"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)
After some 30-odd years of sex (and some of those years were mighty odd), let’s just put it this way: there’s a big difference in the pace of a person going up to the buffet for the first time and one going up for seconds. I’m not as hungry these days. I know what they’re serving at the buffet. And with exceptions (to whom I’ll always be grateful), the truth is that the general shapes, musks and choreography of the whole shebang are similar enough that I no longer feel I’m missing out if I’m not putting out. It’s a switch for someone who used to be just a smidge compulsive to find that waiting is not only fine—it’s fun.
I had no idea. I thought I was pretty worldly but I didn’t know what every goody-goody from the Virgin Mary to the Jonas Brothers knows: that the removal of a hand and a firm “stop it,” can create enough sexual tension to power a series of small cities. It’s the difference between an artful striptease and being flashed. Both are good, but one just offers you more anticipation.
Holding out for a just-right time can lead to epic moments. What if, for example, instead of revealing his paternity to Luke Skywalker when he did, Darth Vader had texted him the information earlier in the film? A classic moment lost and another example of how much timing matters.
I thought it would feel awkward, at my age, to start saying things like “Wait,” and “That’s enough for now,” much the same way one feels ridiculous practicing a foreign language, but in truth I feel the opposite: I feel certain, centered, even a little smug about sticking to my guns. I feel the way you feel when you don’t eat the second Twinkie.
Mostly what I like is savoring the intimacy. To put it in travel terms, you can take a plane and get where you want to go quickly, but once in a while, when you’re really lucky, you can take a long, meandering road trip and stop at every stand, local attraction or view spot and really get to know the lay of the land. And if you decide you don’t like where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to turn around than if you took an airplane.
Consider the Fruit Fly
The New York Times’ Douglas Quenqua recently reported that neuroscientist Gero Miesenböck of Oxford University found that fruit flies pause for thought before making decisions. They consider things. Flies in the study were trained to avoid a particular odor. When offered a choice between two chambers, one with the odor and one without, they mostly chose the one without. When the difference decreased, making the choice less clear, most of the flies took more time to make a decision. When they had less information they took longer to make a choice.
Think about that next time your sophisticated and oh-so-busy life presses you to make a quick decision. Fruit flies live for two weeks and they take time to deliberate.
It may not be a matter of intellect; flies and humans share a gene called FOXP and in both parties, if that gene is defective, different difficulties arise. But I’d like to think I’m at least as smart as a fruit fly when it comes to stopping, deliberating and behaving less compulsively.
A caveat: There are times when chemistry demands your immediate participation, when the kingdom of Heaven is at hand and it has Serta written right on it. Having been caught in many a hormonal rip current, I just hope, as you get joyously carried away, you can hear me shout “Use condoms!” from the shuffleboard court on the shore.
So this isn’t a denouncement of quick action. It’s an acknowledgement that waiting for the right time is not the exclusive province of prudes or puritans; it’s just another prerogative and one that can have a surprising kick. It’s also thrilling to know that if you don’t fight the currents of your life you can still surprise the bejesus out of yourself at any age. It’s as fascinating to watch your sexuality change in middle age as to watch it bloom in youth.
Liz Langley is a freelance writer and pop culture columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. She has lived in Florida long enough to have met Ponce de Leon.More Liz Langley.
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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