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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Favorites of 2015

Well, friends, 2015 is coming to an end. I hope that its closing is going well for you and that 2016 will arrive even better. For me, 2015 was a very positive year, with a lot of growth and good change in most areas of my life, including my writing (as I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post).

I imagine you’re seeing many year-end lists at this point. I’ve always enjoyed those types of lists, so I thought I’d add to the bunch and make one of my own. I’ve chosen a few of my favorite posts I’ve made on this blog, and have added some comments to share with you why they are my favorites. And, since this is a blog greatly inspired by music, I’ve included a list of the albums I listened to the most this year (though they weren’t all released this year). I hope you enjoy.

Let me know about your lists, too. What were your favorite posts this year, from your own blog, this one, or someone else’s? What were your favorite songs/albums/bands? Let me know in the comments or through the “Contact” page.

Cheers to you in 2016!

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There Was Once a Cage

There was once a cage
But now I’ve broken free –

I saw your face watch me through the glass
And I took a hammer to the reflection of your eyes.

I tried everything I was brave enough to try,
But cowardice runs deep,
And prudence maimed my feet.

But now I’ve broken free,
And I leave you my cell bars
To throw as daggers to try to trip my feet.

I run fast, as fast as my foolish heart will take me.
You never did say how long you’d watch me go.

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To the Streets: In which I make my way back

(Listen as you read for a fuller experience.)

I walk out the glass doors and briskly head down the street in my worn, dirty clothes. There’s a thought of running, of flying, of going away, but I’m bound by these chains that will let me go only so far, so I settle for a careless walk, for as long as the energy beneath my dirty feet will take me.

People stream by dressed in pressed suits and done nails and neat haircuts. I’m not the lowest of the low on the street, so I get by, but not without the clean people’s sidelong glances of judgment and false concern. What is she doing here? Why is she this way? I feel them ask silently, none of them caring to wait for the answers that will only defile their air and waste my time.

But it’s all the same to me, so I walk farther on. For all the weight and short length of these chains, they’re not strong enough to keep me from the wind, from the lights, from the sounds continually in my head. The shackles bite my ankles and I leave a trickle of blood on block after block of these city streets, like permanent breadcrumbs for judges to follow if they try to come get me. But I don’t really mind and I’ll walk as far as I can go, right to the edge: Here I am, on the verge of the water again, with only me and ununderstood powers to keep me from slipping to a final end.

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I Can Change: In which I’m inspired by Brandon Flowers’ enthusiasm

As I write this post, Brandon Flowers’ new album, The Desired Effect, has been out for about a month. I had been waiting for this album since it was announced in February. Like a lot of fans, I took notice of The Killers (the band of which Flowers is the leader singer) when their single Somebody Told Me hit radio in 2004. I was immediately hooked on the song and liked it unequivocally.

Unequivocally perhaps, but silently. One of my best friends at the time (see Lost in Zooropa) was as obsessed with music as I was, and we both prided ourselves in having really good taste. Although we didn’t always see eye to eye on specifics, we did agree that the other had a good ear and trusted each other’s musical judgment.

But with Somebody Told Me, and its album Hot Fuss, I felt hesitant. The Killers’ sound was different from what was being heard in alternative rock at the time and, while I liked their first singles, I was unsure of how they would hold up to the critics, including this friend, Doug. I thought he would ridicule their synth, ‘80s sound. There was an emotional element in the music that took me back to junior high in Miami that I knew he just wouldn’t get. And so, as I listened to Somebody Told Me on repeat and reveled in the swell of All These Things That I’ve Done, I kept silent about my new discovery.

Fast forward to a few months later. Doug and I were talking, as usual, about music, discussing new bands we were listening to. He mentioned this new, up-and-coming band, The Killers. Had I heard them? I should really give them a listen because they’re one of the best bands to come out in a long time and they’re going places musically that no one else is going. I really should check them out.

I was…surprised, yes. But mostly I was mad, at myself. Here I had been listening to this band for months already, and Doug was taking all the credit for discovering it first. I didn’t say much beyond, “OK. I’ll look them up,” because there really wasn’t much to say. I was just angry with myself at the missed opportunity of being the one to have introduced Doug to The Killers (who would become one of the best bands of the 2000s and one of Doug’s all-time favorite bands), and I was angry at the pattern this revealed.

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