This could get long.
1993 was a full scale, both barrels, alternative rock explosion directly in my face. An audio banquet on which i gorged myself to hog heaven. This is the point at which the albums selected for this blog sync up with the music I was actually listening to at the time, rather than delving into retrospectively like most of my previous posts.
In early ’93 I had switched from Smash Hits to the N.M.E as my music magazine of choice. Tapes were being exchanged fast and furiously across the school classrooms. I had started watching the cult magazine show The Word every Friday night and The Chart Show every Saturday morning (in the hope that the specialist chart segment in the middle of the programme would be either the Indie or the Rock chart). I heard my first Sonic Youth song. The times were not simply a changin’, they had changed beyond all recognition.
Then sometime in early Summer I stumbled across a radio show on BBC Radio 1 called The Evening Session. It was presented by Mark Goodier who I only knew at that point as being the voice of the Top 40 Singles countdown on a Sunday night, (which I still listened to. You never knew if you might catch a recording opportunity). Anyway, The Evening Session was another great way to address my unquenchable thirst for new music as I sat in my room doing my homework. Then one day in July they had an interview with Billy Corgan.
I’d heard the name Smashing Pumpkins before because I’d seen them perform “Rhinoceros” on the Late Show special “No Nirvana”, which was basically a collection of live performances of loads of the new wave of american rock everyone was talking about.
“Rhinoceros” was ok but it didn’t blow my mind or make me want to check out their album. I had also very recently seen them play an acoustic version of “Mayonnaise” on the Channel 4 programme Naked City.( Presented by an 19 year old Caitlin Moran trivia fans.) That song I did love. The band must have liked it too because it made it’s way onto the video compilation Vieuphoria.
During the Corgan interview on The Evening Session, he was asked to pick 2 songs to play from Siamese Dream as a prelude to it’s release. He picked “Disarm” and “Cherub Rock”. Both of these songs blew my mind and I instantly thought ” I’ve found my band”. I knew I had to get “Siamese Dream” as soon as it was released. I was on a holiday with my family in the British seaside town of Scarborough on July 27th 1993. I made sure we were at a music shop on that day. It was the now defunct high street chain Woolworths where, for £7.49 I bought “Siamese Dream” on cassette. My house was yet to acquire a C.D player. The fact that I can remember exactly all these trivial details, shows how much that album had an impact on me. I had a cassette Walkman with me and I played the hell out of that tape while I played Mortal Kombat II on the arcades, while i read my Jurassic park book, while going to sleep. I absorbed every note and every word. There’s a huge amount of people my age or thereabouts who describe “Nevermind” to be their watershed rock music obsession but really for me, although I liked Nirvana and they had whet my appetite, “Siamese Dream” delivered the main course. A total obliteration of my pop music past and a full immersion into my rock music present. I would obviously eventually realise that it is of course possible to enjoy many types of music at the same time but at this moment it was like shedding a musical skin. My badge was pinned on. I’d heard a lot of bands in the previous few months which had opened my ears and started my investigations but “Siamese Dream” was MY album.A band to get behind, to obsess over. When I got back home I took the tape to my mate’s house with a “Yeah Nirvana are great but listen to THIS!”, and from then he was on board too.He became known among our friends as being the Pumpkins Fan but bollocks to that. I gave him his first listen.
They of course, exploded with “Siamese Dream”. The “next Nirvana” in all the magazines. Then they followed it up with “Mellon Collie..” I saw them live for the first time in 1996 on the Mellon Collie tour. The last tour with the original line-up. Then after that it all went a bit wrong. I like “Adore”. I defended Adore at the time when everyone slagged it off but it’s obviously not the same band. Neither is “Machina” even with the return of Jimmy Chamberlin on drums. When they split up I was disappointed but there was also an element of relief. A feeling that it would only have gone further downhill from there.
I don’t even consider the current incarnation of the band to be Smashing Pumpkins. I know that sounds like hipster elitism at it’s best but physically and musically how can it be if it’s just Billy Corgan and a revolving door of musicians. It’s got to the point now where they have almost more music since reforming than before the split in 2000 and i realise that the band I loved was only really active for a short space of time.
But that album, from the opening drum roll of “Cherub Rock” to the closing strains of “Luna” is a cast iron classic. It’s my musical emergence from the chrysalis. I realise i’m throwing hyperbole around but the songs are as good today as they ever were and a high benchmark to compare to the shallow pool of quality in the new songs.
There are whispers of an original line-up reunion possibly in the pipeline. Can Billy finally recapture the magic. We’ll see.
It was hard to pick a track for inclusion on the life soundtrack but in the end I’ve opted for this one. I think it sums up the album well.