In the book The Seasons of a Man's Life, Daniel Levinson describes a number of developmental stages in the life of an adult. He describes an "early adult" era, beginning in the mid- to late 20s and running through the late 30s, and also delineates a "middle adult" era from the mid 40s to about age 60.
One interesting aspect of Levinson's book is that it places a period of mid-life transition between early and middle adulthood: the traditional midlife crisis. This is the point in life where the individual is expected to make the difficult transition from being responsible for one's own immediate family to being responsible in a wider sense: for extended family, and for society in general.
Levinson discusses this transition at length, and the difficulty that goes along with it, yet he leaves out the second major crossroads in a person's life that he himself delineates but essentially abandons: the transition from youth to early adult, or the transition from minimal responsibility to responsibility for yourself and those immediately around you.
I tend to think that we all have an "early adulthood crisis," occurring for most of us within a year or two of exiting college, and quite often stretching until the age of 30 or slightly beyond. It is from this that the impression of twentysomethings as a bunch of slackers comes, because quite often we are a bunch of slackers, at least in the eyes of external observers. We are going through a rapid expansion in responsibility and for most of us it's not an easy task. It's a re-evaluation of the whole world: life, love, the meaning of everything.
Billy Corgan was born in 1967. He spent much of 1995, 1996, and 1997 admittedly in a slump, and spent most of the tour for his band's 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness writing melancholic songs on his tour bus, ostensibly for a solo album, but mostly to relieve the painful edges of his own crises. He had to make the painful decision to evict his best friend from the band, and he also had to deal with a career built on a mountain of musical sound that no longer said much of anything to him. He was growing up; he was no longer the blond boy in an ice cream truck, nor was he even the black haired raven in a junkyard or any of his other ethereal visions. He dove into electronic music and other genres, trying to find something that spoke to him.
What came out was Adore, a mix of the old Pumpkins sound with a dollop of electronica and a deeper, more mature edge as well. Most of the fans of the Pumpkins at the time of Adore's release in 1998 hated the album with a passion: they wanted more of the Gothic pop-rock of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, not this.. this... new thing.
At the time, I was one of them, too. I listened to Adore twice on the day of its release (June 2, 1998), and I quickly shelved it away into a good pile of albums that I just didn't like, with such items as A Love Supreme.
It took me several years to get Adore, I suppose. I had to go through my own crisis.
A d o r e
The Pumpkins meet electronica
Release Date: June 2, 1998
Label: Virgin Records
Grunge rock, alt-rock, whatever, is basically a passe thing, I'm not gonna be out there ham-boning up something that I don't believe in anymore. I believed in it when I believed in it and I still love it. But we can't go out and pretend that we feel the same way we felt when we were 23 years old about playing fucking Godzilla riffs. It's not the same thing. You have to play music about which you have conviction and if you're not convicted, that's it."
- Billy Corgan
1. To Sheila 4:46
2. Ava Adore 4:20
3. Perfect 3:23
4. Daphne Descends 4:39
5. Once Upon A Time 4:05
6. Tear 5:53
7. Crestfallen 4:09
8. Appels + Oranjes 3:35
9. Pug 4:47
10. The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete 4:35
11. Annie-Dog 3:38
12. Shame 6:40
13. Behold! The Night Mare 5:13
14. For Martha 8:17
15. Blank Page 4:58
16. 17 0:18
All songs written by Billy Corgan.
To Sheila (4:46)
The album opens with this very mellow number, indicative of the contents of the remainder of the album. Billy's voice is barely above a whisper here, and the instrumentation is light and soft, making this song seem almost ethereal, something that The Smashing Pumpkins have always done well.
It's a great opener to the album in that it already shows that Adore is going to be something different, even though there are aching similarities to the Pumpkins sound of old: melancholic sounds and an undercurrent of angst. Here, though, there is a greater maturity to it.
The difference between the earlier Pumpkins albums and this one becomes evident by the end of To Sheila: before, the band would force the music out, often with urgency. Here, it feels as though there is a patience that wasn't there before, as if the band is waiting for the music to come to them.
I hear a song about the immortal bond between love and faith.
Faith has been at the core of a long and painful struggle in my life; the role of God and of religion for me is something that burrows straight to the heart of my being. I have my own ideas of my relationship with God and Jesus, but those often seem like they don't belong in a church, and there are many times when I feel hypocritical for going to church.
Yet, I am deeply in love with someone who wears her faith on her sleeve, almost to the point of being shocking on occasion. Her faith's depth is often amazing to me, yet in many ways, our faiths are incompatible.
Added to this is the fact that almost every friend I have is agnostic, and you wind up with a complex picture.
The chorus of the song repeats the lines you make me real / strong as I feel. I can think back to a time when I was single, without her in my life, but she has grown into such a fundamental piece of my life that I wake up many mornings, look at her asleep next to me, and wonder what I would do without her in my life. She is the foundation of so much of my life now, and when I see her asleep there next to me, I realize that no words can even express what I feel for her.
Later in the song, the third verse: lately, I just can't seem to believe / discard my friends to change the scenery / it meant the world to hold a bruising faith / but now it's just a matter of grace I look back at the friends I had in college, who I believed would be part of my life forever, and I see them slipping away now, moving onto their own paths that are not shared with me. I look back at the beliefs I had in college, that I believed would stay part of me forever, and I see them changing now, transmogrifying and cementing into something new and different.
It is amazing, when you stop and breathe and look back at it, how much you change, how much your life changes and your values change, in just a few years. It seems like such a smooth transition in your eyes, and yet you wake up one day and realize how much has changed. I guess that's why I love her; somehow, we've managed to change together, hand in hand, over the last ten years. We went from high school to college to marriage to having a child. We built up a cathedral of faith, knocked it down, built it up again. We lost friends and gained them, then lost those and gained others.
You make me real... strong as I feel
Ava Adore (4:20)
The second song is the album's first single, released in the weeks prior to the album's release. The sound was quite different than what had come before it (with the exception of the band's one-off for the Batman & Robin soundtrack, The End is the Beginning is the End) and actually quite different from the rest of the album as well. Although this song is good on its own merit, I think it was a very poor choice for a single, especially the first one from the disc; I guess it is perhaps the "hardest" edged song on the album, and thus perhaps had the closest ties to earlier songs like Bullet with Butterfly Wings.
Clearly, this is an attempt at electronica-rock fusion; whether it is a success is probably up to the individual listener. To my ears, it is perhaps the most forced song on the album, but it isn't without merit; it does a good job of capturing a rather passionate, almost addictive form of sex in audio form, at least to me.
Here we have an ode to sex in a glorious form, that of an intensity that it becomes nearly an addiction to the act and to the sexual partner, and yet also exposes the weird mix of respect and love and addiction that comes from the act of sex in the male mind.
Billy sings It's you that I adore / you'll always be my whore / you'll be the mother to my child / and a child to my heart / we must never be apart Right off the bat, the truth is revealed: an admission that the one who makes love to him will "always be his whore." Many guys will understand this intuitively; most females will not (at least, that's been my experience).
Males spend such huge amounts of time fantasizing and plotting sexual conquests, both consciously and unconsciously, that it is quite often confusing as hell to the average male when he actually does have sex, particularly with someone he actually does have an emotional interest in. It's something of an inferiority complex; many males on some level think that when a woman actually does have sex with him, it's some sort of failure on the woman's part, because surely he is not up to her standard. (Note I have no idea how homosexual relationships work, so I won't comment.) Yet, underneath that, the physical act on top of an already-existing strong emotional bond ends up with something very intense for the male, and it is from this intense bond that otherwise inexplicable behaviors of jealousy and pursuit derive.
I loved my wife for a very long time before we first had sex, and after that, our relationship (at least in my eyes) changed quite a lot. The act of sex with someone who I deeply loved, who seemingly loved me, made me almost view her almost as an angel for a long time (and in many ways, I still do). Yet, it was an angel with a mark; my terrific lack of self esteem skewed this beautiful scene and made me question why on earth she would lower herself to love me.
This whole song fits here; when he sings In you I feel dirty / in you I count stars / in you I feel so pretty / in you I taste god it fits into that mix of love and passion and self-loathing that can bring a man to his knees and puts a woman on a pedestal made of broken glass: you'll be a lover in my bed and a gun to my head. This song expresses that shock, that intense moment, that all men feel and some are never able to get past.
This is the album's second single and, to my ears, sounds the most like the "Pumpkins of old" of all the songs on this album, as it feels a lot like 1979 from Mellon Collie. As a result, many listeners to this album upon its release felt that this was the only good song in a sea of tripe, and quite likely that was the reason this was chosen as the second single.
Here, you do find the mellower sensibility of their earlier work, but not the lyrical simplicity. Look at comparable songs from their earlier albums: Today is just a celebration of the now, and 1979 is a nostalgia trip. Here, the mellow, smooth, unquestionably Pumpkins-esque sound focuses on the realization that the perfection of youth is not really so perfect after all.
There is this magical point early in a relationship where everything seems right as rain. You can't help but see it any other way; our bodies and minds are genetically hardwired to revel in the bloom of a growing love.
It's almost hard for me to remember this time with her; I often turn to my obsessive journals when I'm trying to remember the beauty or the pain of a particular stage in my life, and it doesn't fail me. The writings from 1997 are just astounding in their passion and intensity.
And yet, there is inevitably a fall from this precipice. She says something wrong, or he's around too little, or she's around too much, or he's smothering you. The perfection doesn't last, and there is this inevitable letdown, and a questioning not only of the partner, but of yourself. Who is messing up here?
Rest assured, you both are.
He sings We are reasons so unreal / we can't help but feel / that something has been lost, and I understand it. I spent two years constantly wondering whether or not we had a long term future and whether or not we should stay together. Yet I made the decision for myself; I could still feel my heart leap when I would see her for the first time that day, and I still loved almost every minute I spent with her.
It took me a long time to see that it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. My wife isn't the neatest person in the world and she's very reticent to talk about some subjects and sometimes she pushes my buttons, intentional and otherwise. But still, I wake up in the mornings, roll over to look at her, and she lays there, usually still asleep, and I feel as though my life is about as close to perfect as humanity could give me.
Ostensibly, this song is about the end of the relationship, but yet it could be just another stage in that growth. The hardest task of all is to cherish what you've got and let it be.
Daphne Descends (4:39)
The ability to write a song with multiple meanings, meanings that reveal themselves upon repeated listening, is an amazing skill, and Daphne Descends is a perfect example of this.
For a long time, I perceived this song as being nearly a throwaway, a song about a female teenager with a nearly obsessive crush on a "pretty boy," which didn't speak to me on any level except for the respect of the catchy "you love him" hook. The realization that the protagonist here could be of either gender added a bit of meaning, but didn't really escalate the song for me.
The point that this song came together for me was the realization that it was literally about any obsession, and thus about anyone's obsession with anything, and taking it from this perspective brings the song to a strange place, particularly when you begin to think that the "him" that is loved here could potentially be the singer himself, skewing what seemed like a teenage crush song into a strange form of narcissism.
The lyrical depth here snuck up on me; I previously thought the best part of "Daphne Descends" was simply the strongest hook on the album.
Part of the agony of this song is how it is constructed much like a march, an inevitable march into the abyss where the obsessions of our life hide. Obsession is beyond the want; it is when you make a want into a need, replacing rationality with the constructs of your own perspective on the world. It is empty and lonely and sad, both for the target and for the obsessed.
It's not real. And the winding vines; the pretty boys dive / and thru the pinhole stars into the shadow mind / you will lose him then on some gentle dawn / this boy is here and gone says the voice, the voice.
The obsessions in my life never ended well, usually involving me sitting on a bed somewhere, drowning myself in tears. I am lucky in that my obsessions have never hurt anyone but myself, but the sheer darkness of those moments frighten me.
The marching rhythm here is a call to arms, a call not to forget what matters, to get on with the life of the real, not the constructed fascinations.
Once Upon A Time (4:05)
Something about this one puts me in the mind of James Taylor; for the life of me, I can't place exactly why. This song is like Perfect in a way, in that it captures many of the fluid qualities of earlier downtempo Pumpkins songs but frames them around lyrics of a type of introspection that wasn't really tackled before.
Earlier, in such songs as Tonight, Tonight, Billy's plaintive wailing was full of a nostalgia for the innocence of childhood as a general concept. Here, we've grown beyond that, into a desire for a normal and healthy relationship with the mother, a relationship that is already badly fractured by broken dreams.
She's always been there; it's the only way to really describe my mother. If I can say one thing about her, it is this: I have never felt shut off from her in any way. It is this nonstop caring that drove a rift between us, in fact; I felt for so many years that she was just incapable of letting go.
Now my eyes see it all in a different light, and I just see love there.
I know that she misses the days when I was a young child, full of curiosity and brightness. She even has the courage to tell me this sometimes. I used to feel anger at this, and then later, pity. Now? I just see it for what it is: love.
Mother I hope you know that I miss you so / time has ravaged on my soul / to wipe a mothers tears grown cold There were so many years that I was angry at her for the silliest reason of all: I was mad that she loved me, still. I did so many foolish things that I know now hurt her; I never did things with that intention, but I went in directions that shattered the dreams and hopes she had. Those moments are something I'll never have the opportunity to take back, and something I'll always regret.
Not too long ago, this song inspired me to sit down with a piece of paper and write her a letter, something I should have done long ago.
This is a very slow number with a strong heavy metal influence, with the overriding, pounding guitars... yet they are softened throughout, almost in the way the power of a scream is weakened in the middle of a shower. Dampened.
Death is the subject here, the loss of a loved one. That one moment when we go from seeming foolishly immortal in our youth to realizing exactly how frail we are. Was this about Jonathan Melvoin, who died of a heroin overdose on the Mellon Collie tour? Or about someone else, unnamed, who toppled Billy from his spot atop Mount Olympus?
We don't know. We don't need to know.
I was shaken to reality by the death of my uncle in 2002.
He was hard to describe. He had an intense sense of humor, where you didn't know whether or not opening his refrigerator would result in retrieving a glass of milk or some sort of pratfall. Yet, at the same time, he also had an intrinsic idea of what everyone wanted, or needed; he had this capacity to divide everyone and yet, a second later, bring everyone together again.
He also had his demons. He had liver cirrhosis, yet he continued to drink. He managed to carry on like this for years, and his clear resistance to succumbing to the disease despite thumbing his nose at it suspended my belief. No one can die, my sensibilities told me.
He was gay, and he lived in a small town. Adding these together, it was clear that the drink was a way to escape some deeper demons.
And do you know the way that I can / do you know the way that I can't lose? He died almost suddenly, with very little warning. Something went very wrong, and he was gone; his non-functioning liver doing him in at last.
He was cremated, and staring at that small urn at his funeral service almost detached me from what happened to him. I looked at the ashes and I realized that indeed, all we are are ashes. Ashes that come together for a while to be something more, then merely ashes in the wind again.
I wonder what comes after. I suppose I will find out someday.
Crestfallen continues the downtempo mood of the album, and again touches on both of the recurring themes in the album: faith and questioned relationships. Here, the song works on both levels; it can easily be interpreted as a paean to a lost relationship or a deep questioning of faith, depending on who the object of the song is.
And that's the lyrical beauty of this album. Almost every song here is filled with multiple meanings, speaking to the listener in very different ways.
When I first pulled this album out of the dustbin after not listening to it for five years, I was almost shocked by it; it felt like a religious album. I suppose that was the frequency I was tuned into at the time, when I was listening to a good deal of The Blind Boys of Alabama and other such gospel recordings and reading things by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet, after hearing this album so many times over the last year, I do think Billy Corgan is speaking out about his own troubles with his faith, on top of the other issues as he clawed his way over that gap between childhood and adulthood.
Who am I to you? Along the way, I lost my faith. is the ending of the final verse and it sums up so much of the path that so many of us seem to follow. I can't help but look back at myself ten years ago when I hear this part; I flip through those old journals and see a person that I can scarcely remember, a person that almost seems not to be me. I recognize the handwriting and the flow of words, but the sentiments behind it? They are no different than reading the sentiments of an enjoyable diarist or a good fiction writer.
I believed so many things then that I don't believe in now. I was an agnostic, bordering on atheist; now I am a Christian. I believed I would be alone for the rest of my life; now I am married. I thought that I would become a park ranger; now, I'm just a writer hoping desperately to get by.
Dreams change, and the path of life flows onward.
The refrain Who am I? is repeated throughout the song, an eternal question, I suppose. When I close my eyes, I imagine humanity as pieces of straw floating on water. We each believe that we are in control of our own destiny, but so much of it is outside of anything we can hope to control and often outside of what we can even perceive. We float on the surface of this life, bumping into each other, and drifting on towards the wide sea.
I don't really know who I am, or where I fit. When I'm writing, sometimes I feel as though I am edging close to this universal truth, but often it just floats away, another straw on the water.
Appels + Oranjes (3:35)
For the first time since Ava Adore, the album dips back into a harder sound, and here it is again fused with a heavy dose of electronica, making this song feel almost like the earlier track's sistert.
The lyrics here are a series of questions, almost existential in their sensibilities, as if Billy Corgan is trying to dig deeper to some sort of fundamental truth with a wide variety of rhetorical picks and shovels, yet not finding the treasure that he seeks.
It's a clever rhetorical trick, actually, and complements the "who am I?" refrain from the previous track quite well.
More than anything, this song makes me think of writing. I quite often get these strange images in my head, and I try to build out from them. An example: for Remembrance on Anderson, I pictured a guy below a treehouse climbing onto a bicycle. For my most recent novel attempt, I pictured a man in a blue suit and fedora standing in the rain with his head down.
What are these images? Are they real? Do they matter? I dig deeper, trying to figure out the answers to these questions, and more often than not, I fail to find a real answer. I thrash about with some piece of text, trying to capture something intrinsic about this image in my head, but I simply come up short.
Yet in this sea of broken questions, there are these brief instances where a beacon of light shines down from the sky, and my straw on the water passes under the warm sunshine, and something becomes ever so clear to me. Those moments are truly sublime; they are the moments that make this long chase worthwhile.
Envisioning it as though the questions are a hard journey and the occasional answer is the figurative pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn't capture it, either. The journey adds something to the sunlight at the end, almost as if the sunlight would have little value without exploring the darkness before it.
What if what is isn't you? Corgan sings, and I suppose there really isn't an answer, at least not a universal one.
The heavier sensibility continues here with a strong heavy metal riff covering the verses, leaving the choruses here to float along over a sea of ambient electronica, and then a fusion of the two near the end that approaches a Nine Inch Nails-esque sound from their Downward Spiral days.
Here, we have an Oedipal complex of sorts; an overt desire to return to the safety of some sort of womb and the woman that will be the protector. Yet it is a journey that will never be truly complete; we can never truly return to the womb, no matter how deeply we want this.
Is it true that the most fundamental pain we all experience is that first one, the moment of leaving the mother and venturing into the world for the first time? The agony of leaving the perfect safety and security behind and having our senses bombarded by light and sound and touch and smell and taste?
I look to my wife so often for some sort of safety that I can scarcely describe to myself, let alone emit it into a sensible fashion for her. Her touch, her smell, her voice, her taste all guide me to a safe place, one where I feel whole, or mostly there, anyway.
Sometimes I hold her close to me for a while, my arms wrapping around her, enveloped in her aura. She lays there next to me, quite often holding onto me as well, as we share something fundamental, not sexual and not necessarily erotic, but something deeply intimate, perhaps more intimate than the act of sex itself.
Inside where it's warm; wrap myself in you he says, describing that intimate envelopment in just the briefest of ways.
It is as close as I can get to feeling truly at peace, when I feel her soft skin against mine and I know that she's right there and that nothing truly bad can happen to either one of us. Her aroma, the softness of her skin, the gentle rhythm of her breathing: it is ambrosia.
The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete (4:35)
A return to the audio melancholy with just a hint of uptempo, this is on the surface a tale of two lovers, the titular Dusty and Pistol Pete. The two seemed trapped in their love, and fall apart together, leaving the world empty.
At first, I analogized this to the simple idea of any two lovers who drag each other down, making this a rather simple and oft-repeated song, but as this album does, some investment into the song pays dividends.
Once you scrub away a bit, the song seems to reveal itself as a paean to the culture of the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent dumbing-down of it by the end of the 1970s and the 1980s. If you take the titular Dusty to be Dusty Springfield and Pistol Pete to be "Pistol" Pete Maravich, much of this song fits right into place. I can't be sure whether this is an accurate interpretation of the song as Billy Corgan intended it, but it fits quite well.
I grew up in the culture of the 1980s United States, which was filled with so much dumbed-down popular culture that it's surprising that so many people managed to grow up in the decade without being complete idiots. From The Dukes of Hazzard to The A-Team, from Tiffany to Debbie Gibson, the decade was filled with meaningless cheese. Even some of the culture of the 1960s and 1970s dumbed itself down: look at Grace Slick slumming it on tripe like We Built This City or Peter Cetera singing the most one dimensional love songs in the history of the known universe. The decade was even a literary wasteland; many of the supposed "top novels" of the decade are tripe.
Great, challenging things happened in the 1960s and 1970s: people challenged the conventional thinking over and over again, from Ralph Nader and Richard Farina to Bob Dylan and Robert Kennedy, the questioning of the status quo and the constant re-evaluation of ourselves and society as a whole was the only constant. Yet, by 1985, people were calling Miami Vice high art and by the end of the decade blatant trolling like Piss Christ was considered to be making a statement.
We have emerged from this, thankfully; the popular culture has become more engaging through the evolution of the internet and the realization by some aspects of Hollywood and the publishing industry that we're not all brain dead in Kansas. I can now watch challenging television programming like Deadwood, watch films that challenge my societal views like Super Size Me and challenge my values like The Aristocrats, and read tremendous fiction like Middlesex. Even electronic entertainments have evolved beyond mere simplistic combat into truly complex works like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and the rise of the internet has given us a massive potential for learning and information and idea exchange.
Perhaps it is a backlash from some of the earlier tripe, or perhaps it is a sign that American culture is actually developing the ability to think. Either way, I look at my pregnant wife and am excited about the possibilities that my son will have in life.
This song reminds me of Ben Folds, particularly songs along the vein of Brick, which were piano-guided melancholy as this one is, yet with this weird George Gershwin-esque pop sensibility to make it attractive to our base instincts.
Yet, lyrically, it's a mess: dense and obtuse, much like a Thomas Pynchon novel. I find myself wandering through its words, much like I wandered through Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon, getting the general framework of the idea, but losing much in the twists of language and the melange of odd angles and perspectives.
It's a beautiful mess, in other words.
I have this trouble with my writing. The best way to summarize it is that I have no talent.
I tend to write things either in such a fashion that they are too obtuse for anyone to read, or that they're so straightforward that Joe in middle management could predict the next plot twist. I tend to write overly long, with too much analysis of things that are actually rather straightforward. Like this writeup, for example.
Yet somehow, every once in a while, I'll write this phrase or passage that rings so true that it shakes me from top to bottom, as if the language itself is giving off an intense vibration. It shakes me, shakes my reality, from the surface to the core, and somehow changes me as an individual. It is this immense power that keeps me with my pen to the paper, or with my fingers to the keyboard.
I keep writing with this dream in my head that I'll one day be able to string some of these powerful phrases and words and passages into something coherent, something with meaning, something with the capacity to transform the life of the person reading it.
Then I look down at the four thousand words I've just produced. I read through them, and I wonder if any of it will mean anything to anyone.
We tumble out into the streets and Annie-Dog, she drags her leash /
Pretty face, ugly mouth, bitter bred and so released; it is analogy to an experience that isn't really love. Amphetamine Annie-dog, he sings, wistfully, hoping to find her, hoping to say something but lost in the forest of words.
Here, the refrain is the truly memorable part: a repetition of the word "shame," over and over again, coupled with a very simple piano hook, as though it in itself is some sort of healing mantra.
What is the shame here? The rest of the lyrics give us very little in the way of clues, allowing the listener to make up their own mind. All that is given is that love is an inherently good thing.
My ideas of love, and the exact wordplay of the song, leads me down an interesting path. Perhaps you will find your own.
The last line of the song, Hello, goodbye, you know you made us cry, paints a picture in my head, actually, and connects this song strongly with The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete, just two songs earlier on the album.
I close my eyes and imagine John Lennon. I imagine him as he looks on the cover of the Double Fantasy album, a man approching 40 years old, kissing the woman he loves. He still had that gift he always had, writing music that could reach you, but it was music that had grown with the people that listened to him in the 1960s and 1970s. He wasn't singing about revolution any more; instead, these were songs about a family and about the love that endures.
Yet John Lennon was shot to death on December 8, 1980, when Billy Corgan was thirteen years old and likely just discovering the power that music can hold. Lennon's assassination was one of those inescapable moments, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or 9/11, or the Challenger disaster, that drove straight into the hearts of who we are.
In some ways, I think Billy Corgan wanted Adore to be his Double Fantasy, or at least he respected Lennon's final album.
Behold! The Night Mare (5:13)
A very melancholic number at the start, through it grows with a very rough electric guitar solo that almost cuts the ears. It seems to begin the end of the album, as it feels as though it ties up some of the themes that run through the album: love and the loss of it, the struggle with faith and what it means, and the loss of an innocence towards culture.
These threads all cross here, behind the lilting refrain of "and the nightmare rides on," almost painting it as the living creature that it is, the harbinger of some sort of personal doom.
So many of my writings wind up being about similar themes. I write about isolation and the intense loneliness of feeling as though you're different from the rest of the world. I write about that moment when love is discovered, and often try to carry that note through to that moment when love is lost. I write about exploration of the unknown, whether through inner evaluation or exploration of the outer universe. I write about faith, and the question of whether there is a God above us.
Those moments when threads cross, and when my prosaic skill or lack thereof rises to the challenge, I can sometimes create something magical, something that speaks to the human condition.
I am so hesitant to show the things I've written to anyone that I actually know. I am afraid of seeming a failure to their eyes, as though this dream I have of writing is a giant mistake and they'll see it, they'll see through all of it.
But when I write one of those magical pieces, and I show it to my wife, she reads it. I watch her eyes go back and forth across the page, absorbing it, and I can tell from the twinkle in her eye that she likes it.
The twinkle in her eye tells me that it's not a waste of time, that I am not a failure.
For Martha (8:17)
Billy Corgan has this penchant for including these overly long and overly dramatic songs near the end of albums, and For Martha fits the bill for this album. It seems to be the grand tradition among some rockers, like Oasis (whose Champagne Supernova nearly sets the standard for such pomposity) and Led Zeppelin.
It's pompous and long and overbearing and yet delicious, building on itself and climaxing and softly letting down, setting the stage for the finish of the album.
So many works try so hard to maximize the climax. Sometimes it works, as in the novel Empire Falls; other times, it fails, as it often does in musical works. Yet, in all aspects of life, we're all shooting for that monstrous climax, that massive orgasm that will give the whole thing some sort of meaning, some sort of context or resolution.
The beauty in so many works is the path leading to the climax, in my eyes. Rarely is the climax satisfying or worthwhile; those rare occasions where it is satisfying is due to the incredible work leading up to the climax, in which the tempo is kept low enough to make the climax stand out, but yet high enough to engage you throughout. Much like sex in that way; quite often, the work leading up to the orgasm is the gratifying part, not the climax itself, yet you only reach that peak if everything is good up to that point.
This is the weakest spot on the entire album, to my ears. It tries too hard for the big finish, when the small finish of "17" at the end of the disc ends things so much better than this does. 17 leaves you with a sense that life is going on from here, that this leg of the journey has ended but life will continue.
Here? We have all of the pieces of a climax without the peak itself.
Blank Page (4:58)
Here we go, from perhaps the biggest failure of the album in a faux climax, to the real finish, a song that finishes this complex work out in a true fashion.
It continues the melancholic tone of the album, with piano and a hint of electronica, and spells out what this is all about. It sums up that overriding theme, that sense of loss as the pieces of childhood are finally laid to rest and the vestiges of adulthood replace them.
This album's journey is that of a long leap, one that we all take at some point. It's a leap into an unknown abyss, one that in our youth we believe we'll never take, and yet we all find ourselves on the lip of that great canyon, looking down into the remainder of our years.
We feel like we have come so far in our lives, and we think back to those days of the earliest joy and follow that path along to the now, and for the first time we completely feel the wind at our backs. We are ready now, it is time to step forward into the new day.
Blank page was all the rage / never meant to say anything is the repeated refrain here, and as I hear it, I look at this long writeup and I can't help but wonder if I've really written anything at all.
It took me a long time to realize what the first day of your adult life really is.
The album ends with this brief instrumental snippet, a little piece with what sounds like a toy piano, that drifts by before you even realize it.
Perhaps just like this album in its entirety.
It ends here, with a few notes, and then the silence of a record player that has reached the end of an album.
The liner notes feature a brief poem in lieu of lyrics. This poem sums it up far better than I ever could:
17 seconds of compassion
17 seconds of peace
17 seconds to remember love is the energy behind which all is created
17 seconds to remember all that is good
17 seconds to forget all your hurt and pain
17 seconds of faith
17 seconds to trust you again
17 seconds of radiance
17 seconds to send a prayer up
17 seconds is all you really need
And that is all.
I can't even begin to count the number of times I've listened to this album as I watch my twentysomething years begin to slip away from me and I begin the inexorable march into middle age. Life reveals itself in layers, like an onion, and as I peel away toward the core, I like to believe that I am inching ever closer to some meaning in my life.
I guess it all boils down to those moments that you will remember forever: a night outside an abandoned rock quarry where I felt her love for the first time as she sat next to me, the gleam in my wife's eye on our wedding day, the jerky movements of my son on the ultrasound. For what else is real?
This album is an amazing and beautiful expression of life as it passes from the final vestiges of childhood into the first steps of true adulthood.
This writeup was checked with great care with regards to E2 FAQ: Copyright Issues