Over the next few years, I begged my mother to take me to the mall so I could buy every Pumpkins album I could find (luckily she never noticed the swear on Siamese Dream)—and when I couldn’t find a bootleg or an import at the regular record stores, I begged her to take me to the specialty ones. My room was plastered with Pumpkins posters and my drawers were filled with band T-shirts. I drew the SP symbol on basically everything I owned. By the time I got to high school, when the band released Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, I was spending most of my study hall time writing Billy’s lyrics in my notebooks, and I never went anywhere without at least four Pumpkins CDs to listen to. I cut my hair short and convinced my mother to let me get platinum streaks, because that’s how D’Arcy Wretzky, the bass player, did her hair, and she was a straight-up hero to me.
I fell in love with Smashing Pumpkins because I felt like Billy Corgan was the only person on earth who understood what I was going through, because he wrote about sadness and confusion and love and darkness and anger and did so in a perfect storm of sarcasm and angst, that 1-2 combination of “fuck off” and “please love me” that felt very familiar to teenage me (and, I imagine, many other people). It was music that I could cry to, rage out to, get excited by, and find solace in. But falling in love with your first favorite band is all consuming: you’re not just falling for a sound, but also for an image, an idea, the people behind the entire endeavor, and the atmosphere they create. My love for the Pumpkins even spilled over into my actual love life: my high school boyfriend was just as obsessed with them as I was, and the band was something we bonded over and, later, something I turned to to help me deal with a very angsty breakup.
The last time I saw Billy Corgan in person, it was the year 2000 and I was being rescued from a pit filled with aggressive bros who seemed determined to kill everyone. I was 19, and the band was roughly eight months away from breaking up. I remember being lifted by a security guard and making brief eye contact with Billy, dream of dreams, and giving him a “Sorry I almost died down there, I wanted to stay!” face, to which he raised his eyebrows in a “What are you going to do?” kind of way. He looked bored to me, but maybe I was just projecting—four years earlier I would gladly have broken several ribs and possibly a leg to watch the band play “Starla.”
Driving home from the show that night, I didn’t feel my usual post-concert euphoria. I wasn’t drowning in pure bliss—there was a drop of something new in the mix, or maybe some ingredient had been removed, but I felt a little off. I felt a little less. It was that feeling where you still love someone but you’re no longer
It’s hard to explain what exactly happened to our love. Maybe I outgrew the songs, or the memories I’d attached to them, or maybe I wanted to feel the same way I felt when I first heard them, which was impossible, because I wasn’t 12 anymore, and instead of listening to the songs and imagining what my teenage life would be like, I’d actually gone out and lived it. Some of it was as beautiful and hopeful as the songs promised; some as heartbreaking, and some of it was disappointing, as I hit my 20s in a tailspin of depression and didn’t know how to keep alive the spirit of optimism-within-darkness that the band had often given me.
Falling out of love with your favorite band is a strange kind of heartbreak. It’s hard to accept that some loves are temporary, and that something that once defined your identity and helped you feel safe and understood can’t do that for you anymore.
It’s also hard to admit that someone you once thought could do no wrong, can. The band’s breakup was so bitter that it made me hear the music differently—what had been comforting now sounded heavier, nastier. And some of the records Billy Corgan put out in the years that followed just weren’t for me, which forced me to face the fact that he had his own visions and goals and that “perpetually re-creating within Pixie Casey the feeling she had when she was 12” was probably not among them. On Twitter, you often see groups of fans directly scolding their idols for changing in any way. I get it; I hate change, too. But you can’t stop people and things and the world and your life to do it. What you can do is learn to let go.
I’m grateful for everything the Smashing Pumpkins did for me. They helped me through some truly dark days, encouraged me to write poems (terrible ones, but those can be just as important), and gave me access to a secret world that I had discovered all on my own. They were my first obsessive love, before I’d ever fallen in love with a person. And in a way they prepared me for that scarier kind of love: the deep connection I felt to the band and their music was good practice for eventually allowing myself to connect with another human being.
To this day I have a soft spot for anyone who tells me that the Pumpkins were their favorite band in high school—I feel like we would have been friends, or made out, or at least spent hours talking about Billy Corgan’s lyrics and/or silver pants. But I also know at some point one of us will make fun of how obsessed we were, and the other one will laugh it off and lock it up and distance ourselves from how intense we used to be, and how emotional, and how embarrassing. Why are we so eager to disown our younger selves? Maybe we’re trying to avoid getting lost in nostalgia, trapped in our own memories. Maybe we’re ashamed of how angsty we used to be. Or maybe we just remember how much it hurt to go through those times.
Last June, I was having a crap day, and, on a whim, I downloaded Oceania, the new album by a new version of Smashing Pumpkins in which every member besides Billy has been replaced. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I listened to the opening notes of the first song, “Quasar,” I suddenly felt 12 years old again, bouncing my head around and dancing in my computer chair. It was the first time in a long time that listening to a Pumpkins record was fun. It was nice to know that even though I’m not that obsessive kid anymore, I haven’t abandoned her completely. That, like my cousins did that summer on Cape Cod, and the Pumpkins did for my entire teenagehood, I could accept her. She needed that, and she still does. ♦