Four Men Reflect On The 20th Anniversary of Gish…

Last fall marked the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. As watershed moments in music history go it was surely one well worth noting. But in terms of my own continued enjoyment of the record, not so much. But I did like the idea – the idea of reflecting on a big album by a big band (read: ‘zeitgeist significant’) that was released during my teenage years and was also turning twenty. And what bigger band than that of the alt.rock zenith that was Smashing Pumpkins? As coincidence would have it I had just recently dusted off group’s debut, Gish, probably for the first time since high school, and, unlike Nevermind, found it surprisingly enjoyable, bombast and all. So – in the spirit of revisiting the past I recruited three other AD contributors and asked them to indulge in reflecting on the LP with me. Below you will find each of our scattered thoughts, recollections, personal narratives and opinions of the album. Four different perspectives spanning two coasts, and as our collective age-range spans almost ten years so does the point in our lives in which each of us first encountered the album (two of us upon its original release, one after Siamese Dream and one a mere two weeks ago).   I’ll kick off after the jump…

I originally came across Smashing Pumpkins’ debut, Gish, the old fashioned way — through a trade, a trade I made twenty years ago with my best friend at the time. The deal, conducted at one of our lockers after school, was an exchange of cassettes; my copy of Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine for his newly acquired Gish. This was the early Fall of 1991 in a leafy suburb of Atlanta, GA.   It’s important to remember that by ’91, ‘alternative rock’ – in all its various forms and machinations – was no longer bubbling towards the surface, it was overflowing. That summer had just witnessed the launch of the inaugural Lollapalooza tour which was how many of my friends and I first heard hallowed names like “Henry Rollins” and the aforementioned Nine Inch Nails. Much later I would learn that a group of documentary filmmakers declared this as “the year punk broke.” And while I didn’t know anything about that, I was keenly aware that there was something in there air. **It was undeniable.

Unlike the hoopla that surrounded the twentieth anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, revisiting Gish today still sounds as good as it did two decades ago piping out of the shitty tape deck of my first car. And I say this though I’m keenly aware that I’ve got the heaviest of blinders on, as when I press play the music is bathed in pure, unadulterated, unrepentant teenage nostalgia. That opening bassline to “Rhinoceros“? Yeah, that’s my friends and I smoking Camel lights, stoned, laying on the roof at 2am with a speaker precariously wedged in the windowsill. “Siva” is drinking Busch tall boys hanging out in a cul-de-sac on a Friday afternoon after school, while “Crush” reminds me of (redacted). And that’s the thing…I really have no critical perspective of this album. None. It’s all tied to the past, gooey and bittersweet. It is full of ghosts and in its own damaged way it is perfect. There is something rare (and magical) in that.

I remember thinking there was something spooky and kind of witchy about Gish — mysterious. Certainly not goth, but something. Who were these guys? What’s happening on the album cover? Who was D’arcy?? This was pre-Internet, we often had fill in the blanks. All this was of course aided by the video for “Siva,” which came off as darkly psychedelic. Shot in a dimly lit space, it consisted of the band thrashing about amidst scattered images of bone, glyphs, candles, pagan ephemera and death masks. Consisting of varying degrees of psychedelia and heavy stoner-rock (with vaguely metal undertones left over from the previous decade) Gish was a heady brew. I was into it. But it wasn’t to last – the band (Corgan) would abandon this sound almost immediately afterwards.

In retrospect my relationship with band was a relatively short one. But time is malleable, it’s different when you’re a teenager. When I was in it, I was in it. Hooked at Gish, I sought out the Lull ep on cassette after hearing “Blue,” bought the “Cherub Rock” single at Wuxtry Records in Decatur and Siamese Dream on CD the summer before my senior year of high school. After that? I was done. The records that followed Siamese Dream might be amazing, but I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never heard them. – AD

**Underground culture, or whatever you want to call it, was very different back then. It was word of mouth.   For example, one of the ways I used to discover new bands at 15/16 was this: I would mentally take notes of the various band names strewn across the t-shirts of our high school’s more “interesting” (to me anyway) upper classmen. It was a system, a rough system, sure, but it worked. Thinking back, I would say there are about 6 guys whose choice of t-shirts unknowingly shaped what I was was seeking out during weekend trips to the, then, newly opened Criminal Records in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. Off the top of my head those t-shirts led to my seeking out: Government Issue, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, The Jesus Lizard, Rapeman, Urge Overkill, Slint, Steel Pole Bathtub and Dinosaur Jr. All of which immediately rendered 90% of what I had been listening to prior obsolete, save the Pixies and a few other bands in my collection I deemed ‘worthy.’ It was also in the Fall of 1991 that I discovered a band that would change how I both listened to and thought about music, Fugazi. But that’s a tale for another time.

Walking out of a Moby Disc record store at the end of 1991 in Torrance, CA., I held in both arms three very significant releases of that year: Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish. This was a holiday shopping spree for myself, and the first time I had ever actually bought a compact disc. Remember those cardstock, air-filled monoliths that felt somewhat tangible and more expensive than the $15.99 price tag led you to believe? The format that would revolutionize music, right? Not really, but Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album certainly made an impression on a lot of people while defining what the term “Alternative Rock” meant for an entire generation. Guess which one of those three albums I don’t listen to anymore.

Gish is an album that unified so many different music fans and musicians. At that time in Los Angeles you could hear them almost everywhere at once: underground clubs, MTV, college rock radio stations like KXLU and the mighty mainstream juggernaut KROQ — a station that was in excellent form during the time and highly influential. Smashing Pumpkins were booming in popularity. This was a band that played small venues like the Whiskey a Go-Go and toured the planet with indie acts like Hole and Medicine yet we all saw them as leaders of a movement at a time when music was moving in so many directions.

Everyone praised Smashing Pumpkins for their heady mixture of searing riffs, psychedelic atmosphere, choppy chord progressions and the fire-cracking, insane drumming of Jimmy Chamberlain. You could pinpoint early metal, classic rock and 60’s psych in their songs, but unlike the rest of the burgeoning alternative rock wave that dominated music culture the Smashing Pumpkins sounded so skilled and clever, and they were masters at producing texture and space (see “Rhinoceros”). Nobody else was doing that at the time, and even the shoegaze kids were on board. Find me a group that can tap into so many conscious, angry, young minds and audiences across continents, they simply don’t exist anymore.

Where do you stand with Gish? Are you the restless type who head-bangs to “I Am One” and “Bury Me”? The introspective musician who studies the guitar lines from “Crush”? Or, do you identify with the heavy metal worship of “Siva”? I couldn’t pick one song. This album’s legacy is too great and magnificent to be reduced by fractions. It represents a time when music was the most important and influential thing in my life. Everything I listened to or bought was significant and measurable. In 1991, and for years to come, you couldn’t have a discussion about one single album that was so equally loved and respected than Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish. words/ s. mcdonald

I came to Smashing Pumpkins in the era of Siamese Dream. My first memory of the band was hearing “Disarm” played on American Top 40. I was in middle school at the time, first becoming concerned with the ever important issues of authenticity and ‘sell-outs’ and ‘poseurs’ and the like. Smashing Pumpkins seemed like something out of sync with the rest of the time. Kurt Cobain eventually killed himself in part because of his struggles with being a genuine person in his art, and yet here was Billy Corgan clearly aiming for massive arenas, bombast and torturous angst being part and parcel of that goal. And if Siamese Dream didn’t point that out enough, the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness drilled the point home so that no one could miss it.

I don’t remember how long after purchasing Siamese Dream that I first heard Gish, but I remember being somewhat underwhelmed. It was murkier than its follow-up and the songs didn’t always jump out quite as sharply. “I Am One” has one of those memorable opening bass lines and “Siva” just seems to pile on guitar tracks during its opening, but it just wasn’t the same. Gish is the warm-up, Siamese Dream the perfection, Mellon Collie.. the final implosion of the whole process. Oasis did the same thing between Definitely Maybe and Be Here Now, playing for the arena rafters the same way Billy did. So what?

After drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s first departure from the band after the o.d. death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, the whole thing became just a little too unhip. I saw the video for “Ava Adore” on MTV and snickered a bit. And I think that was the last attention I gave to Billy Corgan for a long time. Sure, I knew that the band called it quits and yes, I heard about the Zwan album and no, I never heard any of Corgan’s solo record.

Somewhere along the line, however, I started listening again, and whether it was the mellowing of age when it came to hard and fast judgments of artistic integrity or simply a wider and deeper appreciation of rock’s past, the Pumpkins made a very different set of sense to me. Siamese Dream now ranks in my mind as one of the great rock and roll records of the past 20 years and possibly beyond, so when it was announced that the inevitable slew of reissues would start taking place for the 20th anniversary of Gish, I decided to give it a fresh listen.

The fact that Corgan orchestrated the album’s release on Caroline Records as a cover for the band’s already inked contract with major label Virgin is one of the more egregious examples of Corgan clearly manipulating ideas of indie-cool (ones he gleefully spit at later on in “Cherub Rock“) in order to not turn off the audience he was aiming for. But the album holds a clear debt to everything from Queen to My Bloody Valentine, and so what if it seemed bombastic and full of itself? Gish was the opening salvo of a band that was, in many ways, the antithesis of the 90s slacker culture with which it was so readily aligned. It just seemed so wrong to actively chase that level of success. I hate to come back to Cobain again, but really, when we talk about early 90s rock and roll, how can you avoid him? Nirvana actively attempted to chase away chunks of their listeners with Nevermind‘s follow-up, In Utero. In doing so they created, in my opinion, their finest studio hour. Corgan chased wretchedly excessive success and Cobain chased it away. Both created masterworks and both became even more famous and successful. Cobain’s death and Corgan’s more recent actions play no small part in this, but one is remembered as a tortured genius and the other as a petulant opportunist and despite the fact that I know better, it still affects how I think of Billy Corgan and Gish. Gish is a really solid and excellent debut, but there’s a part of me that still feels guilty for liking this band as much as I do. words/ j. neas

For most of my adult life, I’ve believed that I’m about three weeks too young to fully appreciate Smashing Pumpkins. Along with 311’s self-titled record, the two discs of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness formed the pillars of my then-nascent CD collection. Like most kids my age, I owned well-worn copies of Green Day’s Dookie and The Offspring’s Smash that I’d somehow acquired in fourth grade. In retrospect, Dookie and Smash seem much more subversive than 311 and Mellon Collie, but being sprinkled in with Jock Jams and the Space Jam soundtrack muted their potential; if anything, Billie Joe Armstrong’s blue hair assured me that I was much too young to participate in whatever was going on in 1994. But by November of 1997, at the height of their popularity–and, not coincidentally, the saturation point of Generation X as a pop cultural meme–The Smashing Pumpkins finally played the Cajundome in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana, and I didn’t go. I’m not sure whether I was even aware that it was happening, though I had to have known. I was in seventh grade: maybe it never occurred to me that I might be a part of something that the older kids were doing. For whatever reason, I wasn’t there, and at times I’ve felt as though I’m on the outside of the entire alt-rock movement as a result. And then, shortly after they played with Cajundome, bored with the guitar rock that I was only then discovering, the group started wearing leather dresses and making electronic music, and so that was that. I moved on and my record collection grew in questionable directions. And for me, Smashing Pumpkins and all that they stood for in my mind only ever existed for about two years in the late mid-nineties.

In the lead-up to this post, I mentioned to Justin the possibility of my writing about the video for Mellon Collie’s “Tonight, Tonight,” which still ranks among my favorites in the genre. “Man, I honestly HATE that song,” wrote our fearless leader. “Is it an irrational hate? Yes, most likely. It’s born out of those Monday Night Football ads and an–at the time–childish sense that ‘this isn’t MY band anymore.’”

Now that I’m older, and have watched any number of beloved bands leave me behind for larger audiences, I can sympathize. But the very moment that Smashing Pumpkins ceased to be the band of the generation just before me is the very moment that they became my band. And while I’ve learned to appreciate Siamese Dream, my Smashing Pumpkins will always be the group that put out the double-disc, whose videos were both sweetly nostalgic and deeply unsettling, and who stood at the forefront of a movement that didn’t make sense to me so much as it intrigued me. I like my Corgans bald and wrapped up in a Zero t-shirt and just the wrong side of cocky.

Until two weeks ago, I had never listened to Gish. Not a note. Note once. In my mind, it was the missing piece of the Pumpkins’ discography, the one that nobody I knew ever really talked about, and so it had never struck me as compulsory listening. Having now listened to it, I’m hoping you’ll forgive me if I say that I think my generation got the better deal. It’s not that there aren’t great moments scattered throughout Gish–there most certainly are. But it’s at its best when it’s pointing at the seed of a sound that would find its fruition on later records. Corgan would rightly be heralded for his flipped-out, Technicolor guitar work later in the decade, but to my ears “I Am One” and “Siva” are generic note-splatter, a shade more interesting and melancholy than the work being done by his contemporaries in the Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. They briefly flirt with dream-pop in both songs, but those moments are shoved aside by more guitar squeal, almost as if Corgan were ashamed of his latent sensitivity. The creeping bass intro to “Bury Me” seems like it would have been a good fit on Tool’s Opiate EP (released the following year), and the stripped shoegaze in the chorus of “Suffer” is nearly ruined for me by the Voodoo Lounge vibe of its verses. Though I intellectually recognize the differences between the two records, much of what I hear on Gish reminds me of what I now hear in Pearl Jam’s Ten: lots of sound and fury about being ontologically different from the bands that came before, but at the end of the day only a note or two removed from classic rock radio.

And yet.

To write off the Pumpkins–and Gish–so neatly misses what set this group and this record apart from the other successes of early 1991. There’s a placeless, restless quality here that’s especially apparent on “Rhinoceros” and its counter-ballad, “Snail.” With those songs, Corgan drafted a blueprint that he would consult again and again over his career: a breathy vocal, a dash of languid guitar, and a slowly-built bridge that explodes into Big Muff squalls. It’s the genesis of a sound that I’ve always associated with The Smashing Pumpkins, a kind of intense vulnerability. Corgan is clearly experimenting on Gish, trying to discover his abilities as a songwriter and guitarist. Sometimes it fails, but sometimes he walks right into the sound that he would eventually perfect–the marmalade solos and Link Wray posturing of “Window Paine,” for instance, or the sweet strumming of “Daydream.” The whole thing makes Gish something of a frustrating listen for me: since I know where things are going, it’s tempting for me to want to steer them there, to put on The Smashing Pumpkins of Gish the burden of being who I want them to be.

I finally did get to see them, when the reunited band headlined the second day New Orleans’ Voodoo Fest in 2007. I was in my last semester of college, and in a few months I’d move to L.A. to begin writing for this blog. The magazine I worked for at the time had secured VIP passes to the festival, and I went, in part to see Wilco and in part because I could. Rage Against the Machine–themselves recently reunited–had played the night before, and the hot rumor was that a few small fights had broken out during their set, as if those who hadn’t seem them the first time around had been itching to get in on the action. I don’t remember much about The Pumpkins’ show (aside from their covering “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”), but I do remember sitting in the cordoned-off bleachers by myself, watching the crowd froth and bounce and generally go nuts. I headed back to the VIP area after only a few songs, and played a video game on a large TV, and spent the next week complaining about how few good bands Voodoo had booked. I later learned that that year’s festival had broken all previous attendance records.

Shockingly early in their career–long before even the most casual fan would say it was warranted–Smashing Pumpkins were dissed by Pavement and Steve Albini for being what they saw as overly-marketed and specially-tooled for suburban audiences, as if only the college kids deserved to have their voice heard, or as if the makeup of the audience corresponds to the quality of the band. They later claimed that their comments weren’t directed at the group’s work, but rather at their packaging. To a certain extent, though they were right the first time: there is something distinctly suburban about The Smashing Pumpkins. But far from a detriment, it’s the group’s greatest quality, and you can hear it on Gish. The gorgeous sadness that pops up on this record–and that sits as the center of their next two–is a crystallization of suburban frustration. Though the band eventually served as a totem of postmodern irony and disaffection, it’s hard to deny their core sincerity. Like the rest of their catalogue (and much of the college rock of the early nineties), Gish can be big, heavy, and beautiful, but it’s tempered by a very palpable sense of dissatisfaction. It’s as if the music knows that the things it really wants–the things it really thinks are cool–are elsewhere, just out of their reach, and that knowledge taints the present; it’s the suburban teenaged mindset coaxed out of guitars. I imagine that’s the way my then-teenaged Gen-X friends felt when they first heard Gish, and though I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, it’s the very thing I wondered at when I first heard Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as a seventh-grader: What is it that made all the older kids so sad? words/ m. garner

We have a few copies of the vinyl reissue of Gish to give away AD readers. To enter, leave a comment with your name and some sort of thought, story, etc. related to the album. Winners notified via email by the 18th.

30 thoughts on “Four Men Reflect On The 20th Anniversary of Gish…

  1. Love this piece. Reminded me of an episode of “Freaks and Geeks” (in the best possible way) with Justin’s admission of the thick cloak of nostalgia. The imagery of discovering bands by walking down the hall in high school is so spot-on and wrapped in anachronism.

    Despite being a Smashing Pumpkins fan, I only became aware of Gish several years after its release while making my way through a gigantic book of guitar tabs. I spent many, many fruitless hours trying to figure out why my clumsy acoustic guitar playing sounded nothing like the massive riffs of “Siva.” I wanted to be inside of that music more than anything at the time and Gish just seemed so otherworldly and impenetrable.

    Thanks for the piece guys. Keep it up/////

  2. Growing up in a conservative Christian home, I had to hid any secular albums I owned. One way to get around this (and a cheaper alternative) was to copy a friend’s cd version of the album onto cassette and then label it whatever I wished. I thought I was so clever with cassettes under my bed labeled Pounding Cantaloupes or Red Keppelin. Unfortunately, I never owned Gish.

  3. This album holds a special place in my musical history. I was moving from Illinois to Utah as it was released and it was the first introduction of the alternative music scene I had expereinced. I was fortunate to see Smashing Pumpkins at the Metro in Chicago early on (and several times since) and this album helped my transition from one state to a completely different state–both geograpically and musically.

  4. In many ways, my own Gish story runs parallel to Marty’s piece above. I was not hip to the Smashing Pumpkins until Mellon Collie, and even then, they had grown to a massive scale that I still saw as “alternative”. In the interim years between the double album’s release and the release of Adore, I cut far too many lawns so that I could afford to delve into the Pumpkins’ previous releases. Siamese Dream and b-sides collection Pisces Iscariot had an impact on me; I can quantitatively measure this by their statistically higher presence on various mixtapes I made for friends and girls during those years. Gish, strangely, was the difficult record; the awkward early record, I thought, where the band was finding its sound. In it, I heard the seeds of their later arena-aping bombast, but something always felt too formative and too unsettled for me.

    Though I look forward to the opportunity and occasion to listen to their debut with fresh (but somewhat seasoned) ears, the Smashing Pumpkins will always feel like the band I cut my teeth on and later turned away from.

    Thanks for the piece and the divergent perspectives.

  5. Like many in my generation, Smashing Pumpkins provided the soundtrack to my high school and college years. I wasn’t until Siamese Dream that I became “into” the band. As a self-professed huge fan of SP, I was always a bit ashamed of this fact, that I wasn’t there from the beginning. But even though I didn’t discover Gish until after Siamese Dream, my first listen to the album reminded me why I loved this band so much. They were weird. They were different. They sounded like nothing my 16 year old ears had heard before. And yes, they became more commercial and slick and predictable as time went on, which is why the rawness of Gish is the best representation of what the Smashing Pumpkins truly are.

  6. Great piece on Gish and the larger significance of the band. I never got into the record, but it is interesting where SP stands now on account of their less impressive recent work.

  7. I was in 7th grade when a guy i knew in Jr. High started talking about Gish and bringing the CD to school to show off. I had the same reaction as one of the contributers…what the hell was happening on that album cover? Being pretty young and not educated about Rock and Roll or Alternative music at all, I kind of didn’t know what to do with a band called “smashing pumpkins.” Another guy I respected a lot got on the bandwagon pretty good about that time and I remember being satisfied that I even knew who the pumpkins were so I could nod my head knowingly when other people started talking about them…which they did, quite a bit because thats when Siamese Dream came out.

    It wasn’t long after that I signed up for the mandatory BMG cd club…I think you got 12 free CDs right off the bat and Siamese Dream was on of them, because by the point the smashing pumpkins were blowing up and If you didn’t own it, there was something wrong with your musical taste.

    Anyway, jumped on the pumpkins bandwagon because of peer pressure to be cool but never really listened to Gish and never felt the need to. I gave Siamese dream quite a few spins in the ole’ landcrusier driving all over town doing whatever it is that high school kids do. I never really was able to make the pumpkins my own though…something about Corgan’s voice that I couldn’t get down with. They always creeped me out a little bit….like this was the sound of unhappy people somewhere else in the country. I always had a taste for hard rock, but something about the pumpkins sound was different for me. It always sounded weird and sad…and sad because it was weird, and they knew it was weird. I always thought that was a strange observation to have of a popular band so just a few years ago when I was getting into vinyl I picked up the Gish LP to give it another shot for real.

    It was better (and a little more sparse) than I thought it would be….but I just didn’t love it even though at this point I was trying to give them as fair of a shake as I could. I guess the Pumpkins will always be one of those bands that my friends liked, but I could never relate to. Its interesting to me that I have ended up loving so many bands that my first impression of their work was dead wrong…but this wasn’t one of them.

    Great piece AD…need more of these, very interesting to read other people’s stories about relating to a band.

  8. I can’t contain myself anymore. Must. Quote. Simpsons.

    Corgan: Hey cannonball, I like your statement: when life takes a cheap shot at you, you stand your ground. Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.

    Homer: Homer Simpson, smiling politely. You know, my kids think you’re the greatest. And thanks to your gloomy music, they’ve finally stopped dreaming of a future I can’t possibly provide.

    Corgan: Well, we try to make a difference.

  9. “gish” will always make me think of my best friend, billy mosier. he turned me onto it on a church retreat my ninth grade year and it became the next album in what was becoming a pattern of “albums that i listened to nothing else but.” it was another one of those records that sounded like nothing i had ever heard– the drums, especially. billy and i became great friends on this retreat and soon after went together to see them play a five- dollar show at centerstage* in midtown atlanta [i grew up in dunwoody, georgia, the same as mr. gage]. i had just started the ninth grade, and it was effectively my first ever show [the poison show i went to in the fourth grade i do not count], thus beginning a lifelong habit of going to shows with billy.

    this was of course back in the days of waking up early on a saturday and going to turtles [which became blockbuster music] and getting in line to get tickets. it was a ritual we had. he’d pick me up in the cadillac– simultaneously the world’s best and worst car– and we’d head for bagels and coffee before landing at the turtles across the street from my neighborhood, grogan’s bluff. if my memory serves, they’d hand out lottery numbers at 9:30, 9:45 maybe, everybody’d line up in numerical order, and then tickets went on sale at 10:00.

    by mid- tenth grade ticketmaster had struck a deal with publix and for a while we seemed to be the only people who knew that, so we were getting all sortsa great seats. soon enough though the cat was out of the bag and we were back to lines and lottery numbers. after a while we figured out that you had a better chance of getting good seats if you went to some out of the way publix, where there would be no line, so we’d drive down to ridiculous places like college park and lakewood to score.

    we saw smashing pumpkins twice during the “gish” period, i think. that they recorded their follow- up record, “siamese dream,” in atlanta had a lot to do with that fact.

    we saw them a few times after that, the last time being the 1995 [?] lollapalooza. but the “gish” period was the best for my money.


    *footage of this show can be seen in the performance of “quiet” from the “vieuphoria” thing.

  10. I remember actively fighting the idea of being a SP fan early on in the Gish/SD phase, but eventually caved when SD came out. Without having the same emotional/nostalgia-based connection to Gish as I do with SD, I feel that this is Corgan (and by extention, all of SP) were at their most honest, most sincere and at their most beautiful. Gish always seemed more sincere and raw, which is something I didn’t appreciate back then nearly as much as I do now.

  11. I first heard of the Pumpkins working at Tower Records in ’91. Some full on grudge-bag bought “Gish” and it was the first I’d seen it. Based on nothing more than this dude’s fleabag appearance and the fact they were on Caroline Records I grabbed the only remaining copy in the store and stole it that evening. I fired up the bong when I got home and listened to it back to back with Mudhoney’s debut. Needless to say, the Pumpkins were not grunge. Not like Mudhoney. Not like Nirvanna or the Melvins. And they wern’t Jane’s Addiction either. They split the difference, in a way, but it a way that was wholly unique. And no matter what, I had NEVER heard guitars recorded like that. Butch Vig put me inside the guitar cab with his mix, and it made my teeth rattle. Mudhoney were fully tongue-in-cheek on their debut and in their singles. Nirvanna wasn’t kidding at all on “Bleach.” Jane’s would play it any way that would get them laid. This all I knew. But who were these Pumpkins dudes?

    Two months later I saw the Pumpkins play their first LA show at English Acid on Santa Monica Blvd. And they slayed. They played every song they knew and said good-bye after they said as much on stage. I got all four band members to sign my stolen cd copy of “Gish” at the show. I still have it. Saw them about six months later at two back-to-back shows at the Whiskey. Hole opened and were boo’d off stage both nights! Smoked a huge doob sitting in the balcony with Billy sitting right next to me. Heady days.

    This was all before we were hip the Corgan’s master plan of course. All we knew of them at the time was the pink marbled 7″ of “Tristessa” from the Sub Pop singles club and “Gish.” And at that time, and in that space, they we’re simply bulldozing their way onto the scene.
    And if you recall, after “Gish” dropped on Carloine, Hut records started spilling out those amazing UK singles, with “Plume” and freaking “Starla” on ’em. That was simply devastating at the time. No one, and I mean no one was trying to do what they were doing. And we didn’t see their future mainstream success. We just through they were a skate thrash band that got into LSD and we were all the better for it! No one thought anything that loud would ever make it beyond indiedom.

    Boy were we wrong.

    When I heard “Cherub Rock” for the first time, within 20 seconds the love affair was over. “Siamese Dream” was obviously horrible and calculated. Billy was publicly turning into the poseur he always was privately. I was out.

    When you think about it, Kurt pulled the plug on the whole “don’t sell out” thing. He died so indie bands could sell out after him, washed pure in his blood. His death opened the door for Green Day. It was all over. I think I dived into Jazz after that. It was Coltrane and Eric Dolphy for days. And I never looked back.

    And I was never fooled again.

  12. Just one of the albums that remains stuck in my memory as being from a very particular time period in my life. Uncompromising and a classic.

  13. i was a huge fan of the pumpkins, but i didn’t make the discovery until ‘siamese dream’ was all over mtv.

    my story actually takes place after the pumpkins disbanded. i was living in chicago and a friend of mine asked me if i wanted to be in a music video. i was hesitant until he admitted he’d won ‘tickets’ to be an extra in the new zwan video. i jumped at the opportunity.

    days later, we both arrived outside the metro and were instructed to sit in a line on the clark street sidewalk in the shadow of wrigley field on an unseasonably warm february morning. we passed the time stoned & chatting until we were finally called to places. our task was to march as a giant mob down clark street and eventually into the metro.

    we were told to go ‘back to one’ several times so they could get multiple takes on film. at one point, i found myself walking by myself with billy. i didn’t want to be a pest and i figured i’d have other opportunities during the day to say hi, so i let him be. i was struck by how tall he was. i did manage to convince a fairly unenthusiastic jimmy to sign my cd booklet cover, but never got billy’s (or matt, david or paz’s) autograph.

    our final shot had us all in the metro, pogoing and dancing like maniacs, with billy in the center of it all. we were all together, all ecstatic and all enjoying a moment in time. it wasn’t the pumpkins, but for me, it was the next best thing and i’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.

  14. I love all of these comments/stories! Totally forgot about the HUT singles too. That was a great label for scoring UK-only B-sides by SP and a slew of other awesome bands (Verve, Moose, Acetone…).

  15. Nice work guys. I remember my stoner friends talking sooo much about “Gish this” and “Gish that,” but I was too punk for Smashing Pumpkins. I later came to my senses, of course.

  16. damn, this was indeed a hell of an album. thanks for the reminder. and agreed, too bad the group abandoned this sound so soon in favor of the BIG GUITAR rock of Siamese Dream.

  17. Those of my friends who, like me, are diehard SP fans (and there are a couple) seem to hold out hope that Billy Corgan will turn it around in the 2010s in light of his erstwhile brilliance. I don’t share their faith, but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their back catalog. I came of age musically during their heyday, and they hold up so well – the texture and space, as s. mcdonald notes, make all the difference.

    For her birthday I bought one of my dearest friends Siamese Dream on orange dreamsicle vinyl, and it stands as one of the gifts I’m proudest of having given.

  18. Really great article. Thanks for posting and bringing back so many great memories!

    Gish was an amazing album! Unfortunately, lost in the shadows of their later, more recognizable, work. I still remember my friends and I cranking the volume and ‘mock’ stage diving off the living room furniture.

  19. I had just finished thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and my girlfriend hated me because I left and hiked the trail, and returned again to Boone, NC to live at her house. I’d been working for a Christmas tree farmer for weeks with a bunch of friends from South of the Border, plus I had an in with our neighbor Kyle. I pulled into the parking lot of our Winn-Dixie, driving my ’87 Buick LeSabre … Saw Little Guatemala, Juan and another dude huddled in the front seat of Juan’s two-door hot-rod. I pulled in next to Kyle’s pickup and realized he had a lady with him which struck me as odd. I just waved, got out, and went to talk to “The Guys” … They were huddled up in the hot-rod with sweater-hoods pulled up tight and waving me over. I nodded and walked to the automatic doors. When I walked through the front doors of the grocery store, either it was in my imagination or the store stereo, but I heard: Rat in my cage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.

  20. I cut class from high school, 9th grade, with a girl named Amy to go to Homer’s records – the Omaha independent music store. She drove us there in a shitty blue Subaru wagon, back in the day before lesbians were the only people to drive Subarus. By then Gish was out for a year or two, but I bought the cassette anyway and wore out my walkman listening to it in bed at night and when we would drive around Omaha. Gas was cheap and there wasn’t anything else to do! I really enjoyed when the batteries in my walkman started to go dead and the tape played just a little slower. It sounded so badass back then! Haven’t revisited it much since, but the production quality sounds a little tinny to my ear now, like a cheap studio or something. Still a great record because it encapsulates a time in my life when there was so much promise.

  21. I bought Gish at either Music Plus at the traffic circle or ZED records nearby, can’t remember which. Was about the same time as Loveless and I was excited to get it. Back then it was only CDs. I mean, you could get the tape or a copy but having the CD meant you HAD the album (sorry vinyl fans… records were pretty damn hard to come by in the early 90s).

    Same deal with MBV’s Loveless. had to go to CD spot in Los Alamitos for three weeks once it was released to get a copy… crazy. At the time i loved Gish and Loveless equally, had a t-shirt for smashing pumpkins and played ‘whale music’ (mbv) for my friends.

    So many great memories around those albums. I wasn’t as much of a Primus fan but I knew of them and wished I would have caught one of the legendary shows with three of the four California funk/rock/??? bands; fishbone, RHCP, Primus; Janes.

    So lucky to grow up in Long Beach when I did.
    good times

  22. A guy in high school would make me tapes of bands he liked. We weren’t close friends but we were cut from the same cloth in a sense and we enjoyed sharing music with each other. He had pretty eclectic taste for a 16 yr old and was way more progressive than me. He exposed me to alot of disparate music ranging from the Gorilla Biscuits (didn’t like so much) to The Cult (I liked alot).
    One day he came in and gave me a tape with Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien on one side and Smashing Pumpkins Gish on the other side. He told me if I liked Hendrix,like I did,I would love Satriani. So I listened to the Satriani side first and in this case he was a bit off the mark….I didn’t love the Satriani album. What I did like was Gish. He told me they were a new band and wasn’t quite sure if I would like them. I did like them, alot. In fact I hadn’t really heard anything like them before and there was a dreamy quality to the music which really appealed to me at the time. In retrospect it was probably one of the first albums that exposed me to the “alternative nation’ about to emerge in popular culture.
    That tape stuck with me for a long time and I actually never bought the proper album. I did however buy Siamese Dream when it came out the summer I graduated high school and it served as part of the soundtrack to my life at that time but Siamese Dream never had quite the impact that Gish had on me.


  23. heard gish at my first college party in 1991. the host was hot on the pumpkins and could not stop talking to everyone at the party about them. gish and pisces iscariot stand as their best records imho.

    nice piece. brought back some good memories.

  24. Yeah I was nuts for this when it came out. I remember at the time like so many records, that me and my friends were in on a secret which the rest of the peers didn’t know about. We saw Nirvana in a little club in Calgary about a month before they recorded Nevermind, we loved Sub Pop, Madchester, etc. We were elitist little punks come to think about it. But the music that our peers listened to sucked so hard how could we not be? Normally at some house party we would take over the stereo and usually we were met with boos, or worse. I remember very clearly some drunken jock grabbing my cassette of Bleach and hurling it across the room and it quickly turning to a brawl.The lines back then were drawn and very clear. Fast forward like 6 months and the same jocko homo is bouncing on the dance floor while we played ‘I Am One’ at skull crushing volume at the only cool pub in town. He came over and drunkenly said sorry about being a D bag and told me what a killer jam the song was. He was right of course, but I can remember so strongly the feeling me and my friends all had of “What the fuck is going on? Why is the enemy on our side now?’ It was fun and exciting times to be 21. Do the kids now get to ride big waves like that? I hope they do, cuz it was rad.

  25. Great piece on SP. I LOVED the band from about 1992 (right before Siamese Dream came out) until early 1995 when I discovered punk rock. I still love them and agree that there is (for me) so much nostalgia associated with them. As good as Mellon Collie is, Gish and Siamese Dream will always be their best albums. FWIW, some of their B-Sides (collected on Pisces Iscariot) from the Gish era might be some of my favorite Pumpkins tunes. Would love to have a copy of Gish on vinyl. That’d be rad.

  26. Folks, you must remember that without James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, Corgan is a great songwriter with so-so guitar skills and an ego the size of Chicago. I was fortunate to see them in several small venues pre Simaese Dream era. In all my travels and live concert experiences, their shows are at the top of my list. But once Corgan started dressing like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family (remember that goofy overcoat and bald head?), their sound went into the toilet! Their best song, “Starla”, originally found on the No Alternative compilation, later on Pisces Iscariot, is a masterpiece of cool melody, intense rhythm, and flat out rock and roll.

  27. I first encountered Smashing Pumpkins when I was an impressionable sixteen year old when I saw the cover photo in a flyer from Sound Warehouse in Small Town, Oklahoma.
    I asked the guy who was working if they had a cassette of theirs.
    He never heard of them so he said he would do a special order.
    A few weeks later it arrived and I was immediately blown away.
    Like most teens at the time, I had a Walkman and put it on with headphones and was amazed at how good everything sounded.
    From the tone on Corgan’s guitar, the swirling atmospheres, and great arrangements, Corgan’s anguished vocals. It was psychedelic garage rock and I was willing to go for the ride.
    I immediately was telling my friends to listen to this band, listen to this tape, especially ‘rhinoceros,’ knowing my stoner friends would dig that tune.
    So, that became the soundtrack to my youth. When my friends first did acid, we were listening to this cassette and a friend still recalls how I obsereved that Billy Corgan’s guitar sounded like a ribbon of colour twisting in the dark.
    This was their true sound to me. After this nothing they/he did could compare to the raw, visceral beauty of his vision that is Gish.

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