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Another Round: The Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”

on March 08, 2011, 12:15pm

There are times in film and video when the music matches the visuals almost too perfectly. It has happened countless times in my experience, to the point where certain songs don’t conjure up emotions, or lost memories; instead, they show me a TV screen. I am sure there are movie scenes, or sports moments, or music videos that have done it for you, but it’s a truly amazing feat when the visuals and music match just right. I could ring off a few examples, but one that comes to mind is the music video for possibly the most commercially successful Smashing Pumpkins song of all time, “1979”.

“1979” supported the Pumpkins’ 1995 epic double-album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which arrived packed full of musical masterpieces that the band has yet to truly outdo. At the same time, the visuals related to this album were quite spectacular as well, and very surreal to say the least.  The cover resembled that of an old oil painting of a woman, and the liner notes contained similarly styled pictures of a duck-person flying a sort of plane that resembled a headless gull, and a cat wedding. If you recall your childhood bedroom, the band poster around this time featured a very creepy, white suited Billy Corgan, hanging out in the clouds with cartoonish suns, moons, and stars. Equally strange were the videos, especially “Zero” (featuring an Eyes Wide Shut style masquerade), “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (slaves in a mud pit), and “Tonight, Tonight” (the album artwork came to life), which all showcased the Pumpkins’ oddball image.

The thing about the song “1979”, though, is that it’s not strange. It’s nostalgic. It generates feelings of events that happened in the past from your subconscious, and the video for the song captured that perfectly. There was this sense of familiarity within the narrative, despite the fact that it was depicting things you had never necessarily done. Within the video, we watch a group of five teenagers embark on a typical day in their suburb. Like most people of that age (and Pumpkins fans), they felt trapped and burdened by their current life. They clearly search for fun in the wrong places, but that was the point. They were bored, like the rest of us.

You see them roll each other in big tires, go to their lookout point and give their town the finger, drive aimlessly, hit up a house party (where the Pumpkins are performing, no less), trash a convenience store, and sabotage a poor family’s swimming pool. These all seem stripped from a great episode of Jackass, but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valeria Farris (who later directed Little Miss Sunshine) captured all of them beautifully. Note the kids at the party getting rowdier during the song’s breakdown, and the shot of the keys swinging to the beat in the car. Perfect.

Most notable, though, is the party scene, a sequence that actually was shot twice. The alleged story goes like this: Corgan and company shot the footage to the party scene (complete with the Zack Hanson look-alike), and it looked great. Dayton and Farris were more than pleased, and even went as far as to send the Pumpkins back out on tour, as they’d wrapped shooting. This was a bad decision. While in the midst of editing, the tape containing the footage was left on the roof of a car (presumably), and ended up being lost somewhere along the highway. The filmmakers put up wanted signs all over town, searching for the lost tape with the golden footage. Eventually, they called off the search, and called the Pumpkins back for a re-shoot, and the rest is history.

What was so great about this video is how it glamorized teenage boredom, making it seem rather epic. When I think back to my misspent youth, first kisses, driving idly, stupid parties, and mischief are now what make my teenage years seem worthwhile. Corgan and company knew this, and generated a video that they knew the masses could connect with. They basically showed us the joys of being young, with one of their most finely crafted songs (which won a Grammy, by the way), and opened our eyes to realize that the things we complained about so much back then would be what we long for later in life. And that’s what good art is supposed to do…open our eyes.

Revisit the video at Cluster 1!

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