In 1979, Billy Corgan was just another misfit kid in the suburbs outside of Chicago, Illinois. He had a difficult home life that included abusive and absentee parents, a brother with special needs, and a shyness among his peers. He developed an obsession with the Chicago Cubs and collected baseball cards as a way to cope, finding an early escape. Then he found music.
Rush, Black Sabbath, The Cure, Bauhaus, and Van Halen soon began to to fill his hours, and he found an early group of local heroes in Cheap Trick. Rock and roll provided him with a uniqueness that distinguished himself from his fellow teenagers, and the self-proclaimed “reserved kid” found a way to channel his explosive rage and emotional turmoil into a positive outlet.
But his love of music wasn’t established until Corgan was well into the 1980s. If Billy Corgan didn’t truly become Billy Corgan until that time, why did he name one of his most famous Smashing Pumpkins songs after a year where he was still a young baseball obsessive? ‘1979’ details the kick back against cool kids and the reckless abandon that comes with most teenage antics. So why was Corgan focusing on a year where he was still a ways away from those events?
According to Corgan, it had to do more with the transition into that life than the actual life itself. “Somehow the lyric, which sings of an opposing sensuous world, balances all of my life on the head of a pin.” Corgan chose to focus on what was ahead of him, and as such ‘1979’ plays as a sort of idealised look having a sense of purpose, something that Corgan didn’t necessarily always feel during his actual teenage years.
‘1979’ is filled with poetic takes on reality, not actual reality itself. When we all look back on our youth, it’s usually with some rose coloured glasses attached. Corgan is no different, and ‘1979’ encapsulates the feelings of being a teenager without getting bogged down by some of the more mundane actual events.
‘1979’ isn’t even an actual time or place – it serves as a sort of nostalgic world that we all return to from time to time. That specific year acts as a sort of bookmark for Corgan, but also as a line of demarcation from which he could never go back. It remains bittersweet and aching, but triumphant and jubilant as well. Just as with its title, ‘1979’ is less rooted in reality and more about the narrative that we all create our pasts.