2016 has arrived at a swift and nightmarish end. In a year of darkness and uncertainty, it’s time for us to reflect on our various points of light. Let us weather the dark storm by the candlelight of fond memory. This is a perfect opportunity to share my favorite night of 2016.
March 23rd was the night. A friend and I went to the famous Paramount Theatre in Seattle to experience my favorite band of all time.
Buzzed out of my mind on sheer anticipation, I spent the entire night of March 22nd walking around while listening to the entire Smashing Pumpkins catalog on shuffle. Afterward, I proceeded to watch several hours of DVD concert footage.
If I could convince myself on a regular basis that I was going to see one of my favorite bands the next day, I would always be in a splendid mood. Maybe that’s the key to life – just willfully enter a state of perpetual delusion and stay there forever. Sounds good to me.
Luckily for me, I wasn’t merely pretending that there was a show the following night. There was a show, and it was my favorite band. I had not attended a Pumpkins show for sixteen years. Rumors were flying around that Billy Corgan had taken to playing classic songs again.
I couldn’t have been more excited. Somehow, I managed to sleep.
The next day, I drove into Seattle at a furious rate of speed. I met up with my friend and concert companion for a pre-show dinner and beer. We raced around the grey city together; the world whizzed by speckled with a hazy, dreamy sheen. The air was feather-light and pleasant against my skin, the pavement swirled in lollipop patterns beneath my skipping feet. It was the kind of moment people yearn for – the natural high of exuberant joy.
After dinner, we rushed off to The Paramount Theatre. The Paramount is gorgeous – it was the perfect setting for this show; ornate furnishings, chandeliers, and dim lighting. My friend and I took turns smiling at each other with idiotic pleasure.
Finally, we entered the auditorium and took our seats. Murky red lights glowed on the carpeted walls. Hushed voices whispered all around us, rising and falling in crescendos of excited anticipation. The lights dimmed, and Billy Corgan’s profile stalked across the shadowy stage. He picked up his acoustic guitar and stood in the dark.
I stiffened to attention immediately. I sat up straight on the edge of my seat, erect as a steel rod.
“Is that him!?” she whispered in my ear.
“F— yes, that’s him!” I whispered back impatiently, reeling with barely contained joy.
It was unmistakably Billy; his figure loomed over 6 feet tall, wearing his trademark black suit, sporting his notorious bald head. That was him. His long arm reached for his guitar. The house lights came up. He stood before us in a single spotlight.
The auditorium hushed.
He began playing “Tonight, Tonight” on acoustic guitar. I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. A pleasant shock overcame my senses; the moment was completely surreal. His voice carried through the air in front of me, emerging in real time and happening in front of my face.
They played songs that I never thought I would hear live. The whole middle section of the show was dedicated to the Siamese Dream era. They played a suite of four or five songs from Siamese Dream, including one of my favorites, “Soma”, reworked for piano instead of guitar.
I had to resist a very strong urge to run up to the front of the auditorium and stand under Billy, right in front of the stage. I wanted to run up and stand directly below him. I had to resist this urge several times.
I have never experienced such a visceral pull before; I was being physically pulled by a force beyond my control. I maintained extreme willpower to resist that urge. Respect for both the band and the audience allowed me to hold onto my sense and keep my wits about me.
That experience recalls a memory from when I worked in a guitar store 11 years ago. I was the only female working at the store among several young men, all talented musicians. My co-workers and I would occasionally watch music performances on video when business was slow. One day, we watched footage of The Beatles performing in 1964. Young women threw themselves down and rolled on the floor. They screamed at the top of their lungs, flailed their arms, cried, and fainted.
The guys couldn’t believe it. They stared, awestruck and envious. “God!” one of the guys declared, “Those girls! Damn, girls were crazy back then!” I smiled slyly – the reaction of the boys was as amusing to me as the footage of girls in the throes of Beatlemania.
Years later, I now understand the tidal force that possessed those poor girls.
My fellow concert-goers were an experience as well; they were clearly hardcore fans. Everyone stood up after all the popular songs. They yelled, whistled, and begged for more. The men shouted, “BILLLLLLLY!” in long, drawn out howls. I surveyed the crowd in ecstasy. It was thrilling to be immersed in a symphony of devotion that mirrors my own. I looked around frantically, trying to drink everyone into my eyes and senses. Many were around my age, not surprisingly. Some were a little younger. My friend who attended is 10 years younger than I, but she claims that she listened to The Pumpkins in high school. They are the new Pink Floyd. They span decades.
Billy’s star was shining as bright as ever that night. It was all there – flawless guitar solos, high clear singing, fascinating interplay with the other instrumentalists. My favorite part of the show was the look in his eyes during moments where he scanned the audience as we screamed and went crazy after songs. He looked like a little boy on Christmas morning.
As he scanned the crowd, his eyes lit up with love and appreciation. He smiled. The look in his eyes was genuine and unmistakable. His eyes shone with affection. Corgan has never been a guy to hide genuine emotions. So much of what he is (and what fans are) is The Child. That brief flash of his eyes was everything. He has a reputation for being the most arrogant and incorrigible asshat in the music world. Fans know a whole other side of the man – we laugh at the interviews, push them aside in amusement, and listen to the music.
As a bonus, Jimmy Chamberlin came out and drummed for a few songs. The crowd went apeshit when Jimmy emerged on the stage. A few nights later, original member James Iha also joined the band for a few songs in another town. I am horribly envious of the people who attended those shows. Those fans were damn lucky.
After the show, my friend declared this was the best show she’s ever seen at The Paramount. In 2015 she saw her favorite band, Modest Mouse, at the Paramount. She said that something was off with Mouse, that the sound wasn’t quite right.
I smiled broadly. “Well, of course, my dear,” I said in a tone of obvious superiority, “This is The Pumpkins, you see”.
I feel lucky that my hero is still alive. Above everything else, this is proof that the greatest talents of a generation do not have to die young. Great talents may release less exciting albums as they age, but you can still see them live.
I wanted it to last forever. Even now I wish I could jump back into the moment. But, like any good trip, you must come back sometime. Then you’re just left with the memory.
And what a sweet memory at that.