"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)
While the opinions of publisher/pundit Mort Zuckerman tend to be rather banal, New Republic owner Marty Peretz uses the power of the press to let the world know what he really thinks about Muslims and Arabs. (He doesn’t think much of them.) At least Zuckerman is courteous enough to let professionals look over his work before it’s published. Because Peretz fancies himself both the nation’s foremost authority on Middle Eastern affairs and a scintillating writer, he has named himself editor in chief of the magazine, and his work goes up before a grown-up can look it over.
Did you know that “Arab society” is “hidebound and backward”? That the Druze are “congenitally untrustworthy”? You can learn all that and more at the Peretz Dossier, an irregularly updated encyclopedia of the most ridiculous and inflammatory things Peretz writes about Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis and all the other non-Jews he considers to be dastardly, primitive and incapable of “civilization.”
He’s been hammering home this same, simple point, in the same perfervid language, since he bought the New Republic in 1974. Jack Shafer’s 1991 column on Peretz is a particularly brutal review of his oeuvre. (But because we at the Hack 30 believe in fairness above all else, note Shafer’s column “In Praise of Marty Peretz” from earlier this year, in which it is argued that while he’s a horrid writer and an unrepentant bigot, he’s also fostered a great deal of talent at his magazine over the years. Which is true enough, but also: Peter Beinart.)
My favorite parts of Peretz’s feverish blog are his headlines; they’re generally several sentences long, contain rhetorical questions and ellipses, and seem to preempt the need for any sort of content below them:
Peretz can’t make it through a simple account of the concerts and dance performances he enjoyed on a recent trip to Tel Aviv without lobbing a few bombs at those judged to have treated Israel unfairly — in this instance, Elvis Costello, the Pixies(!) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His big finish:
You can tell a lot about the world’s indifference to anti-Semitism by noting how the academy has treated Tutu. The retired Anglican archbishop of Leshoto has been honored with those hortatory degrees by Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge and nearly 130 other universities. Shame on them.
Peretz — who was too busy writing cranky things about Muslims in his magazine to, say, be an instrumental force in ending South African apartheid — “holds the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Bard College (1982), Coe College (1983), Long Island University (1988), Brandeis University (1989), Hebrew College (1990), Chicago Theological Seminary (1994), and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1987).” He was honored by the Harvard Social Studies department just last September. Shame on them.
Repeat offenses: Racism, overheated prose.
I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) “atrocities.” They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn’t comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that’s the bitter truth. Frankly, even I — cynic that I am — was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @pareeneMore Alex Pareene.
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)
We're listing the worst columnists and cable news commentators America has to offer. Think of this as our all-star team -- of the most predictable, dishonest and just plain stupid pundits in the media.
6. Marc Thiessen
7. Jonah Goldberg
8. Maureen Dowd
9. Laura Ingraham
10. Peggy Noonan
11. George Will
12. John Fund
13. Roger Simon
14. David Ignatius
15. Mort Zuckerman
16. Michael Barone
17. Bill Kristol
18. Tina Brown
19. Joe Klein
20. Howard Fineman
21. S.E. Cupp
22. Tucker Carlson
23. Howard Kurtz
24. Dana Milbank
25. Mickey Kaus
26. Jeffrey Goldberg
27. Pat Caddell
28. Andrew Malcolm
29. Matt Bai
30. David Brooks