Siamese Dream - the appreciation
I was a freshman in college the first time I heard the Pumpkins. We were driving back to school from Phoenix (about a two hour drive) and someone popped in a cassette (dubbed, damn music pirates!) of Gish. It seems important to note that it was night. The album blew me away. I had pretty much given up on most heavy shit. After Cliff Burton died I basically gave up on Metallica (sorry Jason, real bass players don’t use pics). Around this time I was listening more to early Dylan, James Taylor… that sorta stuff. This tape had everything though – melody, intensity, power, speed, aggression, beauty, and attitude.
Fast forward a couple of years later. I had put the band and the cassette in the back of my mind when I was watching MTV (I know this line is cliché… but this is back when they used to show music on tv, hence the name) and some toolbox vj was going through the new releases of the week and mentioned the new Pumpkins. So I picked it up on CD and basically didn’t stop listening to it for about two years. I think I am probably on my fourth or fifth actual copy of Siamese Dream currently. Mercifully, I have dropped it onto my hard drive now and don’t need to worry about killing it. I also play guitar, and I would sit in my room for hours playing the songs over and over again to learn every one. It was all consuming, and I believe it tortured my room-mates to death. You probably can't imagine this, but I listened to it about 4-6 hours a day. That is frightening, maybe this peice is the closure I need to move on.
At this point I am going to play the CD and ruminate. Since Shark was so upset about the brevity of my Appetite review, we are going to ride this one out to the end. If you have the CD, I think you know what to do
Cherub Rock, which just fucking kills! The song attacks with no mercy, and somehow while assaulting your senses, you realize the lyrics are screaming about what total bullshit being in a rock band is about. What is this guys problem? Who knows, but what a way to deliver the message. This was the first single released from the album, but nothing caught fire until Today.
Quiet – as drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (insert handful of Weiland-esque junkie jokes here) put it “I like think of my drums as a huge drill boring through your skull”. Enough said
Today – the breakthrough hit. Today is the greatest day…. Bla blab la. As is rock lore by now, this whole song is a suicide piece. Billy has pretty much always been miserable, and the band had a whole Fleetwood Mac romance drama going on too (but this one comes with death!). Man, what an amazing video that was, just so cool and expressive and strange. For the longest time I thought James Iha (the Asian guy in the dress) was a chick. Also important to note, this was the first song I figured out on guitar. You know how guys talk about playing guitar to get laid? I was the retard too busy learning guitar to try and go out and get laid.
Hummer – another catchy tune about how fucked up Billy is. To be specific, the song verse ‘Life’s a bummer, when you’re a hummer’ is about his struggles with writers block, which damn near drove him to suicide (see track 3 for details on that one).
Rocket – a solid piece of melodic rock. As for the lyrics… you guessed it – regret. But musically it is a great piece, and one I still perform on acoustic. Keep in mind I was alone in college and hadn’t gotten laid in three years (fucking goddamn braces)… so every word of alienation was seriously valid to me. Though I am happily married now, I will never forget how shitty and alone and weird I felt all those years. Billy became a musical messiah to me (reference lyrics from I am one from Gish here). The song is also well put together, in layers. For the record, my wife tells me the first time we met we were discussing Siamese Dream at a party. Go figure, the most depressing album since everything the Velvet Undergound has done finally got me laid!
Disarm – standard ballad about … you called it… how much things suck. Keep in mind, Billy Corgan had the whole fucked up childhood story that makes Eddie Vedder envious. Billy was raised by his grandparents and thought they were his real parents. His real parents only lived blocks away, and when he was a teenager he found out the whole story. Plus, all this time he was raising his developmentally challenged brother Jesse (skip to Spaceboy). This was also a cool video. I think it was done by Dayton/Ferris, who did all their best ones (Tonight Tonight, 1979… etc)
Soma – man, this is some heavy shit. Quick historical reference, Soma is a drug reference from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It was a wonder drug that kept everyone complacent. This song is hypnotic, to say the least. Uniquely, this song is about sadness and loss. Billy said at one point in the song there are 24 guitars playing simultaneously. It should be noted he played all the instruments on the albums, with the exception of drums. You could think of the other Smashing Pumpkins as his back up for touring, basically.
Right in the middle of the song (at 3:30 specifically), as it gently sneaks off a cliff Ka-fucking-boom! Holy shit, now there is this ranging monster of (you guessed it) sadness that is pile driving everyone in its path.
Geek USA – an extremely articulate piece of thrash. As Billy put it once live, “we used this song as the audition for Jimmy’s replacement. No one could play it, so we had to bring him back”. Seriously, listen to the drums on this track. I mean, what the fuck is that? It’s sick. He is the best drummer of his era without peer, except the amazing Danny Carey from Tool. Everyone else is a pussy.
Mayonaise – Here we come to my favorite Pumpkin song of the album. It’s not a ballad, though it plays one on TV. It is sweeping like a landscape, and powerful like a typhoon. Pretty from a great distance, but murderous in its intent when it finally gets to the shore. *** sidebar here - was that just some great writing? Or was that overstated Thomas Kinkaid type bullshit? Tell me true, I can take it! It also contains one of my absolute favorite moments in recorded history for suspended tension. It’s too tough to explain, but I’ll tell you the other is in Crosby, Still, & Nash’s ‘Southern Cross’. The band changed things up and goes for a light touch on this one, and takes the lyrics in a, um, well, err… depressing and lonely route.
Spaceboy – this is a strange piece. It is about Billy’s brother Jesse who has some kind of learning disability. As I understand it, Billy pretty much raised him during this whole weird ‘then who are my parents’ phase… which is probably still happening in his subconscious to this day. This song has some beautiful acoustic work.
Silverfuck – I don’t know what the hell to call this thing. I can say for sure it is influenced by LSD. Billy has openly admitted that during the Gish years he was so hopped up on acid he has few detailed memories. Of course, they recorded the album in Madison Wisconsin, so why not be fucked up?
Sweet sweet – alright, truth be told this is pure filler. I mean, it is listenable… but barely.
Luna – strange, sweeping, beautiful piece to gently walk us out of the album on a high. Let the record reflect, though there is longing this song is not that depressing. Ah, who am I kidding. It’s a downer like all of them.
Anyhow, over the years I have come to regard Billy C as a mentor. I have seen them several times over the years. I am excited to meet him finally. Not for an autograph or picture or any bullshit like that. I simply want to say Thanks! End note, Billy is finishing up his solo album right now, to be released around Christmas time. He has a fledging website here, which is actually more like a blog.
Take care, and thanks for your patience. This piece has been 10 years in the making. If history is any indication, there are about a zillion Smashing Pumpkin commercials right below this. Pick this album up!