I can vividly remember getting the gift card from my uncle and aunt for my Birthday. I didn’t get to see my extended family very much as they lived about 2 hours or so from me in the desert, and I get the feeling my uncle disapproved of my mothers lifestyle. I can remember as a boy they had given me a Nintendo game, Joust, for Christmas. I cherished that game because it was from them. I tried very hard to like the game but didn’t quite understand the gameplay, but very badly wanted to like it because it was from them.
This birthday, I had $30 to spend at Tower Records. At the time I only listened to what my mom was listening to. Lots of 80’s bands like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Guns N Roses, ect. Up until that point I hadn’t had much choice in my music, except what I heard on KROQ. I knew I liked Nirvana, Alice N Chains, Nine Inch Nails, ect. I held onto that card until I knew exactly what album to buy. No use wasting it on something frivolous, I needed to get the best album money can buy. Now, with $30 bucks in hand, I was able to get something I wanted. That summer there was one song in heavy rotation that I had to own, but the album came out in October, and it was only late June.
I waited with baited breath. Moments ticked by and more singles were released from the upcoming album. I was in agony. In the interim period while I sat on the gift card, I signed up for one of those CD clubs where you choose a bunch of cd’s for ‘free’, then pay an exorbitant fee for automatically shipped cd’s. They didn’t require a credit card so I had them shipped to the empty apt next door under a fake name. This is how I got The Blue Album by Wezzer, and Plush by Stone Temple Pilots. This method of deception had also introduced me to The Butthole Surfers, copies of Nevermind and In Utero, Bush’s Sixteen Stone, and Marilyn Manson’s Portrait of an American Family. The distinct difference between those albums and my first cherished album was that I didn’t really choose them as much as I had to pick them from a list. I never felt true ownership of them because basically I had lied to obtain them. Everyone can relate to that feeling of owning something for the first time vs something given to you. They had a profound impact on my musical tastes and development as a human being. The difference with this album was more than just ownership.
October finally rolled in and I was salivating. I bugged my mom to take me to Tower Records to buy the album, but I was in school and she didn’t want to go after work. Since my mom wouldn’t take me to Tower, I somehow convinced her to go and buy it for me. I had to describe in vivid detail what the album looked like, what song I was looking for, what the album was called. I even sent her with a picture of the album from Rolling Stone.
“Mom, ask for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It’s by the Smashing Pumpkins. Make sure it’s the right one, not the album with the little girls on the cover.”
“I don’t like them, the singers voice is whiny.’ My mom is very opinionated, which is probably why I feel the need to share my personal opinions with everyone regardless of their interest.
Now the wait. Oh god the wait. Since she was going to get it for me, I was at the whim of her leisure. I don’t remember how long it took, but an eternity seem to pass. When she finally went it was November. It had been raining that day, and my mom had either been out of work for the day or left early. I remember meeting her at her VW Scirocco as she pulled into the carport. She handed it to me in the iconic yellow bag with big TOWER RECORDS red lettering, and I quickly pulled out the thick double disk.
“That cost more than $30. You owe me.” The double disk was $29.99, an unheard amount of money for a cd at the time. I never paid her back.
I hurriedly gushed “Thanks mom,” and quickly pushed her out of the car and into her driver seat. We had two CD players, one on a crappy boom box in the living room which I wouldn’t be able to use till the night time, and the CD player in her car. All the music that defined the 90’s for me were heard out of the stock speakers in that car. I shut the door, put it into accessory mode, put in a pink disk called ‘dusk till dawn’ with a cherub sun on it, and then the rest of my life began. From the orchestral intro of ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ to the last song ‘Farewell and Goodnight’, nothing had gripped my young mind in the way that this album had. There are three other times when music had a profound impact on me, but this was the most memorable.
I can easily say that had I not heard that album at that point in my life, I would not be the person I am today. Billy Corgan taught me that it was ok to be pissed and full of angst, while expressing emotion and having deep feelings. I dedicated a song to my first love from album. I endlessly wrote in journals listing to that pink cherub faced sun disk. When I felt angry or depressed I would put in the blue disk ‘twilight to starlight’ with the cherub moon on it. Years later I discovered that Smashing Pumpkins and my childhood love of Pee-Wee Herman where beautifully linked through the music video for ‘Tonight Tonight’, as artwork for both were done by Wayne White. It also introduced me to silent films and the work of Georges Méliès. I was inspired to find movies by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops. For the next few years until I discovered punk rock I looked like one of the kids in the 1979 video. This album pushed me forward to start creating my own identity not only through music, but in clothing, politics, and art. I was no longer ashamed to be reading Poe and Dante.
This was my Zepplin, my Doors, my Black Sabbath. It started with The Smashing Pumpkins. The music revolution of my youth started here. The poetry of Corgan is what made them different. As a teen nothing sang to, it all seemed contrived or purposefully obtuse, but Corgan screamed my youth through his lyrics and vision, while D’arcy, Iha, and Chamberlain played the most beautiful melodies. My life is described as before The Smashing Pumpkins and after. I was a child and emerged overflowing with rage and opinions. Over the last 19 years I have repurchased this album 4 separate times, and I am considering buying the vinyl re-release just to to touch it and reflect on it like a mirror to my teen years.