The current book I’ve been working on is set circa 1992 so I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff from that era. ’92, you know, the marvelous period just before the phrase ‘Alternative’ became an eyebrow-raising buzzword that would go on to blaze a trail of retarditude straight across the Top 40 and consumer music communities? Back in 91/92 I was slowly expanding my interests from full-time metal head and there were some albums that just really seemed to sum up whatever movement or, perhaps more accurately, synthesis was bubbling around in the underground with the bands and labels that were either doing it for themselves or finding exposure in what used to be called the ‘College Scene’. Former Husker Du’s Bob Mould and his band SUGAR were one, NED’S ATOMIC DUSTBIN another. These bands had this electrical, hopeful energy to them that showed me that music didn’t have to be made A) or B) but rather could exist in this whole spectrum of human emotion and ingenuity that filled in the gaps between the classic rock, rap and metal I had previously been filling my head with (not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff. Well, okay rap now blows for the most part, but the others). In writing this story I’ve found two bands seem to be the key to unlocking my head to get to the place where I need to go: FUGAZI, and, god help me, a little band out of my home town called The Smashing Pumpkins.
Ah, we come to the heart of my tirade, because as I have no doubt mentioned here before, I fucking hate the Smashing Pumpkins. And by that I suppose I mean I hate billy Corgan. More than I hate Sting (and those who know me know just how much I hate what that man has become) I hate Uncle Fester (or Capt. Douche bag as I like to call his whiny, goth-posing, metal-posturing, melodramatic ass). I hate him for ruining what seemed such an amazing band up to and including their masterpiece, Siamese Dream.
To take it back, upon my first listen to Gish I was so fucking in love with the Pumpkins it wasn’t funny. Here was this big, fuzzy guitar-driven music with a vocalist who had the most surreal, dreamy voice this side of My Bloody Valentine*. Here was something approaching on aggressive, with distorted guitars (OH! that Butch Vig guitar sound. Oh!) and Jimmy Chamberlain’s bombastic drums, but not aggressive in the way the metal I liked was. You could just as easily get high or fall asleep to Smashing Pumpkins as put it on to get your blood pumping. After Gish came Siamese Dream and although the radio had now found exhausting and disappointing reasons to pick up the alternative torch and beat songs like ‘Disarm’ and ‘Cherub Rock’ to death the overall effect of the album, especially to those of us who chose not to listen to the radio when we could help it, seemed defining of our age. There was something about being a teenager while Corgan, no longer a teenager but still pining over the process, released this album of angst and reflection. Snippets of words, apparently Corgan’s own observations and life lessons packaged nicely into velvety smooth vocal lines that ebbed like embryonic fluid into the hearts and souls of High schoolers everywhere spoke to our generation growing up with this whole alternative thing we thought was special, but in retrospect was really just another chapter in the profitability and marketing of the young.
But up to and including Siamese the Pumpkins seemed like they weren’t in on it. They still seemed ‘alternative’, truly, while the word was attached to shite acts like counting crows and stone temple pilates who had nothing to offer except jumping on the wagon or continuing their mediocrity.
Then came the rat in a cage song and that was it, the pumpkins I knew disappeared.
Sure, it took me a while to realize how bad the stuff on that ridiculous double album was, but when you’re a fan, you try to stick with your bands. With this crap-ass material and an ever-increasing marketing blitz that saw travesties like the band posing in mock circus gear in the pages of rolling stone, the more I heard by/about/from Mr. Corgan the more I just wished he’d go away and whoever it was who had used his body to make those first two albums (and one E.P.) would come back. Alas, that was not the case and instead of what could have been a chance to mature with an artist, those who have stuck with Corgan have got his egomaniacal musings on how important he is now (and empty he is, just like god, right?) as opposed to how unimportant he was in school.
So over the years I grew to hate him. When he released his shitty poetry I hated him. When he ended the band in a way as to try to publicly champion himself into the annals of all that is important in music (I know they all do it, but if you want to end a band, take a lesson from Mike Patton – don’t announce it and then tour endlessly to ‘say goodbye’ – just end it and move on) then released a solo album, which bombed, so of course it was followed by, you guessed it, another smashing pumpkins album that was only that in name, but really just another solo album with the name attached to ensure sales**.
I went for years with my copy of Siamese in the farthest spot over in my CD cabinet – a guilty pleasure I was close to burning on more than one occasion, able to listen to it maybe once a year in drunken nostalgia. And then suddenly I started writing this thing and needed to get back into the mind frame I was in in 1993 and BOOM! Suddenly I have reached this eerie kind of peace with it, where I can listen and fully enjoy without feeling embarrassed or let down. It’s almost like I split the evil billy corgan off from the talented one, chained one to a sinking ship of my former expectations and put the other one back where I guess it should have been all along.
The CD player.
* Who it would take me quite a while to admit due to the Pumpkins being from my home town, Corgan had pretty much just ripped off when all is said and done.
** I know those early albums were essentially solo albums as well but the last thing I want to listen to right now is reason.