My review of the new album from the “Smashing Pumpkins” is now up here at RELEVANT. It’s a shame the first thing I’ve ever written about this band had to be so unflattering (“Zeitgeist” earns a “C” at best), because this piece certainly doesn’t summarize how I feel about the group as a whole. In an effort to set the record straight …
I never listened to the Pumpkins in their heyday. As seems to always be the case with me and bands I end up loving, I came to them late. This pattern in my musical life stems from being an oldest child, I think—I never had somebody like Patrick Fugit’s sister in “Almost Famous” to set me straight at a young age, so I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. When most people my age were listening to Billy Corgan’s band, I was just discovering The Beatles.
Anyway, I liked the Pumpkins songs I heard on the radio (it seems odd to think of listening to FM now) and the videos played on a seemingly continuous loop on MTV certainly were interesting, but none of it ever got me over the hump to actually buy one of their albums. That didn’t occur until 1999, which just happens to be the year I met my future wife, who just happens to love the Pumpkins. You can do the math: 20-year-old boy wants to talk to girl; boy finds out girl loves Smashing Pumpkins; boy almost immediately buys a Smashing Pumpkins album so he has something to talk about with girl; boy not only likes what he hears, but starts to see the Smashing Pumpkins through the eyes of girl; boy falls in love—with band and girl.
But as I said, I was late to the party. The following year—before I even had a chance to purchase all of their albums—the Pumpkins released “MACHINA: The Machines of God” (which I really liked), went out on tour, and broke up. We (that would be me and the girl) saw them twice in 2000, and that’s what cemented my affection for the band. The first show was on April 18, at Purdue, and it was great. Relatively small venue, excellent seats dead-center in the first row of the balcony, cool setlist, and I even got to shake Corgan’s hand afterward (he was, surprisingly, quite affable, making sure to shake hands with and/or sign autographs for all of the hundred or so people who hung around behind the venue after the show).
Later that year, though, Corgan called it quits and announced the band would play two “farewell” shows in Chicago on Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 at the United Center and the Metro (a small club), respectively. Somehow, miraculously, I pulled a pair of tickets to the UC show—they were almost at the roof of the building, but at least they were right alongside the stage. And, really, I didn’t care because the show sold out literally in like five minutes, so I was just thrilled to be allowed in the building.
That night the Pumpkins played one of the best concerts I have ever attended. It started with a six-song acoustic set, then Corgan dashed offstage, changed from an all-white outfit to an all-black getup, and let loose with guitars blazing for the remainder of the night. The final tally ended up about three hours long, two main sets and three encores, and 27 songs. That show, along with the Pearl Jam set from less than two months earlier that still stands to this day as the top live music experience of my life, cemented Chicago as my second musical home and made me a Pumpkins fan for life.
The odd thing is, because that show meant essentially the end of the band, it was hard to keep the fire burning. After the glow of that night wore off in a few months, I moved on to other things; that happens, I guess, in the aftermath of a dissolved band. But because I knew them for so short a time, I never quite got to that obsessive, buy-everything-they’ve-ever-recorded-and-listen-to-them-all-the-time fever pitch I’ve had with so many other groups. In fact, until this past weekend, I’m ashamed to admit I’d never actually listened to the Pumpkins’ renowned debut album, “Gish,” all the way through.
So that brings me back around to the original point of this little missive. I wish Corgan had left well enough alone and not called “Zeitgeist” a “Pumpkins” album, because it doesn’t really feel like one at all. But one good thing has come of it: Preparing to write the aforementioned review forced me to go back and listen to the band again for the first time in a long while, and it reminded me of how great they were, how much I loved (and still love) their music, and the role their songs played in my life. There’s a lot to be said for that, and nothing Corgan does now is going to taint it or take it away. I only hope he comes to his senses and either invites James back into the band, or drops the Pumpkins moniker once again. Or, at the least, get back to writing the type of songs that made everybody love his music in the first place.
With that in mind, here are my 10 favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, in order:
1. Muzzle, from 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
2. Mayonaise, from 1993’s Siamese Dream
3. Drown, from 1992’s Singles soundtrack
4. Stand Inside Your Love, from 2000’s MACHINA
5. Untitled, from 2001’s Rotten Apples greatest hits collection
6. The Everlasting Gaze, from 2000’s MACHINA
7. Landslide, from 1994’s Pisces Iscariot (Fleetwood Mac cover)
8. Ava Adore, from 1998’s Adore
9. Frail and Bedazzled, from 1994’s Pisces Iscariot
10. Blew Away, from 1994’s Pisces Iscariot