"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)
If 2011 numbers are predictive, more than 12,000 people will be killed by guns in America this year.
That’s four times the number of people who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. Yet while we mourned together as a nation after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and then went to war against al-Qaida and two sovereign nations, it appears to have taken 20 schoolchildren being gunned down in Connecticut for politicians of either party to challenge the power of the NRA.
And this when even a strong majority of NRA members support common-sense gun control! Exactly how many bodies have to pile up for Washington to find the will to act?
Every day in America, 34 Americans are killed by guns. Every day in America, at least one of those killed is under the age of 14. In the wake of all-too-frequent mass shootings, we tend to ignore the even more frequent, quotidian gun deaths that are devastating our communities, destroying families and endangering our children. Here are just a few stories about lives that might have been saved with sensible gun laws.
Linkin Leatham, 2
Linkin’s parents called their son the “miracle baby” for having overcome several complications at birth and defying doctors’ expectations that he wouldn’t survive. Then, in September, 2-year-old Linkin picked up his father’s handgun and shot himself in the eye, ultimately dying from his wounds. Linkin’s father is a Utah police officer, though the weapon involved in the shooting was not his service weapon.
In his obituary, Linkin is celebrated as a joyful and sweet little boy:
Linkin enjoyed life to its fullest. He was always smiling, running and playing. Linkin loved trucks, airplanes, the moon and the stars, dancing, smiling and wee-woos (his name for police cars). Linkin’s infectious smile and playful personality always made people laugh and drew others toward him. To know him was to be wrapped around his tiny little finger. In Linkin’s short time on this earth, he has brought immeasurable joy to countless people.
Janeen Hancock, 34
Janeen Hancock, a mother of three small children under the age of 10, was hanging out with her aunt in a Chicago park on a balmy summer night in July. Two gunmen fired a mix of handgun and rifle rounds, killing Hancock and a 17-year-old boy, and injuring two others. Police later recovered more than 50 spent bullet casings at the scene.
Hancock, a Chicago native, worked odd jobs to make ends meet and doted on her kids with the rest of her time. She had been saving money to rent an apartment in a better neighborhood and was scheduled to move the week after her death.
“Her kids loved her so much,” Hancock’s grandmother said after her death.
Incidentally, the same night that Hancock and 17-year-old Alixi Johnson were killed, 11 other people were injured by gunfire in Chicago. That’s just one night. In just one city.
Teddy Molina, 16
Teddy Molina was a bright and friendly high school student in Corpus Christi, Texas. But back in junior high, when Teddy joined the football team, other players started picking on him and threatening him. According to reports, the coaches allowed or even encouraged the bullying. At least part of the reason other students singled Teddy out was his mixed-race heritage; Teddy was both Korean and Latino.
Despite several complaints from his parents about the severe bullying, Teddy eventually left school and soon after, in April, committed suicide. Teddy shot himself in the head with a family hunting rifle.
According to a family friend, Teddy was a fun-loving kid who liked hunting, fishing and being around his family. “He internalized a lot of his pain — he did confide in some of his friends,” she said. Teddy was a great kid, struggling with depression in a very challenging context, but the fact is that access to a gun made it too easy for Teddy to end his life.
Joe Telles, 71
In August, Joe Telles had just beaten cancer and celebrated his first year of remission by buying a new truck. He put a “for sale” sign in his old SUV and, when an interested buyer came by, Joe sat in the passenger’s seat for a test drive. They never came back. Joe’s body was later discovered in the SUV a few blocks from his home. He had a head wound and had been shot in the torso several times.
Joe was not only a cancer survivor beloved by his community but also a loving father and grandfather. Had Joe not been murdered, it might have killed him just two months later when his son, Joseph Telles Jr., was gunned down while standing outside his home, a victim in a random drive-by shooting. Both murders remain unsolved.
Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus, 13
Riding the school bus one day outside Miami, Fla., a 15-year-old boy took out a gun from his backpack and began showing it off to his friends. The boy fired the gun once, hitting Lourdes. Lourdes’ 7-year-old sister was also on the bus and watched as her big sister was shot in the face.
Lourdes was a good student and loving big sister who wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. In a statement after her murder, Lourdes’ family described the teen as “fun-loving, helpful, a happy girl.”
“Feels like just yesterday I saw her running around in her Pampers, dancing and modeling for the camera,” Lourdes’ mother said. “Times and moments spent with Jina are memories I will cherish and keep in my heart forever.”
Abigail Benway, 7
In July in Oxford, Mass., Abigail’s father, Daryl — recently estranged from Abigail’s mother — entered the family home and shot Abigail and her 9-year-old brother, Owen, then killed himself. Owen, in critical condition for almost a month, ultimately survived. Abigail, who was about to start the second grade, died on the scene.
Abigail was a Girl Scout. And she liked crafts, especially beading and gardening. In an obituary, Abigail’s family wrote, “The thought of never holding her or smelling her sweetness again is unbearable, but we want to try to appreciate the time she was with us and all the joy she shared with all of us.”
Abigail’s father, who shot her, had no previous criminal record, and he had a conceal carry permit that expired in 1999.
I could have told other stories here. Over 12,000 of them. Not to mention the over 100,000 stories of those who were also shot this year but, thanks to medical attention, survived.
In the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, the young lives taken there are 20 very good reasons to do something about gun access and safety in America. But there are many, many other reasons — far too many — each with mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and grandchildren and friends who now have gaping holes in their hearts the size of bullet wounds. One out of every three Americans personally knows someone who has been shot.
We need common-sense gun laws now — not just for those kids in Sandy Hook, but for all of us.
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)