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.

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Questionings in the Afternoon

She walked in to find him lying face-down on the floor in the middle of the room. The afternoon rays shone directly onto his back as though he was the center of the sun’s attention.

For a moment she stood at the edge of the room watching his torso rise and fall with his breathing. He didn’t sleep much, but when he did, it was deep and it was for a long time.

She slipped off her shoes and crossed the living room to the kitchen. She unpacked and put away the groceries, still watching him. Then she took the unfinished bottle of wine he had left on the counter and went to sit on the floor next to him.

She took a sip of wine as her eyes traveled up his body to rest on his peaceful, beautiful face. She wondered what he was dreaming about. He always said he didn’t remember his dreams – “It’s just blissful unconsciousness, babe” – but she liked to think that as he slept he lived all that he could never quite reach when he was awake: having a carefree smoke with his younger brother who had been refusing to talk to him for the past three years; finally tracking down the man he had foolishly sold his grandfather’s pistol to when he was 19 and in need of money; holding in his arms the baby they had been trying for so long to have. She wished, so much, that in his dreams he would find himself happy.

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