Of Love and Music: A Relationship with The Smashing Pumpkins

I originally wrote this as a guest post on Plane back in October, 2015, but I wanted to share it with you all here as well. 

I developed my first musical crush when I was 12 years old. It was on Candlebox, an alternative rock band from Seattle. (It was the early ‘90s; pretty much every band was an alternative rock band from Seattle). I was venturing from the world of dance pop and Top 40 into the world of rock, and Candlebox was the band that made me realize this was the new territory I wanted to settle in. What the point of connection was between me – an introverted girl who still owned Barbies and read every “Babysitters Club” book she could find – and songs such as “Cover Me,” “You,” and “Understanding” I’m not sure. But there was something in the loud rawness of this music that captivated me. I stopped listening to TLC and Ace of Base and entered the world of grunge. I got labeled a “rocker” by the other kids in my junior high school. I decorated my school notebooks and binders with “Candlebox rules” and “I love Candlebox,” as though Candlebox was the name of a boy I liked. I suppose in a way it was, since my crush on Candlebox was at least equal in intensity to the crushes I had on actual boys.

So I “liked” Candlebox. And then one day, as I was faithfully listening the local alt-rock radio station, I heard Billy Corgan’s voice. Everything changed. It was as though a door had appeared in the alternative-rock house I lived in and opened into a vast musical world of greater depth and quality than I had ever known. Yes, Candlebox and The Smashing Pumpkins (of which Billy Corgan was the lead singer and writer) fell into the same genre of “alternative rock.” But Billy and The Pumpkins were different. Theirs was an emotional and musical complexity, exploration, and daring that made me jump gladly across that door’s threshold.

While I had been infatuated with Candlebox, I fell head over heels with The Smashing Pumpkins. Discovering them unleashed a level of emotion from and personal attachment to music that I hadn’t experienced before. I was swept by the contrast and range in the band’s sound, everything from the simple, melodic beauty of the piano in the song “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” to the earnest, congested guitars and drums in “Silverf***.” I was roused by Billy’s poetic lyrics that covered multitudes of feeling, from exultant love in songs like “Stand Inside Your Love” (my favorite love song of all time) to the despairing of life in songs like “Jellybelly.” And then there was Billy’s voice. From his yells to his whispers to his talking, no other voice conveyed to me or provoked in me as much heightened emotion as his did.

And so I began my relationship with Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins. I listened to their music constantly: while getting ready for school, while doing homework, while hanging out with friends, while on walks, while falling asleep. I spent hours on the Internet looking up pictures and quotes from the band, which I would then print out and keep in a special “SP” drawer in my desk. I memorized their lyrics and carefully copied them into notebooks. I tried to style my hair like D’Arcy (the bassist) styled her hair, even if my black, shoulder-length, wavy hair couldn’t do what her long, blond, straight hair could. I came up with specific guidelines for listening to a new Pumpkins album for the first time, including “Adore,” which upon that first listen became my favorite album of all time. Through all this I realized, Candlebox had been a crush, but with Billy and The Pumpkins, it was the real thing.

But as it happens with love, the initial fervor morphed and settled into a more level, day-to-day type of devotion, still deep, but less urgent and overtaking of everything else. The Pumpkins were always important and present in my life, but they also sparked in me a desire to find other artists, even outside the alt-rock world, that had this different quality and musical integrity that I had found in The Pumpkins.

In seeking out other bands – scrolling through the alt-rock radio stations to various other ones – I went through a typical classic rock period (full of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and, of course, The Beatles). I learned that I liked goth and industrial pop and became a fan of The Cure and Depeche Mode. In my later high school years I discovered ‘80s Brit pop, including The Smiths, which joined The Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure as my top three favorite bands of all time (although The Pumpkins retained the #1 spot).

I then entered college. It was now the early 2000s and alternative rock had lost its reigning place in mainstream music. Along with it, radio lost it precedence in influencing my musical consumption. Instead, I started delving more deeply into the music of bands I already knew I liked and choosing more independently and critically new bands to follow. I went deeper into the Elliott Smith and Radiohead vaults and welcomed The Killers and Interpol almost at their inception. Also during that time, The Smashing Pumpkins split up, but I followed Billy through his ventures with the band Zwan, his book of poetry, “Blinking with Fists,” and his solo album, “TheFutureEmbrace.”

Later in the ‘00s, I graduated, and Billy took up The Pumpkins again. My musical exploration has continued similarly throughout the years since then. I still love Billy and The Pumpkins. I now use Twitter and music social networks like Let’s Loop and God’s Jukebox to discover bands I would have never heard of otherwise (like Lux Lisbon). I still keep up with long-standing artists I’ve been following for years (like Brandon Flowers and Florence + The Machine who released albums this year). I still memorize lyrics (though not purposefully anymore), and follow my guidelines for listening to a new album for the first time. I still constantly listen to music: while driving, while working, while writing, while falling asleep. It’s not always The Pumpkins I’m listening to, but it often is.

And, thus, my initial infatuation with Candlebox and subsequent falling in love with The Smashing Pumpkins lead me to a full-blown, long-term, committed relationship with alternative (and various other types of) music spanning more than 20 years. Even through some of the surprises (e.g., my obsession with Eminem in 2010) and detours (modern art has taken some of my artistic attention in the recent years), music has remained a constant influence, backdrop, and emotional force in my life, with Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins the common thread woven through it all.

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