It's the classic "desert island" question: If you were stranded alone on a remote, tropical destination with only one album to keep you company, which would you choose?
I'd never given the question much thought before last September when news reports and mayors predicted Hurricane Irma would be a "nuclear" hurricane whose biblical rainfall and insane wind speed would turn South Florida into an apocalyptic wasteland. Out of fear and obedience to the evacuation order, my family packed what we could in a rental car and joined the mass exodus on the interstate, driving away from the storm's cone of probability. Between the gridlock and the search for a filling station that still had gasoline, it wasn't until late at night on some Panhandle back road that the stress of the situation became real. With our daughter sleeping in her car seat, my wife and I had to talk about where we should go and what we could do if Mother Nature destroyed the only home we had.
These questions were metastasizing into a headache when I noticed my wife had dug into one of her old-school CD books and put on Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream.
Right from the hyperactive opening drum rattle on "Cherub Rock," into the symphonic fuzz rock melodies of "Today" and the dreamy bliss of "Rocket," I stopped panicking. Slowly, I started to feel that everything could turn out all right.
Admittedly, part of the calming effect might have been nostalgia. Siamese Dream came out when I was in high school, the time in most people's lives when music means the most. But I don't think any of the Pumpkins' peers' records have aged as gracefully. When Siamese Dream was released, Smashing Pumpkins were grouped in with all the Seattle grunge bands – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana. While Siamese Dream at times shares their aggressive instrumentals and brooding lyrics, the layering of the guitars and Billy Corgan's ethereal voice make it stand out. This was an album so exciting you could put it on to get ready for a Friday night out while simultaneously soothing enough to play in the background while you were trying to fall asleep.
Years later, when I discovered My Bloody Valentine's 1991 album Loveless, I could see where Siamese Dream found its sound. In fact, my first cynical reaction was that Smashing Pumpkins had ripped them off. But listening to the records back to back, you hear that the Pumpkins were able to improve on perfection. Loveless was abstract with beautiful repetitive distortion; Siamese Dream was more conservative. It followed the verse-chorus-verse template of popular music that allowed teenagers to access and relate to it and helped the Smashing Pumpkins become a phenomenon.
The Pumpkins next album, 1995's Mellon Collie
The band has re-formed several times since then, starting in 2006, in various combinations of Billy Corgan and three other random dudes. A current tour has original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha back in the fold (bassist D'arcy Wretzky has controversially been left out) as a way to celebrate 30 years since their formation. But since they're playing American Airlines Arena July 24, mere days from the 25-year anniversary of Siamese Dream's July 27, 1993, release, I'm hoping they'll show the album some extra love, as it showed me when I needed it.
Yes, after Irma, my wife, my daughter, and I made it back to our home in Miami Beach. While some trees were down and the power was out, our apartment survived the "nuclear hurricane." We were back on our desert island with the only album we needed.
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