The Smashing Pumpkins: “Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness”


Lost inside the dreams, of teen machines
The useless drags, the empty days
The lonely towers of long mistakes
To forgotten faces and faded loves
Sitting still was never enough

It’s 1999 and I am 14 years old. I have been a freshman in High School for a few months and for the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel old. The routines and rhythms I’ve grown to rely on are rapidly changing. I have recently stumbled into my first romantic relationship and with it came a new group of friends that demarcated my social life into two distinct eras. I had survived Junior High School with a close-knit group of friends who were beginning to find their own teenage clans; our friendship took on the air of an old habit.

I was already feeling nostalgic for my younger years when my home town was hit by an unexpected southern New Jersey snow. The pressures of school were muted by casings of packed, wet snow. It was enough snow to make travel an inconvenience and consequently my new friends and I were separated by 6 miles of soft, white obstruction. I was sitting, isolated at my kitchen table when the phone rang and a familiar voice asked if I’d like to go sledding. I knew in my heart that I was a bit too old to feel excited for sledding. I indifferently pulled on weather-appropriate clothing and headed out.

We chatted idly as we peered over the banks of a frozen pond. They were the perfect gradient for sledding and the frozen water at the bottom facilitated a late acceleration which complimented the slippery, icy chaos. Soon, it was my turn and as the icy wind stings my face, I am overcome with a feeling of helplessness. I have no control of that sled and the sensation is terrifying. I am moving way too fast when I hit the ice and my sled begins to accelerate. As I hurtle towards the opposite bank of the lake, I wish for things to be the way they used to be. I have always been a person that craved simplicity. I hear the ice start to crack and as it gives way, I somehow feel a sharp pain and a deep numbness all at once.

And the world is drawn into your hands
And the world is etched upon your heart
And the world so hard to understand
Is the world you can’t live without
And I knew the silence of the world

Once I was safe, and dry, and home, I sat on the hardwood floor of my childhood bedroom and played Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness on my Sony boom-box. As Billy Corgan’s masterful anthems to teen angst filled the space around me, I can honestly say that I felt less alone than I had in some time.

The album begins with an elegiac piano piece which sets the mood for a sprawling record that is too often dismissed as excessive when in reality it is pure ambition. On a song by song basis, the album has a staggeringly higher number of hits than misses. The sheer breadth of stylistic exploration would be impressive for any band but it is even more so for a major commercial entity such as the Pumpkins in the mid-90s. A song like “Love” is as much a high point for electronic influenced rock as “Tonight, Tonight” is for symphonic rock. “Stumbleine” is a charming, circular, folk-influenced character sketch. My personal favorite, “Thru The Eyes of Ruby” is a slow-building guitar epic. The glue that holds it all together is Corgan at his most confident. Coming off the back of the massive hit that was Siamese Dream, Billy knew he could do no wrong. It is my opinion that he never really did do wrong unless the god’s of rock and roll really do count aging as a sin.

Too late to turn to turn back now, I’m running out of sound
And I’m changing, changing

I believe that day was a turning point for my early High School world-weariness. Taking comfort from an album that had been with me through all of my Junior High years taught me that in order to grow, we need to build up from the foundation of our past. I try not to look forward without first looking back and I always look back fondly on The Smashing Pumpkins.

So speak your peace in the murmurs drawn
But youth is wasted on the young


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