I don’t agree with all of Hyden’s conclusions in this piece (and I’m certainly no Rush expert), but isn’t this a fantastic piece of writing?:
Resentment was very good to Corgan when he invented the original incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins and made it the biggest band of alt-rock’s last, lurching stand in the mid-’90s. It grew — as only the purest, most potent reservoirs of resentment do — from out of the Midwest, festering inside the pinched heart of a nerdy metal kid who knew he would never be accepted by the Thurston Moores and Stephen Malkmuses of the world, with their stupidly perfect mussed hairdos and mysteriously crucial connections to skateboard culture and world-class noise-rock collections. To them, no matter how fast he shredded or how high his choruses soared, Billy would always have sweaty palms and pockmarks and a ruthlessly flowing mullet. Guys like that can just smell the hayseed on you, even through your paisley-colored rock-star clothes, and they’ll never let you forget your place.
I also love this Corgan quote, which Hyden thinks is Billy talking about Billy:
“I can’t think of any people outside of Weird Al Yankovic who have both embraced and pissed on rock more than I have. Obviously there’s a level of reverence, but there’s also a level of intelligence to even know what to piss on. ‘Cause I’m not pissing on Rainbow. I’m not pissing on Deep Purple. But I’ll piss on fuckin’ Radiohead, because of all this pomposity. This value system that says Jonny Greenwood is more valuable than Ritchie Blackmore. Not in the world I grew up in, buddy. Not in the world I grew up in.”
If you’ve been following Corgan for these last 20 years, and know how to parse the cogent thoughts from his thatches of twisty-turny grandiosity, you might understand that he’s not talking at all about Radiohead here, and only a little bit about Weird Al and perhaps slightly more about Ritchie Blackmore. That Billy Corgan quote is mainly about Billy Corgan; Al and Ritchie are manifestations of how Corgan sees himself and his place in rock music. He is criticizing the value system that says fashionable and arbitrarily acclaimed (in his view) bands are considered more valuable than he is. Unfortunately, this is the world you grew up in, buddy. Corgan’s feelings of persecution at the hands of a vast, underground, oppressively aloof hip-stapo have been central to his music since at least “Cherub Rock,” one of the few golden-era Smashing Pumpkins oldies that Corgan never seems to tire of playing.
He’s right, of course, that this really isn’t about Radiohead. And hey, I remember when Adore and all that came out and we couldn’t give it away at BestBuy. It must have hurt that Semisonic and The Flys where outselling the Pumpkins’ follow-up to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and it must have hurt more that no one who listened to the record seemed to like it. I remember Corgan saying he was being punished for being ahead of his time, and I remember thinking it was all an ill-informed load of crap. But Corgan’s right, isn’t he, about the value system of Whoever It Is that makes tastes and foments critical opinion? Yes and no, of course. But if you’re like me, the yes has found you really pissed off about these hierarchies on more than one occasion…typically when your heroes are passed over for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with merit or talent or art.
Billy Corgan was never a hero of mine the way, say, Noel Gallagher was/is, but I was 15 when Mellon Collie came out and I had all those thoughts. Maybe Corgan’s talking about himself and maybe he’s not, or maybe we just don’t expect this kind of angst about authenticity from people in their 40s. (Of course we don’t. Maybe we should.)
Hyden’s right, anyway, about the Mellon Collie Corgan being a Brill Building of his own. A Baxter Building, even. Listen to “1979” and don’t feel amazing about some sliver of your youth. Go right ahead. Listen to “Tonight, Tonight” and don’t feel like the un-vindicated sixteen-year-old you were. Not in the world I grew up in, buddy.
And so this post ends up not being about Steven Hyden and only a little bit about Billy Corgan. And that’s what great writing, like Hyden’s, and great art, like Corgan’s, find us doing. Sorting out our own histories and narratives and hard-won feelings. It’s why Mellon Collie soared and Adore didn’t. It’s why I share and quote from pieces like these in the first place. Buddy.