Saturday, November 29, 2008

That Time I Felt This Thing

What was my first act of fandom? Anecdotal evidence says that it was singing along with Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" video, an act of which film footage exists. But I think I was simply imitating my parents' Madonna fandom, not making a statement about my own. I was four, after all, and I liked the way my parents smiled at my hesitant lip-syncing as much as I liked the song itself. "Papa Don't Preach" always seemed sad to me, anyway, especially the shot of Madonna cowering on her bed with her stuffed animals.

No, it's more likely that my first statement of pop culture adoration - my first step towards being the person who wrote in an early draft of a Statement of Purpose for Ph.D. applications that "I have a lifelong devotion to and preoccupation with pop culture icons," (a phrase that was excised after my father's incredulous once-over) - took place on the April 1996 day when I came home from seeing the remake of Flipper. I was eleven years old. I've never been much of a journaler, but that day I opened up a new blank book I'd received for Christmas and wrote on the first page: "I saw Flipper today. Now I have a crush on Elijah Wood."

My crush on Wood didn't last long - when I unearthed the diary a few years ago I was surprised to reread those words. It didn't have the legs of the more epic crushes that would come later, starting later that very year when I saw Brassed Off! on the smallest screen at our local movie theater and developed a prurient interest in Ewan McGregor. During that crush, I didn't have any set behaviors to follow. I printed out images of McGregor from the internet until my color cartridges ran dry and read up on his childhood in Crieff, Scotland. "It's a haggis and heather town," I told my mom, as if I knew what that meant.

It wasn't until my next big celebrity crush, the ur-text of my crushes, that I would establish a template of the half-embarrassed, half-enthusiastic maneuvers that I perform sheepishly to this day. In the meanwhile - sixth and seventh grades - I had crush after crush on boys my own age, classmates in school and in the afterschool Catholic classes I attended. I was the type of bookish girl who cements her unpopularity through brief, fierce interests in things like Wicca. I pined after these boys, dreamt of the day they would ask me to get a hot dog or go to the movies. Finally one did, and for a month I had a "boyfriend" with whom I would hold hands but not kiss, even when our friends locked us in the bathroom together for forty-five minutes. I wanted to kiss a boy, I wanted a boyfriend, but when it was all in front of me I couldn't move.

Then, during the summer before eighth grade, I heard the song "To Sheila" from the Smashing Pumpkins' 1998 album Adore, and fell down the rabbit's hole of emotional entanglement with people who could be at best icons and at worst unfulfilling addictions to me. I've never shaken the habit of falling strangely in love with celebrities. It's a big part of why I started this blog; because I stubbornly believe that there's something interesting about the fact that I, a generally educated and intelligent person, fall against my best wishes in a sort of hopeless lust with strangers.

If there's anyone out there, who did you have a crush on? And why do you think you did?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The End. The Beginning?

I went to see my old favorites The Smashing Pumpkins play at United Palace Theatre on Thursday night. I felt strangely apathetic in the days leading up to the show. I used to jittery and plan-obsessed for days before an SP show; it was a trial to focus on my real life. But mere hours before this show, I felt weirdly unexcited.

I generally try to get to a venue at the time listed on the ticket, even though it often leads to two hours of standing around in the dark, especially unpleasant now that I often go to concerts alone. But on Thursday I was enjoying a nice dinner with friends; I wanted to take my time. So we got to United Palace at 8:45, only to find out that the band had been playing since 8. I felt a little disappointed, but more guilty than anything else. Like I'd let down an old friend I hadn't seen in a long time.

The last time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins was at their supposed last concert on December 2, 2000, at the Metro. I was 16. I wore a white ballgown and a blonde wig - someone at one point claimed they had mistaken me for Courtney Love, which seems neither likely nor a compliment - and improbably tall shoes that cut off all circulation to my feet. At one point I asked a security guard to lift me out of the crowd because I thought I was going to faint; after I'd guzzled a few bottles of water, a kind cocktail waitress led me back to my space near the front of the small venue. Everyone hated me. Pumpkins fans, myself included, are a notoriously difficult bunch.

I wasn't expecting terribly much on Thursday night. I like the reformed SP album Zeitgeist okay. I've never developed a disdain for Billy Corgan's nasal snarl, even after years of listening to the music less and less. I still like the way he sounds. His voice was the least of my troubles on Thursday. I had missed most of the first half of the setlist, which was a shame, considering they played "Eye," my favorite weird SP b-side.

This Idolator post sums up what I did see pretty well:

Now, it’s bad enough to subject your audience to about 40 minutes of abrasive, deliberately off-putting music, but it’s even more uncool to come back for an encore that mocks them for not being 100% with you, and feeling disappointed for not hearing more of what they expected to hear from a show billed as a 20th anniversary concert. In conventional show biz logic, if you’re going to go that far, you should at least leave the audience with a crowd-pleaser. In Billy Corgan logic, you come out and perform one of the lesser songs from your best-selling album, and then finish off with a song that mixes disingenuous hippy-dippy “everyone is beautiful!” lyrics with improvised sarcastic rants that outright diss the city you’re playing in, mock the fans for paying to see your band, and tell your visibly disappointed audience that you’ll see them in hell. It was full-on douche-tastic passive-aggression.

(This is a quote from Matthew Perpetua's review.)

I just felt old. I don't mind, nor am I surprised, that Corgan is an ego-driven jerk. This is the man, after all, whose lamest noodlings I used to thrill to, whose music was the sole soundtrack to a different life I imagined for myself when I was twelve years old. Jesus, I still feel guilty for being late! Despite my determination to enjoy whatever the band trotted out, even one of the awful new songs ("G.L.O.W.", anyone?) I just found myself irritated by everything. Including Billy's outfit:

He spent most of the evening in a fringed skirt made out of what looked like white duct tape, white Nike dunks, and a white Zero shirt with some sort of Elizabethan collar. Forgive the terrible picture quality:

For the encore, he put on a different shirt:

Yeah, Billy, that was totally the item of clothing you needed to change.

I don't know. I guess this post doesn't include any big surprises. It's basically a poorly-written meditation on the reasons my friend Daniel doesn't read Postsecret anymore. I can't find the actual post he made on the subject, but his reasoning was something like "Well, when you can tell me a deep human truth that's not that life is hard and loss is sad, I'll be happy to read." You could probably say that about my blog tonight.

There's a silver lining, though. I came home and got all of my Pumpkins discography back on my computer. I had never uploaded most of it; I haven't listened to this music consistently for years. And it's wonderful. I'm especially enjoying Machina II, an album I never spent much time with when it came out in 2000. Listening to these songs again reminds me why I have loved this band so deeply.

Robert Lowell once wrote that the work of Sylvia Plath "makes one feel at first reading that almost all other poetry is about nothing," That's about how I feel about Billy Corgan's music. It's demanding, too emotional, yet it always makes me feel like I'm twelve again, lying on my bed and hearing the songs for the first time.

This was my favorite picture of Billy Corgan when I was thirteen years old. Note the birthmark on his left arm and hand.