Smashing Pumpkins front Man Billy Corgan wasn’t a teenaged high-schooler in 1979, he was only 12, but hey close enough looking back from 1995, when he’d reached the ripe old age of 28. “I’m on the edge of losing my connection to youth” he said at the time, “and I wanted to communicate from the edge of it, an echo back to the generation that’s coming”. Geez, wish I was similarly on the edge of losing my connection to my younger teenaged self, but alas, no; and the passing of the years has accelerated to the point that I was brought up short, revisiting a song which to me still seems fairly recent, to realize that the distant past it commemorates was only 16 years prior at the time, and is now more than 40, 26 more years having somehow flowed under the bridge.
I was 18 in 1979, on my way to university, so really this wonderfully nostalgic song should be more about my past than Corgan’s, except I wasn’t a normal well-adjusted teenager, and none of the depicted stuff happened to me. I didn’t go to wild house parties, or cruise around town with my homies in a muscle car like the ’72 Dodge Charger featured here (my buddy Leonard had a mid-70s Pinto in which I often rode shotgun during my college years, does that count?), and I never would have considered anti-social rebellion as extreme as throwing a neighbour’s harmless patio furniture into his pool, or TP’ing the innocent trees in somebody’s previously tidy front yard. Good Lord, no. What if that was your pool? What if those were your trees in your front yard? Then how would you feel? Nope, that sort of thing just wasn’t nice.
Funny thing, back then I wasn’t popular with the girls.
In my nerdly defence, I was slyly subversive in my own way. In fact it was during the front half of 1979, in my last semester of High School, when I decided to run Francis the Talking Mule for student government, on the then unfashionable Communist Party ticket. I snuck in after hours and plastered the hallways and classroom doors with homemade campaign posters, all sporting the hammer and sickle, and featuring catchy slogans like Vote Francis for a self-perpetuating autocracy!, This school has always been run by capitalist jackasses – why not give the Commie a chance? , and Francis has a five year plan – and leaving this dump standing ain’t part of it. I used a step ladder I found in an open janitor’s closet to put a lot of them in awkward places, and the one over the doors to the library, which promised the electorate that a totalitarian Francis regime would make the bells ring on time, was still there when I graduated.
So no, there were none of those Dazed and Confused hijinks for me, and while this perfectly realized video almost makes me feel like those must have been the best times of my life, the truth is that I hated my high school years and have no nostalgia for them now – I’d serve a stint in Millhaven before I went through all that again – and when you listen to the lyrics, it sounds like adolescence wasn’t an unmitigated joy ride for Billy, either:
And I don’t even care to shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess forgotten and absorbed
Into the earth below
The music is superficially joyful, but I guess it wouldn’t be the Pumpkins if its young protagonist didn’t express some measure of underlying angst over what lies ahead, suppressed, perhaps, in the happiness of the moment, but always there. Maybe that’s why I like this one so much. The video might not remind me much of anything I lived through, but the song is a good deal more than a rose-tinted tribute to the supposedly good old days.