"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)
Parents in St. Charles County, Mo., are currently protesting the sex education book “It’s Perfectly Normal.” Why? Because of cartoon nudity. Excuse me, full-frontal cartoon nudity. (A local news segment reported on the uproar and completely blurred out the naked cartoon characters — apparently not even black bars would do.) The book — the title of which performs its own defense, am I right? — also shows adult cartoon characters naked and in bed together. Reportedly, more than 400 parents have signed a petition against the book, with the intention of banning it from the middle school library.
This isn’t the first time that “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by award-winning author Robie H. Harris, has sparked controversy. It was the No. 1 most challenged book in 2005, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. In an email, Harris told me, “I wrote ‘It’s Perfectly Normal’ as a way to help teens and preteens have honest, up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and age-appropriate information — information they need to help them stay healthy and safe.”
In honor of all the people like Harris who have attempted to provide kids with “honest, up-to-date, scientifically accurate, and age-appropriate information” about sex and have been met with derision and protest, I bring you the top 10 most controversial sex-ed books of our time.
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Judy Norsigian
Chief offenses: Candid discussions of women’s reproductive health and sexuality. (Jerry Falwell called it “obscene trash.”)
Excerpt: “We emphasize that you take a mirror and examine yourself. Touch yourself, smell yourself, even taste your own secretions. After all, you are your body and you are not obscene.”
Chief offenses: Cartoon nudity, discussion of intercourse.
Excerpt: “The man puts his penis between the woman’s legs and inside her vagina. After a while, a white liquid shoots out of the man’s penis and into the woman’s vagina. The liquid is full of millions of sperm. They swim up the woman’s vagina, through her uterus, and into one of her fallopian tubes. If a sperm and egg join together, nine months later, a new baby will be born!”
Chief offenses: A same-sex relationship between two male penguins.
Excerpt: “Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies … And all the children who came to the zoo could see Tango and her two fathers playing in the penguin house with the other penguins.”
Chief offenses: Black-and-white photographs of adults and children in the nude, and discussion of intercourse, masturbation and orgasm.
Excerpt: “My older sister told me that sometimes she rubs inside her VULVA on her CLITORIS and thinks about nice things, and then she gets excited and she has an ORGASM then. That’s BEAUTIFUL.”
Chief offenses: Discussions of AIDs and contraception.
Excerpt: “Please notice: I said ‘safer sex,’ not ‘safe sex.’ In today’s world, there is no such thing as absolutely ‘safe sex’ when we’re talking about intercourse.”
Chief offenses: Homosexuality and divorce and multiculturalism, oh my!
Excerpt: “A family can be a mother, a father, and children who are growing up. A family can be a mother and her children, living, loving, working and sharing. A family can be a father and his children, living, loving, working and sharing.”
Chief offenses: Again, mentions of homosexuality, divorce and multicultural families.
Excerpt: “A family can be made up in many different ways.”
Chief offenses: Gay people! Interracial marriage!
Excerpt: “Some families are big. Some families are small. Some families are the same color. Some families are different colors. All families like to hug each other.”
Chief offenses: Cartoon nudity and discussions of abortion, homosexuality, intercourse and masturbation (AHIM from here on out, because, sadly, this is a theme).
Excerpt: “An abortion is a medical way to end a pregnancy. Most women who have had an abortion can become pregnant again and give birth to a strong and healthy baby.”
Chief offenses: Cartoon nudity, and mentions of AHIM.
Excerpt: “Some people disapprove of gay men and lesbian women. Some even hate homosexuals only because they are homosexual. People may feel this way toward homosexuals because they think homosexuals are different from them or that gay relationships are wrong. Usually these people know little or nothing about homosexuals, and their views are often based on fears or misinformation, not facts. People are often afraid of things they know little or nothing about.”
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)