kids, lesson, life, memories, nostalgia, observation, reminiscing, summer, youth

How Do You Make Summer Less Magical?

Two words: “GET OLD.”

I cannot stress the importance of this enough: if you have children who are in school, teach them the value of summer. Teach them to go out and absorb the wonders that surround them every time that season of freedom rolls around.

Why? Because that magic doesn’t last.

I was talking to my 13-year-old son a few weeks back. It was a weekday. I asked him how his day was. He said, “Boring. There was nothing to do. I just sat around all day watching videos on YouTube.”

I said, “That might feel boring now, but you ought to enjoy it. Don’t take it for granted because someday you might WANT to do nothing but watch YouTube, and you won’t be able to, even if it is summertime. Want to know why?” I paused for dramatic effect. Then I said, “Because you will be old like Dad, and you will have a job, and summer won’t mean the same anymore.”

Yes, it’s sad but true: summer has no more magic once you finish high school/college/grad school. Once you have bills to pay and a job to attend, that season means nothing. The only exception would be if you are a teacher, but even they can be busy with “adulting” instead of getting some sun on their faces.

I hate feeling so jaded, but I can’t help it. The only positive thing I see about summer is that I don’t have to go outside earlier than usual and clean mounds of snow off my car. For a moment, I was tempted to say that I don’t have to warm my car UP, but summertime means you have to cool it DOWN, so there is no difference between the seasons (other than the way the temperature gauge moves, of course).

Although we are one-third of the way through September, we are still clinging to summer-type temperatures here in upstate New York. Yesterday I got home early, and I was alone because my girlfriend had an appointment. After taking some time to catch up on emails, I had nothing to do. I found myself standing in my living room, looking out the window at the empty street, my arms folded, my mind slipping into a haze of nostalgia. For a moment, I thought, “Man, I wish I still had a bicycle because I’d take it out for a ride right now.”

Then it dawned on me: no I wouldn’t. If I did, I’d probably enjoy the ride for a block or two before adult thoughts crept in. I’d start looking at my phone to see what time it was. Then I’d start to wonder when I should get back home. I’d start to feel anxiety over any chores I hadn’t done or any writing that I was neglecting by going on this bike ride. Not only did I have to get back home so I could get all that done AND get to bed at a decent time, but I also had to be sure I didn’t go so far that I still felt worn out from my trek the next day. Shoot! What was I thinking, taking my bike out on a weeknight???

You see what I’m trying to tell you, ladies and gentlemen? Please do this, for me and for the love of all that is sacred, teach your kids EVERY DAY to appreciate those “boring” summer days because when they get older, “boring” days will be all they wish for!

jobs, life, memories, reminiscing, universal

First Job

My first job was working at the bottle register in a grocery store called Price Chopper (now known as Market 32). Back then, they didn’t have the machines that took the bottles for you. However, there was one thing that was similar to the machines of today: instead of me giving the customers money, I gave them a receipt for how much they returned, which they could then cash in at the customer service desk or when they went through the checkout line with their groceries.

Needless to say, it was a dull job. When there were no customers, I had to find things to do. There was always taking out trash, taking out the buckets that had all the smashed-up bottles in them, and cleaning up behind the counter. If I finished that up and there were still no customers, then I would either go over to the end of a cashier’s aisle and bag up groceries for the customers, or I’d go out to the parking lot to gather up the carts that customers left near their cars.

Was it a stressful job? No, it was a simple one. Not too hard to understand or execute. And that was what made it irritating when people did certain things. For example, there were these two “dudes” who looked like Keanu Reeves and what’s-his-name from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure  who would come in every now and then with MONTH’S worth of returns. Their order alone would take fifteen minutes.

The policy of the store was that we weren’t supposed to take any single order that was over $25. If someone had that much, then we had to tell them to go to the end of the line with whatever was left over. I knew this, but one of the girls who covered the register while I was on lunch break didn’t, so when I come back and take over, the next customer in line gets mad at ME for what someone else didn’t know.

“That was ridiculous! i shouldn’t have had to wait that long,” he said.

I understood his frustration, but at the same time I didn’t like him (1) getting mad at me about what SHE did, and (2) getting mad at HER when she didn’t cover my station a lot. I don’t think it’s right to hold it against someone when they didn’t have the knowledge to know any better, so I decided to address it.

“I’m sorry about that, but she was just covering for my lunch break. She doesn’t normally work over here, so she didn’t know the policy,” I said.

“That’s no excuse. She….blah blah blah blah blah.”

At that point, I realized there was no reaching him. I just processed his order while he complained.

Other employees could be irritating too. I remember going outside one morning to start bringing in carts. Another employee came in and said, “Hey, someone left a six-pack of empty beer bottles out there between my truck and that car.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded, and I said, “So instead of picking it up and bringing it to me, you just walked past it…even though you knew it shouldn’t stay there?”

“That’s your job,” he said. “You’re bottle boy, not me.”

As he went into the store, I said, “It’s probably better you left it for me. Wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”

Then you had your usual pain in the ass supervisors, who liked to be condescending every chance they got and/or flex their authority. For example, one night I was upstairs cleaning the break room when I got a call that there was a customer at the bottle register. When the customer was gone, the front end supervisor said, “You can’t take breaks whenever you feel like it.”

I said, “I wasn’t, I was CLEANING the break room.”

She left without another word.

Another time, I was only halfway through my shift when I got an upset stomach. Fortunately there were no customers, so I made it to the bathroom in time. (Yes, this part of the memory is gross: I had diarrhea.)  When I got back, I asked the supervisor if I could leave because I could tell I might be hit with another bout of it.

She said, “Are you sure you can’t stay? Because if you go home, I’ll have to work the bottle return.”

I was thinking: aw, poor baby…so don’t be a supervisor…so now I have to run the risk of crapping myself because the bottle register is beneath you…sorry it would add one more thing to your plate, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks!

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, during the summer when I went in and found out I would be on carts instead of the bottle register, it was actually fun. Between runs to the parking lot to get the carts, I would go inside and bag groceries for customers. There was one cashier in particular (a stunning blonde named Suzanne) whose aisle I would always pick. Things never went anywhere with her, but it was fun to flirt.

Also, I was completely unsupervised when I was out on carts. I’d often just walk around the parking lot, writing poems in a tiny notebook that I could keep in my pocket. If a supervisor did come out and see me, I told them I was walking around to see if there were any carts hidden between cars. Hell, one time I even took a stroll behind every store in the Price Chopper Plaza, simply because I wanted to kill time…although, to my surprise, I DID find carts back there!

I was young. My biggest responsibilities were homework, bottle return, bagging groceries, and retrieving carts. At the time I hated that menial job, but now…shoot, I WISH I could walk behind those stores again!

Got a first job story that YOU would like to share? Comment below!!!

~~~Steve

memories, music, Nirvana, reminiscing, Smashing Pumpkins

Thinking About Kurt Cobain

Why am I thinking about Kurt today? It’s not like it is the anniversary of his death; he died in April. I can’t say for sure, other than I was driving around in my car yesterday and decided to put on some Nirvana tunes.

All these years later, it’s easy to forget the impact Nirvana had on music. Music listeners these days look at them as just another band, but in 1991 they caused a seismic shift. Before them, the airwaves were cluttered with songs like Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”

Then Nirvana came along, and we heard things like this:

“Just because you’re paranoid

don’t mean they’re not after you.”

~~~Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”

Man, what great lyrics. They have the ability to evoke dread and a laugh at the same time. A lot of Kurt’s lyrics can do that.

For example, there are these lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit:”

“And I forget just why I taste.

Oh yeah…I guess it makes me smile.”

While the obliviousness/cluelessness of the narrator is humorous, it also has a dark side to it. Think about it: this is a person who might be running the world someday. Do you really want it left in their hands? Sure, we could maybe attribute his “duh-ness” to being young, something they might outgrow, but we can’t be sure.

Imagine if someone like Bill S. Preston Esquire (Keanu Reeves’ character from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) was the guy in charge of pressing “the button.” I can just see him looking at it and going, “Dude, what does THIS do?” That is the fear Kurt’s lyrics evoke in me because I grew up with the generation listening to his music. I knew those people, and most of them were fucking idiots!

I can’t say for certain Kurt was writing about the upcoming so-called “Generation X” when he composed those lines. According to Dave Grohl, the lyrics were cobbled together only minutes before they were recorded, so he finds it hard to believe they were “about” anything. However, even if that is true, that makes it even scarier how on target he was about the attitude most youth had at that time.

Kurt wasn’t just a lyricist. He was a poet, which is another class of artist entirely. (It’s kind of like the difference between a singer and a vocalist, but that’s for another blog.) In a way, he was like the “Gen X” version of one of his heroes (and mine): Leonard Cohen. By that I mean they discarded the usual topics that most musicians favor (girls, cars, and any other shiny happy topics) and went for something deeper. They used their words to explore their souls…and, whether it was an accident or not, they explored ours as well.

From interviews with him and about him, I feel like I knew the type of person Kurt was. For example, there was an interview with Billy Corgan (from MY favorite band, the Smashing Pumpkins) who said that Kurt was a better guitar player than the albums might lead you to believe. According to Billy, Kurt could play a mean lead guitar, but on record he always played the “I can’t play the guitar solo” type of solo.

What do I mean by that? Well, listen to most Nirvana guitar solos. “Teen Spirit” would be a great one to check out. You will notice that the solo basically copies the notes that he sings in the verse. That is how MOST Nirvana solos go. The only exception that comes to mind is the solo on “In Bloom,” which is one of my favorites, not just from Kurt, but from any guitar player ever. It’s proof that he could play a REAL solo instead of just mimicking his vocal line.

So why did he do that? My guess: Kurt was uncomfortable with praise. If he let out his inner guitar god and played wicked solos on their albums, then he’d get people saying, “Wow, man, you are awesome!” To avoid that, he just played the vocal line as his guitar solo. Then, instead of hearing praise, he got to hear people say, “That dude sucks. He can’t even play a real lead part! Lazy bastard just plays the notes he sang!” I believe he was more comfortable with insults than with praise.

Sadly, there are many people like him. I’m one of them. (After all, one of my previous posts was about not being able to take certain compliments.) This is just based on interviews with him, but I feel like Kurt was a gentle, humble soul. He strikes me as someone who didn’t want to be perceived as arrogant; he didn’t want to let the praise he received go to his head, so he sought to reject it.

Of course, he went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did Kurt not become arrogant, but he also never felt like he was worth much of anything. His actions on April 5, 1994 prove that much.

The impression I get of him is that, in terms of personality and demeanor, he was a lot like me. If we had met, we would have been close friends. I wish that had been so, because I know one thing I definitely would have done: I would have tried to do something to make sure he was still here.

Make no mistake about it, folks. Even if he DID only play the vocal line for his guitar solos, we lost a talented, sweet, gentle soul when he went away. He had the ability to do whatever he wanted with his music, but for whatever reason, Kurt felt like it had reached the end of the line.

RIP, dear Mr. Cobain.

break-up, everyone, kids, lesson, life, memories, mental health, relationships, reminiscing

Sometimes the Worst Part of a Break-Up is Missing the Kids

I don’t know what got me heading down this particular memory this morning, but it moved me enough to share it. Now you get to reap the benefits.

Several years ago, I dated a young woman (who shall remain nameless). She had three kids, although the focus of this blog is on one of them. He had a very unique name, so I am going to rename him Pete. He was the middle child. Having had no siblings, I was unaware of this, but middle children are supposed to be the most difficult. This was true of Pete, but not for the reasons usually attributed to them: he just happened to be the one child of hers who exhibited severe mental health issues.

“What kind?” you might wonder. Well, I’m not sure of his official diagnosis. I do know that he could have an explosive, violent tempter. She told me that, when he acted out in elementary school, he would throw desks and chairs around the room. There were also some things that I witnessed first-hand. For example, I remember Pete sitting in the living room, playing a video game, and I walked past him to head upstairs. I didn’t say a word to him and yet, completely unprovoked, he looked at me and said, “What are you doing here? You should be dead already.” This wasn’t him taking a stab at dark humor either; he was SERIOUS.

I imagine most guys who heard that would have two reactions: either they would (1) get aggressive toward Pete, or (2) they would say to his mother, “Um, I gotta go.” As for me, I had a third reaction: I brushed it off. It wasn’t personal.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking back to the title of this blog and wondering, “How could you miss a kid like that?” Well, I’m going to get into that now.

One time, my ex and her kids came over to my place. A friend of mine was also visiting. He saw a piece of martial art equipment that I have, which is called a “wooden dummy.” (If you don’t know what that is or looks like, just Google “Wing Chun wooden dummy.”) He asked how it was used, so I showed him. It wasn’t until much later when Pete’s mom told me, “You know, all while you were doing that, Pete watched you the entire time. He was transfixed.” While I wasn’t sure I wanted a young man like Pete to know how to hurt people more efficiently, it did make me proud that his attention hadn’t waived. It made me feel like I had somehow connected with him.

A few days after that, I was at Pete’s house again. He was playing a Batman video game, and there was one tricky part that was getting him very agitated. The more times he tried and failed, the angrier he got. It looked like he was going to act out, so I went up to him, placed my hand gently on his shoulder, and I said, “Hey, Pete, I’ve played this game before, and I beat this part. Would you mind if I got you past it?”

I was braced for him to throw the controller at me, but he didn’t; he held it out for me to take. Then I sat down next to him and got him past the difficult part. Once I did, I handed the controller back to him and said, “There you go, bud.” And that was it.

The next day, I called Pete’s mom when I got home from work. I hadn’t planned on going over because I had some writing to get done, but I wanted to at least hear her voice. While we were talking, I heard Pete ask her something in the background; he was too far away, so I couldn’t decipher what he said.

His mom said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask him.” Then, turning her attention back to me, she said, “Pete wants to know if you’re coming over tonight.”

For a moment, I was too stunned to talk. Eventually I regained the ability to talk, and I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, but I can.” Then, after a moment, I said, “Has he ever asked if a friend or boyfriend was coming over?”

She said, “No.” One word, one syllable, but I could tell she was just as stunned.

Pete’s mom and I were together for a few months after that. She was the one who broke up with me. I’m not sure why, and it doesn’t really matter…not in the grand scheme of things, nor does it contribute to the point of this post, which I am going to reveal here and now. It is the answer to the question, “Why the hell would you miss a kid who got violent and asked why you weren’t dead yet?”

The answer is, “Because I reached him.” And I wanted to reach him more. I could have, but it just wasn’t meant to be. At least I gave SOMETHING to his life.

Many people would have the sam reaction to Pete, which is to want to run away screaming. Not me. You see, in my mind, Pete’s behavioral issues weren’t that big of a deal. Why? Because when you get down to the nitty gritty of it, they were just problems to be solved. What most people don’t realize is that some problems are more difficult than others. For example, calculus is more difficult than algebra. That doesn’t mean people should stop trying to solve calculus problems, does it?

Treating the kid like a monster or a freak doesn’t help anything or anyone. Most importantly, it doesn’t help PETE any.

Sometimes I wonder how he is doing. I have no way to contact his mom and ask because when she broke up with me, my ego couldn’t handle it, so I said some pretty mean-spirited things. I did run into her at an event and apologized about them. She said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re good.” That was wonderful to hear, but I know we aren’t so good that she will unblock me on Facebook. LOL Well, what can you do but live and learn? If you want to remain friends after a break-up, don’t say nasty things. It might be too late for Pete’s mom, but I can avoid that mistake going forward.

As for Pete, I hope he’s doing okay.

 

Billy Corgan, inspiration, memories, Smashing Pumpkins, Uncategorized

My Life as a Smashing Pumpkins Fanatic

This journey starts out in a way that no one who meets me today would believe.

When I first heard of them, I did not like the Smashing Pumpkins.

I remember tuning in to 120 Minutes and catching the end of the video for the Smashing Pumpkins song “Rhinoceros.” The camera cut to Billy Corgan and their bassist D’arcy sitting on a couch while talking to host Dave Kendall. Billy said something about how his lyrics were hard to explain because they were based on memories, so it’s not like he could say, “Well, I was walking down the street one day, and I thought this.” Then D’arcy cut in and said, “We don’t want to tell you what to think the songs mean anyway. We’re here to say, ‘Think for yourself.’” And the way she said it was in this tone that annoyed me for some reason. It was snotty. I thought, “Oh Lord, these people are obnoxious.”

That was in 1991 or 1992. I didn’t hear about them for a long time. Then in the summer of 1993, I was watching 120 Minutes once again, although this time the host was Lewis Largent. He said they had a new video from the Smashing Pumpkins, the lead single off their second album SIAMESE DREAM. I thought, “Oh no, these jerks again!” But it was midnight on a Sunday, and there was nothing else on to watch, so I kept it on MTV. The video was for the song “Cherub Rock.”

I’m glad I left it there, because it changed my life.

Not too long before this video aired, I had given up on trying to learn guitar. I was confused about what I wanted to do with the instrument. One day I would be listening to Cat Stevens, and the next I would play Nine Inch Nails. This conflict made me give up. Then I heard that main riff for “Cherub Rock,” and I said, “You know what? I want to pick up guitar again, at least to learn how to play that!”

SIAMESE DREAM came out shortly after that, but I didn’t get it right away. In fact, I didn’t get it until that Christmas. But when I did, I listened to it non-stop. I got their first album, GISH, after already owning DREAM. While that album is also good, it really was a step backward. The only way I could get into GISH was by leaving SIAMESE DREAM home and bringing only GISH to school, so I listened to only that on the bus ride to and from school, as well as when I was walking between classes.

Fast forward to 1994. I was at SUNY Albany. The Pumpkins released an album that was a collection of B-sides and rarities called PISCES ISCARIOT. This was a stop-gap to satisfy the fans while we waited for the Pumpkins to release their next album, which they said would be a double album. At some point, I bought a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt that had a list of about 52 song titles on the back. What astonished me was that there were maybe 10 titles or more that I’d never heard of. I did some digging around, and I found out many of these songs were demos that had been recorded in 1998, three years before GISH came out. Damn, I thought, I want to have ALL their music, but how can I if it was never officially released? What am I going to do? How am I going to get them? GODDAMMIT, I NEED THOSE SONGS!

While I pondered this question, I was also reading as much as I could about the band, and specifically their amazing songwriter Billy Corgan. There were certain parts of his life that eerily seemed to echo mine. I wouldn’t say they were like looking in a mirror, but they were close in their own way. For example, his dad was a musician, and a drug addict. My dad was neither, but he has also exhibited a similar sense of emotional distance throughout my life. I believe Billy’s biological mom was sent to a mental hospital for a while. Mine was not, nor was she ever officially diagnosed with anything, but we all know the stories about her. If she doesn’t have at least one or more mental disorders, I would be shocked. Then Billy’s dad remarried, and Billy did not get along with his stepmother. It’s easy to see how THAT aspect of his life paralleled mine.

Billy also talked about his relationships with his peers. He said, “My hair was either too long or not long enough. My clothes were either too weird or not weird enough. It’s been that way all my life.” I also felt this way in high school. I mean, I seemed to be too “weird” to get along with what I call the “mainstream” kids (also known as the “in-crowd”), but then I didn’t seem to be weird or edgy enough for the kids that were more accepting of me; by that I mean the smoker/skater kids who hung outside smoking between classes. They were more open to the kind of person I was, the kind of music and movies I liked, and so on. They didn’t consider me weird or a future psychopath simply because I liked horror movies. However, they were open to many things that I was not, like running the streets all hours of the night, doing drugs, and so on. I did give those things a try, but I didn’t like them.

When Billy said this, a lot of people mocked him for it. You see, even that early in their career, Billy was developing a reputation as an asshole. When he made these comments about not fitting in and having a hard childhood, people said things like, “THAT is his excuse for being a jerk? I had it hard too, but you don’t hear me using it to justify treating people bad!” The thing is, I knew Billy wasn’t using it for that purpose…because I UNDERSTOOD the man. He was simply saying that, even though he was this great big rock star now, he had been where we were. He could understand feeling alienated from others, but no one else gives him that.

Time passed. I met my first girlfriend Adalena in 1995. During Spring Break, I stayed with her in New York City. We went to some record stores downtown, and I found a TON of Pumpkins bootlegs that included all those songs that were missing on my shirt, and more! At this time, the Internet was starting to really become “a thing,” so I went online looking for Smashing Pumpkins websites, and I found out there were even MORE songs that I didn’t know about or possess. For a year or so, this became my obsession. I hunted down rare singles, even if they were imports.

It wasn’t just their music. It was Billy’s experiences and attitude and personality that spoke to me, WAY more than the other musician who was labelled our “generation spokesperson.” Naturally, I am speaking of Kurt Cobain. Kurt and Billy were alike in many ways, which meant I noticed similarities between Kurt and myself as well. For one thing, he was a very kind, sweet, sensitive soul. For another, he was not just a lyricist; he was a poet. And of course, he also had a poor self-image. Billy did too, but he chose a different path. As we all know, Kurt took himself out. When Billy got close to taking the same course of action, he decided to step back from the edge and, in his own words, “deal with it, get over it, work, and be happy.”

The fact that he came back from that edge at all is admirable, but what he accomplished was astounding. When the Pumpkins were getting ready to record SIAMESE DREAM, Billy suffered a crippling bout of writer’s block. But then when he bounced back, the man became prolific. Ever since beating that block, he has always written enough material where EVERY album could have been a double album.

After MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS, the Pumpkins took three years to put out a new album. This one was called ADORE, and it features none of the bombast of the previous records. It was a mix of acoustic and electronic music, and it fell flat on its face. Billy thought the fans that bought MELLON COLLIE would stick with them no matter what. He thought, “The fans finally get us. They will stay by our side.” Unfortunately, he was wrong. The fans he got from MELLON COLLIE were what I call the “casual” or “MTV fans.” They liked MELLON COLLIE simply because that is what the radio and MTV told them to like. They didn’t have the same deep affection for the band that people like I did. What I have come to find out in my life is that people prefer to be sheep. Why? Because it’s safe. If you are into what everyone else is, there is a sense of security. Unfortunately, being sheep makes it easier for things like…I don’t know…a guy like Hitler rising to power.

A lot of people mocked Billy’s decision to change the sound. At the time he said things like, “Rock is dead. I mean, how long can you beat people over the head with the metal?” Some of my friends would say things like, “If that’s true, then why aren’t ALL those rock bands turning toward that kind of music?” I said, “Because those bands are not Billy, and Billy is not those bands.” No one else understood that it was a personal choice. They just wanted the Pumpkins to keep rocking.

A couple years later, the Pumpkins released MACHINA. Even though they were rocking again, they did not regain the commercial success of MELLON COLLIE. They had another album ready for release (MACHINA II), but Virgin Records was not interested in putting it out after the dismal sales of MACHINA I. So Billy gave vinyl copies of MACINA II to people who ran the most popular Pumpkins fan sites and told them to distribute it. In other words, they gave us a whole album for free in the year 2000, which was several years before Napster and file sharing became a thing. Talk about a visionary! Then again, that should come as no surprise. I mean, in an article Billy wrote for his high school newspaper, he said the three biggest bands of the future would be R.E.M., U2, and Metallica.

Billy resurfaced with a new band called Zwan, which had Jimmy Chamberlin from the Pumpkins still on drums. That band didn’t last long, which sucked because I thought some of the tunes were brilliant. It was a while before Billy came out with his debut solo album The Future Embrace, which showed a heavy Depeche Mode influence. The album quickly disappeared from everyone’s minds. Yes, even mine.

On the day that his album was released, Billy took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, saying he was going to reunite the Pumpkins. I waited eagerly for more news. I was not surprised when Jimmy Chamberlin agreed to come back, and I was even less when James Iha and D’arcy did NOT. It was a while before the new lineup debuted. Jeff Schroeder was the second guitarist, and Ginger Poole was the bassist. This lineup played together for a few years, although Jeff and Ginger were NOT present on the album Zeitgeist. That is the one album I couldn’t get into. I loved it at first because I was excited that my band was back together. However, after the shock wore off, I realized that only half the album really hit me like the old material.

There were quite a few ups and downs during this period. The band stumbled as they tried to regain their footing. At some point, Ginger Poole left the band because she was pregnant, and Jimmy quit because he said his heart wasn’t really in it anymore. Nicole Fioerntino was recruited as bassist, and I think by far she was the best one the band ever had. Then they got 19-year-old Mike Byrne on drums, a move that was heavily criticized by many. How could this kid summon up the chops to match Billy’s riffs? Well, somehow he did.

For a while, the Pumpkins dismissed the idea of making full albums again because of the shift in the music scene ever since Napster. They focused on crafting one song at a time. Billy said they would release one song per month in this fashion, but here’s the thing: most months are four weeks long, and four weeks is a LONG time to ask people to maintain interest in one song while they wait for another. Also, it didn’t help that the four-week wait often stretched into six weeks or more. Eventually, Billy released a statement that the band would go back to making albums.

The next one was called Oceania, and holy shit…what an album it was. While it may not have recaptured the band’s old glory, it kicked ass, and it earned Billy some of the best reviews he’d gotten since Mellon Collie. He’d been stumbling in the dark for a few years, but Billy finally found his path again.

And then he veered off it. How? Well, Nicole and Mike left the band. There was no real explanation. I’d never had a problem with Billy replacing D’arcy or James because, in my opinion, the entire Pumpkins’ sound was Billy’s songwriting, guitar, and voice, and Jimmy’s drumming. When Jimmy left, I was nervous, but then Mike proved a worthy replacement. Many fans and I vested our hearts into this incarnation of the Pumpkins because they sounded pretty damn good. We also bought into Billy’s line that this was the most excited he’d been about the lineup since the band started, and then BOOM, 50% of them are gone. I was pissed. Just when I thought we were on solid ground, Billy yanked the rug again. There was no clue who the replacements would be this time.        

News started bubbling up that the Pumpkins were working on a new album. This was to be called Monument to an Elegy. It turned out that Billy was bringing Tommy Lee from Motley Crue to drum in the studio. Many people were like, “What the hell?” After all, Motley Crue was part of the “hair metal” scene that Billy and the Seattle bands had kicked off the charts. They were thought to be a joke by our generation, but if you listen to the man’s drumming, he DOES have chops. Plus, it wasn’t as out of the blue as many people thought because Billy and Tommy had known each other ever since the Pumpkins toured on their first album Gish in 1991 and 1992.

For live performances, the bass player from the band the Killers joined Billy and Jeff, as well as the drummer from Rage Against the Machine. The bassist was all right, but that dude from Rage SUCKS. His drumming is boring as hell; they might as well have a metronome on stage because the guy does nothing but keep the beat. He has no inventiveness at all. I was glad this lineup was short-lived.

Then, exciting news came. At a couple shows on an acoustic tour that the Pumpkins did, not only did Jimmy Chamberlin return…but JAMES IHA joined them on stage at two shows. Within no time, rumors were brewing of a reunion. Billy said he was talking to D’arcy again. It seemed like the original four would be back together. And then reality had to ruin it all. D’arcy said that Billy withdrew his offer, and there were some harsh words in interviews. Billy said this was false, and James Iha got his back.

I don’t care about the petty band mate squabbling. I just wanted to get that part out of the way so I could backtrack to something else., something much more profound and interesting about Billy that I used to notice about myself, but I have gotten over.

As I said before, Billy had a dysfunctional family. His dad was physically abusive and emotionally absent, and his mom and stepmom were both nightmares too. Despite all that, Billy still wanted to get their approval…if from no one else, then at least from his dad, who was also a musician. In fact, there was an interview where Billy said, “My dad said when he listened to Siamese Dream, he heard a part of me that made him understand why so many kids connected with me.” He said it was one of his proudest moments; he said that, even when you are an abused kid, you always want that pat on your head and to hear them say you did a good job.

I was this way with my parents too. Whenever mom said something where she expressed disappointment in me, I would get upset. She always chose to focus on my failures instead of my accomplishments. Many times I said to her, “I could run a Fortune 500 company, and you would still find a way to paint me as a failure.” With dad, he was emotionally not there. I remember when I told him for the first time ever that I had a girlfriend. All he said was, “Oh, that’s nice,” and that was it. Didn’t ask her name, where I met her, etc.

The thing is, I am past expecting these sorts of things from my parents. Billy kind of isn’t. He still needs external validation and approval. How do I know this? There was an interview where Billy was complaining about the reviews that Monuments received. He said something like, “All these magazines are rating the album three stars. No one believes I could release a three-star album.” I remember thinking, “Billy, who gives a fuck? Write the music that’s in your heart and don’t worry about reviews. The people who get it…will get it.”

That was when I realized: this guy still needs external validation. It was amazing to me to be able to spot that. I was the same way. I still am sometimes, but I’m getting over it. It’s just crazy that, despite all his success, Billy can still get hung up on that. It’s kind of like the music magazines are his parents now, and he is mad that he can’t get their approval. The funny thing is, his success is what has given him such a big ego that he would never be able to admit he still has some work to do on the inside.

In that moment, Billy was no longer a rock god. He was human. I realized that was why I had identified with him all along: the guy was real. I identify with and admire him for the reasons that everyone else mocks him: his mood swings, his so-called “crazy” ideas, his off-the-cuff/borderline temper tantrum kind of remarks. He has never believed in posturing as some perfect, flawless idol for us all to worship. THAT is why he strikes a chord with me.

This revelation made me feel closer to him, that if the man and I had a chance to talk, it would become immediately obvious that we are a lot alike…well, other than his riches, fame, and number of records sold.