#362: The Smashing Pumpkins, "Siamese Dream" (1993)

Siamese Dream is dad rock. This is what it means to get old.

Getting old doesn’t mean feeling old; getting old is feeling young but being aware that you are not young and quietly freaking out about it and then convincing yourself that you are happy to be getting older and that you are a better person now than you were when you were young and shallow and then realizing how much leeway there is in the world for the young and regretting that you weren’t more of an asshole because you know you could probably have gotten away with some of it, and then forgetting all of that because you have to winterize the flowerbeds and put the lawn waste into a biodegradable paper bag and set that bag out at the curb and also your knee hurts and you probably have cancer in your nostalgia. Getting old means looking back on things that happened two years ago and realizing they actually happened fourteen years ago. There must be some kind of formula to calculate that. Don’t tell me what it is.

Siamese Dream was released in the summer of 1993. I won’t say here how old I was in 1993, but I could legally drive a car.

When I first heard the Smashing Pumpkins, it made me nervous. But let me describe to you the basement I was in when this took place, because the music is the basement and that basement is the music. It was the kind of basement that was all interior walls and slivers for windows; it was dark down there, and you were grateful for the dark because it was also the kind of basement you didn’t want to get too good a look at. You didn’t want to see what that carpet looked like. You didn’t want too clear a shot at what people were doing down there—it was better to see them through the haze of incense smoke and weak, dirty lamplight. This was my friend’s basement. Forbidden things happened down there, I assumed. Things I wouldn’t recognize. Things I wouldn’t be able to process if I saw them. Things that would ruin me. This is what the Smashing Pumpkins sounded like to me then: like something that would corrupt me if I let it.

You think Bruce Springsteen is dad rock? Bruce Springsteen is not dad rock; Bruce Springsteen is granddad rock.

My dad is a granddad. Watching him try to figure out his MP3 player is like watching Papa Geppetto disarm a nuclear bomb.

The edgiest guys I ever knew were the beautiful skate punks in that basement listening to the Smashing Pumpkins—in a corner of the band room talking about Fishbone, in the back of the bus playing Ritual de lo Habitual on a boombox. Some of them are dads now and some of them aren’t. Some have gone to the brink and come back. Some are bald or nearly bald or on their way to being bald, but what can be done about that. They are still the edgiest motherfuckers I know, at least according to what they post on Facebook.

I teach classes in English at a smallish college in southwestern Ohio, which means I am surrounded now by millennials. Most of them were not born in the summer of 1993—most of them would not be born for another five or six years after that. I’m not quite old enough to be their dad, but I’m old enough to be their dad’s friend. We could hang out, drink craft beers together. Quote Pulp Fiction. Compare our favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater. This is what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the guy at the zoo whose T-shirt says Slayer and whose tattoo says anarchy, explaining to his toddler son the parameters of acceptable public behavior and laying out the consequences if those parameters are transgressed. He’s got a chain on his wallet and a stroller loaded up with bottles of water and sunscreen. This is what I’m talking about.

What is the statute of limitations on coolness? I was cool for one year in 1997—does that still count?

There’s something corrosive to me about the Smashing Pumpkins to this day—at least in those first three albums. They have a sound of metal scraping against metal, like a car being keyed. That’s a sound that either has not aged or has aged in a way that I can’t perceive, and the fact that I’m not sure which one it is makes my prostate throb. Still, it’s music that has held up remarkably well. Siamese Dream in particular is something close to a masterpiece, but if I say this—if I declare it—does that add legitimacy or take legitimacy away? When do I become your dad’s annoying friend who is constantly urging you to seek out some antiquated piece of twenty-five-year-old culture that you have no intention of tracking down? You haven’t heard Siamese Dream? You gotta listen to Siamese Dream. It’s a masterpiece! And don’t listen it on some low bit-rate Pandorify bullshit streaming service. Find it on COMPACT DISC. Pluck out those earbuds, listen to something through SPEAKERS. Fetch me another Fat Tire and let me tell you about the Pixies.

Kurt Cobain will turn 49 on February 20th of this year. He was a dad. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” no matter what you think of it, is a dad rock anthem.

Nothing stays the way it was except in your own head.

Getting older means figuring out that it doesn’t matter what you listen to or which shows you’ve been to or which movies you’ve seen or which drugs you’ve taken. You will be defined as uncool by the smug little narcissists who are younger than you, and their opinion matters more than yours because they are coming to replace you. And it means coming to realize that you pulled exactly the same nonsense when you were the smug little narcissist—but you had never been laid and your band sounded terrible and you thought you could see the purity of true art but really you didn’t understand a single goddamn thing about anything that was real or meaningful. It means beginning to recognize the honest beauty of those skate punks, of that dirty basement, of the music, of just about everything. It means turning on the lights.

Life’s a bummer when you’re a hummer. I think I get it.

—Joe P. Squance