"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)
Before we start with this review, can I just say I’m worried about Jessica! Not just because she has fallen under Antonia/Marnie’s spell and is about to walk out into the daylight to burn up into a pile of goo — which is very worrisome, to be sure — but I’m also concerned about her emotional well-being. Like she doesn’t love Hoyt anymore, and she thinks it’s because she has a vampire heart, but if there is one thing we’ve learned from “True Blood,” “Twilight” and “Buffy,” it’s that the female gaze of modern tweens has turned vampires into loving, non-bloodsucking emo kids with souls and great hair. Not only does this show revolve around how much love vampires have for certain humans, but Jessica fell in love with her square-headed boyfriend when she was a vampire, so obviously she is capable of feeling things. Stop using the fact that you are a vampire as an excuse to cheat on your boyfriend with Jason Stackhouse, Jessica! That’s more a product of your being 18 years old than it is about being a supernatural creature who craves human blood as sustenance.
Usually “True Blood” is pretty consistent with its broad, ham-fisted metaphors of “humanity,” but Jessica was being straight-up literal this week. Luckily, King Bill was there to set her straight with all these analogies about fascism and genocide. Did you know that vampires can engage in holocausts? (Example: The Inquisition, the actual Holocaust.) Did you know witches want to destroy entire races of beings? (Example: The vampires, currently.) Did you know humans are also very good at mass murder? (Example: Everything else in history, until Alan Ball decides to change it around again.) Next season on “True Blood,” we will find out Stalin was actually a shape-shifter and 9/11 was orchestrated by a bunch of werebears.
Let’s rewind, though, and get to what everyone cares about: Sookie and Eric are still having sex. It’s still the night of the full moon, and they are just banging it out hard. Despite what every other fake-history book tells us, werecreatures don’t have to turn during a full moon if they don’t feel like it, as evidenced by Alcide and Debbie stomping off from their pack because Alcide is “worried” about Sookie. To her credit, for once Debbie isn’t slow to take the hint, especially when they stumble upon the endurance marathon that Sookie and Eric are currently engaged in. Alcide looks angry enough to turn into a wolf. (But he doesn’t. Werelogic!) Later on, Debbie can’t even have sex with Alcide before she breaks down in werewolfwomen tears and asks if Alcide really loves the magic fairy dream girl. What’s a wereguy supposed to say to that? Alcide unconvincingly convinces Debbie that he only has eyes for her. Now back to the good part.
Somehow Sookie and Eric manage to continue making sweet, sweet love all the way back from the woods into her bed without coming up for air. The only explanation I can come up with is that Sookie rode first-class on Air Eric all the way home, assuming the vampire remembers he can fly.
The two lovers lie in bed awhile and discuss whether or not Sookie would like him if he regained his memory. Wait, they love each other already? (Take note, Jessica.) Sookie’s answer is “Maybe.” Fair enough. Regular Eric was a jerk, albeit one with fewer self-esteem issues and more quippy one-liners. The question that “True Blood” is very subtly (not very subtly) asking is whether our “selves” are merely the sum total of our memories/experiences. Inhuman nature versus inhuman nurture, one could argue, if they were so inclined. Never failing on the symbolism, this show.
Meanwhile, Marnie, possessed by the spirit of the ancient witch Antonia, has escaped from her Ikea-prison and is planning on necromancing all the vampires into the sunlight again. She enlists Tara on this mission, who is more than eager to help after a scary Pam made her girlfriend go away. Well, Pam, and Tara’s unrelenting intimacy issues. If Tara went back to New Orleans with her girlfriend it doesn’t seem like anybody would miss her, although you could see why, after her incident with Eggs and her rapey vampire fiancé Franklin, she’s pretty damaged. Somehow, “True Blood” has managed to make Tara’s reactions to people seem logical, but let’s all remember that this character was kind of the worst even before she saw her last two boyfriends splattered all over Merlotte’s parking lot.
Sorry, did I say “logical”? Tara’s decision to join up with the witch coven actually seems like a totally rash and stupid decision, considering that the last time she punched in her membership to any sort of group, the leader turned out to be a maenad. Weird that she’s so trusting of a 16th-century ghost living inside a middle-aged hippie’s body, but that’s just good old Tara for you! She convinces a bunch of other women-spelled-with-a-y to take up arms with the spirit inhabiting Marnie to re-create the “resurrection,” which is that thing where all vampires suddenly thirst for the sunlight so bad that they leave their coffins during the day and explode. (That part isn’t a metaphor.)
King Bill is onto this plan, though, and demands that all vampire sheriffs — which include a lady, a kid who looks like Michael Cera, and a buff, black guy (because HBO ain’t nothing if it’s not diversified) — silver all the vampires in their coffins so they can’t go into the sun. Which is actually a good plan! Except that Bill doesn’t chain Jessica up quite as tightly as he does himself, because he has a weak vampire-heart for his progeny. Leading to Jessica being able to escape when the witches’ incantation brings about the resurrection, and here we are, back to the beginning of the end.
Oh, and Lafayette is a medium now. He can see Arlene’s ghost-nanny. And Sam throws Tommy out of the house again for shape-shifting into him and sleeping with his (Sam’s) girlfriend, who is also a shapeshifter. You guys!
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)