geldof with Paul Vallely (Viking, 1986)
Peggy Noonan, journalist and Reagan speechwriter. “Offloading memories”
I met with Ted Kennedy about a book he wanted to do, a memoir of the late thirties and early forties, when his brothers were young and in the navy and his father was ambassador. But he couldn’t seem to say what he wanted to say, and referred me to his friends for his memories. I met with his staff, who seemed to control the operation, and with no great respect. That’s civilization, and, as Huck said, I been there before. (Washington, 1987)
from “What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era,” by Peggy Noonan (Random House, 1990)
Dan Quayle, vice president (1988-1992). “Guy’s guy”
… Throughout my four years as Vice President, Ted was one of several Democratic Senators who would drop by my office to chat. He would always talk enthusiastically about his family, especially his mother. He speaks quickly, many times without completing sentences, just rushing on. He’s not an organized man — like many of us in public life — but he’s got other people around to do the organizing for him. He’s s guy’s guy, loud and fun-loving, but he also loves children and is very attentive to them. He enjoys being a Senator and the point man for the liberal agenda.
from “Standing Firm,” by Dan Quayle (HarperCollins, 1994)
Lauren Bacall, actor. “Extraordinary with friends”
While I was playing the [Woman of the Year] show in Washington, Ted Kennedy planned an evening. He bought lots of tickets for friends and people in his office, and gave a dinner at the Kennedy Center, with not only a toast to me but acknowledgment of my son Steve, who had come to visit for a couple of days. Ted also arranged for his son Ted junior to take us on a tour of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court. He’s extraordinary with friends and their children; nothing is too much trouble for him. And there is no public figure I know of who has done more or as much fighting for the rights of the elderly, for national health care, for human rights. I am and will always be indebted to Ted Kennedy, for his friendship, his support of the arts, and his public stand on issues not always popular but essential to our country, to our conscience. (1990)
from “NOW,” by Lauren Bacall (Knopf, 1994)
Newt Gingrich, Congressman and Speaker of the House (1995-1999). “Clever tactician”
Every conservative should take a lesson from the liberals in the uses of deliberate, sustained, permanent offense. Ever since they became a majority in 1930, the liberals have learned to keep taking as much as they can get in the way of legislation every day. A model for this is Ted Kennedy. Truth to tell, I have grown to respect the way he handles the process. You may not like him or his politics, but it is hard not to take your hat off to the steady, tough-minded, straightforward way he pushes for what he wants. As soon as we Republicans became the majority in the Senate, Kennedy realized he needed allies on the Republican side and began reaching out to them. He never quits looking for new opportunities to expand the government, and he is remarkably skilled at getting Republicans to sign on to bills with him. We on our side are as yet not nearly as tenacious, as firm, as clear about our ends, nor as clever in our tactics as the good senator; and any would-be conservative legislative leader could learn a lot about permanently being on offense by studying his ability to get hit, attacked, dismissed, and smilingly keep moving forward. (Washington, D.C., early 1990s)
from “Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Personal Report,” by Newt Gingrich (HarperCollins, 1998)
Brian Mulroney, Canadian prime minister (1984-1993). “Entertaining a Conservative”
… in November 1994, Senator Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, with whom Mila and I had developed a genuine friendship, invited Mila, Caroline, Nicolas, and me to join them at the Cape Cod Kennedy family residence for a long weekend. Ted graciously insisted that Mila and I occupy the room that President Kennedy had used for most of his life … We walked for hours in the crisp November air as Ted regaled us with family anecdotes and fascinated us as he revealed the burdens and joys of belonging to America’s most celebrated family. At dinner on Saturday evening, Ted got up and delivered a touching and sincere tribute to me and my accomplishments, at which Nicolas, then nine years old, leaned over to Mila and whispered, ‘Psst, Mom! Does Senator Kennedy know Dad’s a Conservative?’
from “Memoirs: 1939-1993,” by Brian Mulroney (McClelland & Stewart, 2007)
Dana Cook is a Toronto freelance editor and literary ambulance chaser. His collage portraits of Marlon Brando, Johnny Carson, Saul Bellow and Hunter S. Thompson have appeared previously in Salon.More Dana Cook.
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)