"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)
SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps—has been part of the farm bill since 1938, but today’s Republicans believe that linking food stamps to farming policy is irrational. They want nutrition programs to be governed by separate legislation. In an effort to purge food stamps from the farm bill, they’re seeking draconian cuts to SNAP. The farm bill that recently passed the House includes generous increases in farm subsidies, but no food stamp bill.
Asked before the vote if he would allow a compromise bill to come to a final vote, Speaker Boehner replied: “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. You’ve heard that before. My goal right now is to get the farm bill passed. We’ll get to those other issues later.”
Those “other issues” are the SNAP program that has seen steady increases in enrollment as more Americans grapple with high unemployment and lower wages that can’t support families.
Back in 2011 SNAP was first butchered by Chairman Ryan’s budget. I believed it relevant to my small community of acquaintances to be aware of this development. I took to Facebook—where all are welcome to rail against perceived and real injustices from the comfort of their keyboards. Drastic cuts to a program in America that genuinely helps the sick, senior citizens, those with disabilities, and the poor, should be of interest to the socially conscious and liberal communities that regularly post their thoughts. This particular day Facebook was active. Earlier, 73 people found the time to comment on one person’s chance meeting with Steffi Graff. Entire communities were galvanized by the request: “Urgent: Where can I find blackout Roman shades online?” That query garnered 104 comments. I finally wrote:
Two friends just had their food stamps [SNAP] slashed… One was receiving $110 and is now only getting $16 – a month … How can we make cuts to programs that help the truly needy while not touching the abundant assets of the REALLY “ENTITLED”?
What was I thinking, trying to enlist comments about the state of food stamps on Facebook? It was silly, I know—posting a rhetorical question and expecting to rally an insurgence on behalf of the poor. No one replied. Not one person. No one cared. The day drifted away without one comment to accompany my post about food stamp cuts. The upshot? Food stamps are just not sexy—not noteworthy enough to comment on or consider in the same way the poor are not noteworthy. In reference to the recently passed farm bill, Paul Krugman wrote in his July 14, 2013, post entitled, “Hunger Games, U.S.A”:
Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.
In an aside, Krugman speculates, “So what’s going on here? Is it just racism?” His speculation is valid. Why are we not collectively incensed that programs to aid those in need are continually cut? Our collective silence is emblematic of a systemic malady. We have been trained to look the other way—to dismiss those who struggle in lower economic brackets. The poor are poor, after all, and if you ignore them and their problems, then we can disavow an entire economic underclass. The problem is that the numbers of poor and the “working poor” continue to escalate. The census bureau reports that nearly 48 million Americans live below the poverty level. Paul Buchheit of Alternet puts it in perspective: “While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2013 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million.”
This, in the world’s richest nation. The media never reported on Ryan’s budget in 2011— certainly not to the extent that they cover murder trials or Hollywood deaths. Yes, there are excellent online journals such as The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that succinctly lay out Ryan’s cruel budgets, but generally, the legislature of our government remains clandestine.
“Is it racism?” That is probably as close to an explanation as we’ll get. But the more frightening issue is that no one is actively protesting the draconian cuts. We have been programmed not to. It is the acquiescence of a “bewildered herd” that governments depend on, and this acquiescence is a consummate threat as the gap widens between the very rich and the very poor. Like all good racist tenets, the mechanisms of “classism” remain covert. The semblance of an equal and “transparent” system is easily maintained by a finely crafted state/corporate iron triangle. Indoctrination of the masses is key, and for this, the government depends on the media, whose role in the information process is to act as a conduit for the propaganda that serves state and corporate agendas. Yes, this in nothing new. But in light of the continuing downward economic spiral—beginning with the housing crisis and stock market crash in 2008, endemic job loss, stalled salaries, sequestration, and finally, cutting food stamps from the farm bill entirely—why are we not revolting in the streets?
The late Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, pointed out that as the class divide between rich and poor exploded in colonial America, the most effective method of control was the creation of an ideology that appeared to include everyone equally: “This was to become a critically important rhetorical device for the rule of the few, who would speak to the many of ’our’ property, ‘our’ country.”
The rhetoric that swept the poor and middle classes into a mythical patriotic fervor during “our” country’s origin continues to be employed by those with the most to lose. Controlling the Bewildered Herd is no small feat and demands constant surveillance and strategy. We must not be allowed to feel allegiance to our poor and less entitled brethren. Polarizing the classes is an effective tool for maintaining control, and apathy serves just as well as disdain when considering the fate of those less fortunate. How many of us have been plunged to the brink of economic disaster where we have nowhere to turn and no options? It could happen quicker and easier than you think. Don’t think food riots could happen? Think again. Say and do nothing at your own peril.
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)
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