"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)
Long-time New Yorker staff writer Calvin Trillin won the 2012 Thurber Prize for his book, “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff.” Trillin has the comic equivalent of perfect pitch,” said judge and humor writer Jennifer Crusie. “He addresses everything from sausage to politics with clarity, elegance and a fine dry wit, never missing a note.”
Trillin talked about his approach to humor in an interview with Mother Jones last year:
MJ: The US seems to be going through a rough patch right now. Is there ever a time when things seem too bleak for you to be funny?
CT: There’s always a source for humor. If it’s inappropriate to write about, if there’s nothing funny about it, then it’s not funny. So it sort of selects itself. It has to. And plus, often something that wouldn’t be funny at the time is okay to make jokes about later. Lincoln’s assassination, for example. But in general, I don’t think there’s very much that can’t be joked about.
MJ: In your process, are you looking for things that are funny, or are you looking for things that are interesting and then trying to find the humor in them?
CT: Interesting things. Or, just certain things stand out. Like when Michele Bachmann said that God had sent Hurricane Irene to warn us about spending; that was obvious. Jerry Falwell said that God had sent 9/11, or withdrawn his defensive shield, because of lesbianism. So there are obvious subjects, but they’re not interesting unless you find some angle to it. In the Bachmann case I wrote a poem called, “So Why Be So Hard On Vermont?” I mean, if God is omnipotent, he can send these warnings anywhere he wants. Why pick on Vermont, of all places? What did they do? Usually, with poems you pretty much have to write about something that’s in the public mind.
Trillin also has a sideline as The Nation’s “deadline poet,” in which guise he wrote the immortal “Mitt Romney as Doll:”
Yes, Mitt’s so slick of speech and slick of garb, he
Reminds us all of Ken, of Ken and Barbie —
So quick to shed his moderate regalia,
He may, like Ken, be lacking genitalia.
And you’ll also enjoy this clip of him on “The Daily Show:”
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at email@example.com.More Prachi Gupta.
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)