"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)
Remember Band-Aid, the 1984 supergroup responsible for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the song that taught the world Africa is a place “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow?” (Really, no rain? Toto would disagree.) Well, it’s been 28 years and Africans are ready to repay the favor — with another power ballad.
Enter: Radi-Aid, a campaign to send radiators to frostbitten Norwegians. Watch as a rapper called Breezy V explains the perils of sub-zero temperatures, and let’s Africans know that they have the power to help:
In Norway kids are freezing / It’s time for us to care / There’s heat enough for Norway / If Africans would share
Radi-Aid is the brainchild of The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, an organization of students and academics in Norway focused on North-South cooperative development. Besides being a spot-on parody of other campaigns (Cough. KONY 2012. Cough.), Radi-Aid is a humorous but thoughtful critique of poverty porn, the Sally Struthers-style of advocacy that relies on pity and one-dimensional storytelling to make its point. From the website:
Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?
The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.
Radi-Aid might be a parody, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a real impact. Slowly, campaigns like this (and other notables like Mama Hope) are replacing poverty porn with a more authentic, honest approach to cooperation and global advocacy.
And as for those poor Norwegians? Take heart, the radiators are in the mail.
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)