I mentioned in my Slice about my eldest the other day that we both have the same favorite band. I love music. I mean, I do, but really I fall into obsessions. Some stick and some don’t. I know very few new bands or musicians. I’ve been able to say that statement for the last 20 years probably. I am aware that I am limiting and depriving myself. Really. I had the huge iPod and loved it and wish I still had it but have moved to Spotify for easiness sake. But even that huge iPod that was able to hold like a kagillion songs on it, despite having so much music on it (thanks free CDs at libraries and in the early 2000s on Napster-type thievery sites), I really probably mostly listened to my favorite 20 to 25 bands over and over with B-sides and bootlegs and other various live recordings. If I’m being super honest, most months (or years) the number of bands listened to is closer to 3 – 5. Sometimes (many times) just one for very long stretches. Obsessions.
My first love was Chicago alt-rock outfit Smashing Pumpkins. I have 2 tattoos and a son named after the lead singer. The singer’s name is Billy Corgan. My son’s name is not Billy or William, his first name is Corgan. Obsessions. I remember the very first time I heard them. The first time I saw them. I wore out their second record on cassette at least 5 times. I’ve seen them or him close or more than 50 times in concert. Their music is woven into everything I have been since that first note jumped into my head via hungry 90’s teen earholes and for me at least they led the way in front of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Hole, Blind Melon and all those other wonderful grungy hair metal killers that everyone wore flannel about back then. They are an institution to me. I love them. I saw them two or three times last year. They will never recapture their old glory. The Pixies do or at least seem to somehow. Sometimes Pearl Jam does. Those are outliers. Like I think (for us fans anyways) The Grateful Dead were still capable of pretty stellar performances well into the 80’s. But look at Neil Young, Dylan, McCartney etc – no one is what they were in their 20’s and early 30’s, regardless of how amazing they still are.
Pumpkins just announced summer tour – with something apparently popular called AFI and the troubled genius brother behind Oasis opening. I believe it’s at Northerly Island (a venue right on the lake in Chicago) and because I’m such a true fan I was awarded the opportunity at a presale for this show. I will probably go. It’s in August. But I’m not sure for a fact it’s at Northerly Island because I decided (correctly) that I didn’t have the juice available for such an expenditure. Northerly is big enough that (hopefully) affordable tickets will be available closer to show time. My tax guy messed up or the bank did or something and my tax return hasn’t come in yet otherwise I’d have probably pulled the trigger but i didn’t. Two tattoos and a son named after the singer. Obsession. But I didn’t.
The other night after I wrote about him the Big One told me that The National had a new album coming in May. I was shocked. The National is our mutual favorite band and this news was something of a surprise. I looked it up and not only is the new album dropping in a couple months but their world tour (!?!?!?!?!) was starting up soon and the North American leg would finish in…Chicago at Northerly Island!! And it all goes down the day after Corgan’s birthday which is also my birthday! The tax check still didn’t come and I have a dentist appointment this week, made 2 trips for kids to the ER last week, and have an appointment with an ortho surgeon for Corg’s shoulder on Monday morning. But my kids were in specials this morning at 10 and I pay 50 bucks a year to be a member of the Cherry Tree which is The National’s fan club thing where I get pre sale for all shows around the world plus a yearly gift which this year was a full vinyl beautifully packaged live album just for members, a winter scarf, some prints, and a baseball plate logo patch. I’ve gotten tickets for every show I’ve gone to since joining on presale. And compared to Stubhub prices for The National shows the tickets available at face value were dirt cheap. So I bit the bullet. 2 ticket limit. Section 204 Row A (!!!) because I will probably take my son and even though he’s super tall I am not dealing with the general admission pit.
So I got the tickets. For late June. On Lake Michigan. To our favorite band. I texted the boy and told him if his grades went up and stayed up the front row ticket was all his. Incentivize that action. His first response, from school, and probably taking that grades admonition hit, was simply “ok”. I was like dude you better be pumped up more than that because I am basically right now already there with warm lake air in my hair ready to blow past the 3 remaining months of school like I’m forbidding you not to. He perked up. Promised good grades and such. I’d never admit it, as obsessed as I am, but he knows more than I do despite being a fan for half the time. Back catalog, personal stuff about members and song meanings, stuff like that. Stuff like I knew about the Pumpkins back in the day. Without the internet – just sayin’. He’s excited for late June. I know. I couldn’t imagine going without him either.
I guarantee that I wrote about them once at least last year. The kids’ mom and I used to go to Lollapalooza just about every year. The first time I saw The National I did not know whose encore I witnessed on a side stage, I just knew the guy in the shades and suit thought he was the biggest rock star in the world yet he was playing to daylight, sunsoaked fans where the stage lighting was barely visible. He was a maniac screaming about walking with spiders. A friend in the know, after I regaled him about this absurd sight I’d seen and rocked out to, was like, “oh yeah man, that’s The National.” It’s awesome to my son that the next time I saw them was his first, though he still was young enough to have the Hren Stomach which can turn at the onset of any big event. So while his mom sat through what I would imagine, and heard vaguely through muffled bathroom walls of the arena, an incendiary set opening for Arcade Fire, I sat with my little buddy, talking to him through the stall doors. He was just fine in time to watch Arcade Fire tear the roof off the place at least. He’s now seen them two other times with me including last year’s trip to Lolla with his siblings, watching them hit the mainstage as headliners, at night, for the biggest music festival in town.
I could now spend about million paragraphs writing specifically about my current musical obsession. This band. They are current to me and unlike all the bands I talked about in the beginning, I really think they are still capable of work on par with the best of what they’ve done. We’ll see about the new album, but live anyways, they are like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Partially because I love the songs so much. I am invested. Obsessed. The only band that I can look back and say maybe came close to the Pumpkins for me is/was Radiohead and I love them very much too. They are almost too good though. No rough edges to get caught up on and wrapped up in forever. So this is my now obsession. Came into my life for real at the perfect time. A soundtrack to sadness if ever there was one. They are mine. Completely. Obsessed. And I love sharing them with my boy. All my friends were skeptical of my new obsession. Skeptical for a couple years in fact. They get it now, though. They were at those Chicago Theater shows. They know what’s up.
This winter, of all my winters really (regardless of season I think), have gotten to me. Cold is in my bones. A big part of divorce is being now anchored to the same part of the world. There are lots of negatives to divorce but that’s the one this winter brings to mind a lot. I love my sports teams and my friends and what little amazing family I have here in Chicago yet. And I’ve always accepted the seasons as part of being here. Parts of normal winter I love. Or maybe my bones are old. And I keep hearing adult speak on how taxes are bad or something here. I just know I’m over being broke and cold. But here we are planted and here we will remain. So for as long as I can I will be envisioning myself front row by the lake, in late June, wearing shorts and bad sandals. Happy with my obsession with sadness personified being played out on stage in the city that I really do love.
In order to leave a sample platter I would be satisfied captured the gist of this band I would need to leave like 12 videos minimum here. The trimming down of what I have provided (that no one will watch, hahaha) took longer than the writing of the Slice I think.
I now have a decent sized tattoo from this song. It is one of their famous show closers so I guess that’s kind of cliche but I have a very strong personal connection to it and don’t care. If you don’t care for the live versions I promise the polish of their albums is a whole ‘nother thing. I just love the rawness they bring to the stage.
As sort of a living art installation in 2013 they played the one below at MoMA for 6 hours straight, live, back to back without stopping. It kills my heart.
This specific version of this specific song. Ugh
They played SNL just when I fell for them badly and madly and this sealed the deal, I remember watching it live like it was yesterday
I’ll leave you with what I call “the happy one” – I love it