SIAMESE DREAM turned twenty years old this past summer. This was the most important album of my youth, and yet I am only just getting around to writing about it! I wish I had a good reason why I didn’t post about it sooner. But since I don’t, I won’t waste any time coming up with a bad one.
Let me go back a while. I was in tenth grade in 1991 when the Pumpkins released their first album GISH. Back then, there was a show on MTV called 120 Minutes that would show videos from alternative bands. I caught the very end of the video for “Rhinoceros.” Then it cut to Dave Kendall (the host at the time) sitting on a couch with Billy Corgan and D’arcy. Dave was asking about Billy’s lyrics, and he said, “A lot of my lyrics are written from my own memories, so I can’t really say, ‘One day I was walking down the street and I though this or that.'”
Then D’arcy chimed in and said, “We wouldn’t want to tell you what to think the lyrics are about anyway. We’re here to say, ‘Think for yourself.'”
Not the worst message in the world, right? But she came off sounding like a pompous ass. I wrote them off as a band I would never like.
Fast forward to July 1993. I had been trying to learn guitar, but I gave up for a while because I didn’t know what to do with the instrument. What kind of music did I want to make? One day I would listen to the Nine Inch Nails EP “Broken,” and then the next I’d listen to Cat Stevens. I had no idea where to go with the guitar.
Then on 120 Minutes, they played the video for “Cherub Rock,” and EVERYTHING changed when I heard that opening riff. I mean, that riff defined what I thought rock music should sound like. The moment I heard that riff, I said, “I want to learn how to play that.” Of course, the Pumpkins wouldn’t have even HALF the power they did if it weren’t for Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming. To this day, I still haven’t found anyone (to my ears) that is a better rock drummer.
For one reason or another, I didn’t get around to getting the album until Christmas. It was a good year for music: the Pumpkins released DREAM, the Catherine Wheel released CHROME, and Swervedriver released MEZCAL HEAD. The real pisser was these were all second albums, and all three had avoided the “sophomore slump.” Amazing times.
When I listened to SIAMESE DREAM in its entirety, I realized that all my previous worries about guitar were baseless. So you feel like listening to Cat Stevens one day and NIN the next? Okay, well why not put songs that sound like both on the same album? After all, that is what the Pumpkins did! They had no hesitation about having a song like “Disarm” followed two tracks later by the over-the-top metal of “Geek USA.”
In a time when 3-minute, 3-chord songs were the norm, the Pumpkins stood out. There are several songs on the album that stretch past the five minute mark. They have crazy tempo changes and virtuoso guitar solos, NONE of which were common in the wake of Nirvana’s NEVERMIND.
And on top of all that, I identified with Billy. It was like he had lived my life. I read interviews where he said, “My hair was either too long or not long enough. I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me…like I just don’t fit in.” Some people took this as him whining, but I knew what he was getting at; he just wanted us to know that HE understood what we were going through. To me, that was the most comforting part of the music. Someone else knew how I felt…someone I had never even met!
All the reading I did about the album exposed me to other music that I might not have otherwise bothered with. Billy was influenced by Queen, Fleetwood Mac, My Bloody Valentine, and a lot of other bands that I hadn’t heard of. Out of curiosity, I bought albums by THOSE bands to see if I could hear their influence on the Pumpkins, and in the process I became fans of them as well.
I find it interesting that my appreciation of SIAMESE DREAM is a reflection of the way I act toward other human beings. Billy once said, “Good music obliterates any sense of genre.” Well, shouldn’t we apply a similar rule when it comes to other people? If you are a good person and you are kind to me, what do I care if you are black, white, Chinese, Jewish, Christian, gay, or anything? The same goes for the music; I can like a song from ANY genre, if there is quality to it. Naturally what I think of as quality might not be the same as you, but that’s not the point. The point is you shouldn’t limit yourself and say, “I can like only this or that kind of music.”
So as you can see, SIAMESE DREAM (and the entire Pumpkins catalog) had a profound effect on my life far beyond music. It spoke to me in a way no album has before or since, and I owe a massive amount of debt to it.
Who would think 63 minutes worth of music could change someone’s life so much? I didn’t, but SIAMESE DREAM is proof that it can.