Unpacking the Pumpkins: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness Part 1

mellon collie cover art

 

The first time I heard “Soma” by the Smashing Pumpkins, I discovered a new emotion in music. When I listen to the song, I feel lost in the enchanting guitars, surrounding me like a rainforest of soundscapes. There is a melancholy in Billy Corgan’s lyrics.

“Wrapped my hurt in you/And took my shelter in that pain/The opiate of blame”

My headphones trapped me in a surreal poetry, causing the world to become shaded in different colors. The Smashing Pumpkins became one of my favorite bands, and Billy Corgan, lyricist, vocalist, and guitarist, became one of my lyrical idols. The next time I visited my local record store, I found a copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness for my car and binged the album for the next few weeks. My best friend and I have tried for years to find a full analysis of the album, unpacking each song not only as an individual, but as an extremity of an entire album. I have often wondered if there were overlapping themes, an overarching story, or if the whole album is just a tornado of emotion and noise. I figure that the only person who could fully satisfy my hunger for a full album review and analysis is me. I will be going over the album in several different posts and paying close attention to the lyrics especially, while giving a general overview of the musical aspects of the album.

Yes, the album is now over 20 years old. But I don’t think that it receives enough recognition for the depth it holds. It is a truly poetic album and underrated for its excellence. Yes, I am biased. If you read this, I would hope that you would gain an appreciation for not only the album, but Corgan, each song as an individual piece, and the Smashing Pumpkins as a whole. That being said, let’s dig in.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is the Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth studio album, released in 1995, following the softer, more polished album, Siamese Dream. Mellon Collie is a 28-song double-album, split into two sections. Disc one, or part one, is titled “Dawn to Dusk”, is 58 minutes long, begins with song one, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, and ends with song 14, “Take Me Down”. Disc two, or part two, is titled “Twilight to Starlight”, is 63 minutes long, begins with song 15, “Where Boys Fear to Tread”, and ends with song 28, “Farewell and Goodnight”. The Pumpkins were discouraged from undertaking such a huge task, but Corgan had his mind set. He would be making a far darker album than the Pumpkins had ever released. Corgan said that he was making “The Wall for Generation X”. It is no easy task to live up to Pink Floyd’s legacy, but Mellon Collie hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October of 1995.

The album opens up with the album’s titular song “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”,  named by Corgan while out on a walk on Coney Island in 1991. He said that the name had floated into his head at random. He blurted the words out in hopes of remembering their sound. The name would be used for the song “Mellon Collie”, which was originally a full-band instrumental. Corgan later changed the song to be played on piano. The track consists of a single, clean piano, and a small collection of stringed instruments, such as violin. I see the track as hopeful, charismatic, and glimmering. It is the perfect opening to the side labeled “Dawn to Dusk”, as it opens up the listener with hope. This can be represented by the sun and the beginning of a day. The crisp, upbeat piano could also symbolize the beginning of a life; there is innocence and a pureness to life before it can be muddled by adolescence and the struggles of the real world. With this album, and the many references to day and night, I find it easy to assume that the album itself could be an allusion to life and death, and if not, then at least it will be packed with imagery of the stages of life. There are still no lyrics to fully dive into, so we cannot assume anything, but there is already so much to unpack simply based off an instrumental and the artistic style of the album.

The melody of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” returns at the end of the song “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, this time with dreamily layered guitars and no keyboard. The tune is called the “Nighttime Version”. The melody reappears one more time at the end of the last track of the record, “Farewell and Goodnight”. This piano has a little more production on it, making the notes more resonant and full. The full cycle of the tune makes me even more sold on the theme of life and death. Of course, we cannot assume anything without fully digging into the songs and lyrics themselves. Billy Corgan told Rolling Stone in 2012, “I think [the album has] held up really well. I think it’s ultimately down to the songwriting.”

I hope that you would stay updated with me as I try to unpack this untamed beast. Thanks for reading.

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Nails

Here, birds fly at night, against the red sky. Rather than stars, the great expanse is hung with butterflies.

I watch from the safety of my house. Behind closed doors and wrapped in the fear of more.

The day time is flooded with hypocrites, liars, and thieves. Walking their dogs, getting groceries, and going out to retrieve their mail. I am just like them, and I despise it. I hammer nails into the door instead of celebrating our mutual sins.

The night time is just as bad. Terrifying brilliance. A night sky, just a dome over our heads, ready to collapse at any moment. Stars are not suns galaxies away. They are only holes poked by God to peek inside our dome. His doll house. In the night time I can run and hide and be alone, but I don’t trust myself to ever come back. So I stay inside.

One day, I was watching the other children play in the street. I was envious, I wanted to enjoy the screaming sun. That’s when she saw me. She came to the window and I hid.

She had the smile of a Venus fly trap, and I was ensnared. Her eyes were a green unlike the grass of the neighborhood. Her green was kissed with a macabre shade of gray. She came to the front door.

She knocked and waited for my answer. I couldn’t bring myself to pull out the nails in the door. She sat on the porch for a while and hummed a tune singed with grace. I watched her leave and stared at her fading shadow until nightfall, when I pulled the curtains back into my shield.

Through the slit under the door, the corner of a note was visible. I put down my seasoned tragedies and read her note: covered in poems of beating hearts and incineration. My breath weighed down my chest and followed her handwriting like the North star. I studied each word and took them to memory.

The next day, she came back. She knocked, a hum in her throat. I stood, my ear to the door and savored each sweet note. Before she left, I recieved another piece of paper. Then, her voice, my song of longing, began to fade away.

I read the poems of moons and waterfalls and clung to the words as if they were my essence. I pulled out the nails in the door with bare hands and ripped away the chains in a clamor.

The next day she stopped by my door, I swung open the door before she could knock.

Since, I haven’t been inside. I walk amongst the hypocrites in the day time. Because I am a hypocrite. But I hold a secret in my chest pocket, notes of stars and burning flesh written by the one who set me free.

At night, we meet God’s stare through the cracks in the sky. We catch butterflies. I follow her finger and admire the nocturnal birds eclipsing the moon.

The Pond

The pond is freezing over in the night
It is silent, slow, and delicate
Crystals form over the stillest parts first
Carefully, the ice creeps over fish’s heads

Frost slithers her fingertips through reeds
Working her way through the muddy banks
Into the homes of dragonflies
Cold is striking Persephone

I dip my feet into the water
Disrupting the natural still
Wait until the frost meets me
Pricks my skin with a spiteful chill

The moon’s too bright for my taste
I like the few nights with only stars
But the moon’s out tonight
Illuminating the my translucent scars

The frost is kissing my toes
Wrapping around my legs
Tighter and tighter
Threatening to pull me under

My breath is short
My feet can’t touch
My skin is purple
I can’t feel much

The ice digs into me
Trying to pull me in
But I’ve frozen over now
Chipping off my skin

They find me in the pond
Flashing red and blue
Behind caution tape
I’m illuminated by the moon

Give Me the Moon Tonight

She took her time
To rid me of the world’s advice
I listened and played with the fireflies
Put down my pride as a sacrifice,
Don’t act surpised

I asked her to give me the moon tonight
if that’s alright
Dropping dew from stalactites,
the night’s reprise
Track marks stain my mind
I’m left home and right behind

Never ask for God’s insight
I’ve heard it a million times
He can’t grant reward or rewind
I don’t mind
She blessed me with her glass insides
The closest to a hallelujah I’ll ever find

One-Man Cell

If I stare at the wall and let the hours roll by
Will the world stop turning?
Will the problems of everyone else float away like dandelions in the breeze?
Or will I be only be ignoring the pain for my own sake?
It feels better that way

The lights are out, the door is locked
The shadows only grow across the room
Like the bags under my eyes
I haven’t slept in days
But I’m not tired
To be tired you have to be alive

I stare at the same corner and breathe
Without any care about what happens outside this room
I’ve been trapped inside for what seems like years
Noises are alien to me
I only hear the television static and the clock ticking

The phone buzzes next to me and disturbs my death
Calls and messages from those I love
Light up the room like a lighthouse’s beacon, calling me to come to shore
I refuse, I wouldn’t even if I could
They anger me, but I’m stuck in my shadow paralysis
I can’t turn the phone off
So I wait for days until the battery dies

It’s funny
Everyone sends me beacons of light
But no one has knocked on the door
It’s obvious they don’t care
The pain of the world must be going away
The inside of these walls are safe
People make you love and loving brings pain

I don’t need to see the stars
I can push my fingers against my closed eyes and see galaxies
There’s no reason to leave
When people stop caring enough
I’ll be free
Stop caring like me
And stare at the ceiling
You’ll never die
Because you’re not alive
Like me

The Promised Porch

What does she see in me?

Is it the puddles in my palms, where her fingers splash and play
I shake when we sit outside
and my breath becomes a secret steam
She can see the moon and sun share a fatal dance in my pupils

Or the way that I align words to protect myself and bury the truth
I surrender myself to her
My pores exude a love greater than any she’s ever seen
A love so strong that it will kill me
I wear the mask of a tragedy to pretend that I’m not thriving under the umbrella of her hair

Or the way that I nest myself in the crest of her neck and slip her subtle promises
Promises that I will finally show her the seasons that she deserves to see
Of youth and compromise and ecstasy

I’ll never knows what she sees in me.

Now, I’m staring at her on the porch that I promised her so many years back
I thought this was the destination
I thought this was the end

But I still make her promises and wonder what she sees in me
I’ve filled notebooks with the same words in new poems
I’ve sketched her from every angle that I’ve ever seen her
I gave her this porch where we share our orange mornings

I crumple a page and hand it to her
While she reads, she begins to cry
She remembers the promises I fulfilled and what it took to get here
Every moment of misery and bliss
And she tells me that the stories that we share are her favorite
We are here because of promises kept
And we share a moment of overwhelming peace

What some would call “love”
We call “the porch”

A place to drink our coffee
Read the books that keep our minds racing
Write the poems we will soon memorize
We listen to the tapes that we’ve held since we were just stubborn kids
Remember the stories
Relive the travels
Get drunk on the emotions that we fell in love with

I realize that this is why I am alive
To develop myself and give all of me to a family
They run across the creaking wood and I watch the days go by
I’ll sit and write here on this porch until the day I die
Watching her sunset shades and our grass sway

Hidden Poems

Rain on my shoulders where my concsience used to lay
My wet hair is getting too long
It covers my eyes and keeps my head down
Every strand reminds me of you

Now I’m standing in the bathroom at midnight
The same where I used to dream of ending it all
I can’t count the times that I’ve watched myself die in this room
The scene is a reminder in the hallways of my head
Next to butterflies I’ve caught and the pictures I’ve painted on your ribcage

I’m writing pretty poems on the bathroom stall
Hoping that one day they’ll make you fall for me again
I wonder if you know that I think of you every day
Or if you remember how my footprints feel
In my whispers and sweet words

Have you found the hidden poems I’ve left for you?
The heartbreak I tucked away behind your ear?
The cries for help I sewed into your spine?
The trust I burned into your collarbone?
The dreams I’ve tattooed into the freckles like Orion’s Belt across your lips?

When’s the last time you looked under your coffee table? Did you know that it’s my Sistine Chapel?
Under your coffee table, I’ve written novels and books of poetry and songs of longing and the blueprints to every metaphor and puzzle I’ve ever created.
I write there for you to find much later
When I’m gone and you see me as a passing car or shooting star
And you’ll remember why you love me

But now I’m writing on bathroom stalls
My confessions, my sins, my obessions
I used to carve your name into my knuckles
But my will and angry spirit caved under the weight of our fading time
My hands have gnarled and dug themselves into you like a tree taking root
And your name has aged with my bark
But time keeps running
Faster than I can scar
So in the bathroom, I carve your name into my wood once more
With my reflection and butterflies
In hopes that you remember me