"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)
There’s one thing even more pathetic than the news that Octomom Nadya Suleman is facing bankruptcy and mulling a career move into masturbation porn. It’s the idea that anybody anywhere would enjoy this.
This week Suleman, World’s Greatest Bumpaholic and, according to Suze Orman, the woman “everybody hates,” managed to yet again redefine “rock bottom.” On Monday, she filed for bankruptcy, stating in court that she is up to a million dollars in debt. The Orange County home she lives in with her 14 children is in foreclosure — and she owes $30,000 in back rent, as well as additional debts to “her father, the city’s water department, DirecTV and Whittier Christian School.” She had a visit from child welfare services just a few weeks ago, and despite her vow to not go on public assistance, now admits she takes in $2,000 a month in food stamps.
Naturally, all of this news was followed with the announcement that she’s mulling some porn possibilities. On HLN’s “Showbiz Tonight” Monday, she announced, “If the opportunity comes up, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m gonna eat my words because all that matters is that I can take care of my family.”
Just earlier this month she’d vowed on the “Today” show that she would never do porn, but she’s been on the slippery slope ever since her octuplets were born back in 2009. Last year she did a fetish shoot in her home, whipping a baby clothes-clad man named Tattoo while posing with her children’s toys. Then last month, for the reported fee of a mere $8,000, she did a topless (albeit nipple-free) spread for a British magazine. And all the while, the porn vultures have been circling her, none more closely than Vivid’s Steve Hirsch. Two years, ago, he offered a reported half a million dollars for one sex scene. Last year, her market value was down to $100,000 for three scenes. Now — given the increasing desperation of her situation, and her admission that “I’m not going to allow my kids to be homeless. I’m terrified” — her willingness to go further and cheaper is a matter of record.
There isn’t much about the story of Suleman — a woman who says she never got “unconditional acceptance and love” from her own mother — that isn’t sad and disturbing. For three years now, she’s eagerly vied for public attention, peddling a reality show, shilling for PETA and trying to build what she naively refers to as an “empire” around her mega brood.
But Suleman is not a likable personality. She’s a woman whose motives seem grossly misguided, who’s acted entirely without benefit of a media-acceptable support system. She’s the lady who makes Kate Gosselin look sympathetic. And for that reason, her attempts to leverage her unorthodox lifestyle have fallen short. Even a public that can make celebrities out of those enthusiastically breeding Duggars will stop short of endorsing a single woman who seems so blatantly out of her depth, so recklessly willful about her reproductive system, so blithely clueless about the consequences of her choices. What’s left for a woman like that? Not quirky TLC reality shows. Not a stint co-hosting “The View.” Nope, Suleman now faces roughly the same options as many women who’ve made rash choices, who’s been blind to protecting themselves and their families. The depths of sexual degradation.
Suleman’s certainly not mulling a deeper step into adult entertainment because that’s her personal inclination. She’s clear that she’s increasingly desperate and her choices are narrowing every day. At 36, she likely knows that even her option to sell herself sexually is rapidly diminishing.
Poor as her decision-making has been historically – and, based on her recent moves, apparently continues to be – the bottom line is that Suleman is still responsible for 14 children who have no other family but each other. And while her behavior has been horribly ill-thought-out, a culture that would punish a woman for that recklessness by taking pleasure in her humiliation, that would send her the clear and repeated message that her value now is simply as a sex show freak, is just sadistic.
Suleman and her kids don’t just need to pay their rent and their bills now. They need resources. They need help. They need sustained, professional emotional and social support. Yeah, she made her own bad decisions and she’s got to live with them. And no, I don’t get why someone with that much debt didn’t cancel her DirecTV account long ago either. But a family of 15 human beings dragged down into bankruptcy and autoerotic porn isn’t just Nadya Suleman’s problem. There’s no satisfaction to be had in her downfall, no “told you so” payoff. Mercy isn’t just for people who are good. Compassion isn’t for mothers who do the right things. It’s for the people who make the biggest mistakes, who screw up the hardest. It’s for people like Nadya Suleman.
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)