David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 73: The Smashing Pumpkins (1979)

July 8, 2020

One of the fascinating parts of pop and rock music is that an artist not of one's time, not particularly of one's liking, can out of the blue produce a song that sounds like it was written especially for you.

The Smashing Pumpkins did that with "1979" off of their 1995 Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Musically, it sounded so muted, so non. D'arcy Wretsky seemed unrelenting on her bass's E-string, while Jimmy Chamberlain pounded away equally without variance on the drums.  Somewhere in there were guitars, but they seemed lost in the production.  Put the song on headphones, though, to hear just how lovely the guitars, both Billy Corgan's and James Aha's, are. I still am not sure I can say there is a definitive melody, but there is a melodic hook.  On a CD (double at that) with lots of noisy in-your-face songs ("Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "Zero," and "Muzzle" to name a few), "1979" was a breath of fresh air. You can find other testimonies to this song that talk about how "compression" is the key to the whole sound of this song. I have little idea about what "compression" really means in musical context, but the effect, if associated with compression, does seem in contrast to many of the songs previously referenced in this series, songs like The Triffids' "Stolen Property."

Corgan's voice, which had sounded so whiny on "Today," carries the song, going up and down, drawing us in, pushing us away.  While the song ended up with a great video, by the same directors who did Jane's Addiction "Been Caught Stealing," I hear the song and wish they had been able to use the concept of Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" from a decade earlier. Corgan claims he wrote the song as if picturing himself in a car at a stoplight, which, inexplicably, fits the rhythm. That's why Corgan's bald head should be sticking out of a convertible while cruising down roads, not Henley's mane. Normally, to be compared to an Eagle might be considered an insult, but this time it isn't, as both songs are gut-wrenching reflections of nostalgia.

I was immediately struck by why a band basically a generation removed from my time had chosen a song called "1979." That was my time, that was my watershed year (beginning of senior year in high school), and even though little in the song sounded like my "1979," it was still that time. What in the world could these young punks have to say about it. I was never entirely sure what the lyrics were about, but every once in awhile, the ennui of the song's characters screamed 16 or 17 or even 18 year olds: "with the headlights pointed at the dawn/we were sure we'd never see the end to it all." The rest of the song seemed to embody what Elvis Costello wrote (and seems applicable to teens): "you just haven't earned the weariness that sounds so jaded on your tongue," especially when Corgan bemoans"Our bones will rest to dust." Then, there's the final couplet, borrowing from Martin Luther King "the street heats the urgency of now/as you can see there's no one around," a sentiment sounding too profound for your average 17 year old.

Turns out that Corgan, the songwriter was not that much younger than me, so while I was 17, he was 12.  Given what I have written the last week about my 1975, the year I turned 13, maybe this watershed year was exactly the point for Corgan. His reason for choosing 1979 has to do entirely with the rhyme, according to what you can find online, but that makes no sense, because 1979 is used one time for one rhyme (look I doubled that with that phrasing).  1984 can offer as much if not more (there, we have the rhyme) and it would correspond with when he was able to drive.

This just goes to show, never trust a writer (perhaps even this one). We do what we want, maybe don't understand why, and love to give answers that sound good. You need to know us better than we fake it.

"1979." Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. The Smashing Pumpkins. Virgin. 1995. Link here.

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Day 74: Neil Diamond "Dry Your Eyes." ->

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