"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)
Jonah Goldberg writes the political column equivalent of weekly fart jokes, but longs to be taken seriously as a public intellectual. He has a job solely because his repellent mother took credit for inspiring Linda Tripp to secretly record private conversations with Monica Lewinsky. In 1998, in the midst of a terribly boring career producing PBS documentaries and local television, young Jonah somehow managed to get a plum gig at the National Review, the leading journal of conservative opinion.
It was at the National Review Online that he honed his dreadfully imitable style: He is an eternal college freshman, both in terms of intellectual pretensions and cultural references. He skimmed the assigned reading but writes like an expert on Schopenhauer. (Also, there are “Simpsons” jokes.)
Goldberg favorite rhetorical move is to pretend that he’s making some grand, semi-controversial point, then back off when asked to defend it. He wrote an entire book called “Liberal Fascism,” about how liberals are the real fascists, but constantly insists that the theme of his book was not “liberals are fascists.” He wrote a column about how Julian Assange should be assassinated, but insisted that the point of his column was not to say that Julian Assange should be assassinated. Did you know that proposing that kids perform community service ‘is modern slavery?!? (“No, national service isn’t slavery,” he eventually writes, before saying, again, that it’s basically the same thing.)
That tic aside, Goldberg’s at his most plainly repulsive when he’s just jokin’ around.
While he is the National Review’s second-dumbest contributor, he is that publication’s finest example of how far a name — unattached to anything resembling an intellect — can take you in the parallel conservative press. If the name were also attached to an attractive woman, he’d probably have his own show by now. It’d be called “No, You Completely Misunderstood My Point, With Janice Goldberg,” and he could end each hour by claiming he never actually said what he said at the top of the show.
Repeat offenses: Juvenile (but unamusing) sense of humor, adolescent writing style unbecoming a 41-year-old, laziness, “Simpsons”-quoting, inability/unwillingness to defend arguments when challenged.
In today’s syndicated column I trot out the cliche that “hindsight’s always crystal clear.” Several readers have already reminded me that I wrote a column arguing exactly the opposite in June of 2002. This is the danger of cliches. I was trying to make a general point which everyone understands but also ended up communicating an even more general falsehood. Like saying violence never solves anything, people understand what I mean even when in reality what I’m saying isn’t true.
Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org 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