“1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins

Song of the Week

“1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins is an alternative rock song written by frontman Billy Corgan and was released in 1996. I chose this song for song of the week not only because it is one of my favorite classics but the meaning has always been so ambiguous to me. I feel it has a lot vague ideas for us to define together! He encapsulates nostalgia and what it is like to be a teenager or even more so remembering what it is like to be a teenager in the vibey song. The head boppin’ song makes you feel like driving with all the windows down at sunset. Corgan wrote the song about his coming of age as he himself was 12-years-old in 1979. Let’s get into it!

The first verse starts after the thumping bass pulls you in. Corgan reminds you of what it feels like being a kid and opens up memories you thought you forgot. Even simple ones that were important then like hanging out with friends. “Shakedown 1979 / Cool kids never have the time / On a live wire right up off the street / You and I should meet”. This first line is him saying how the song is a breakdown of what it was like for him living in 1979. He talks about teenybopper politics and how maybe he didn’t feel “cool” because the cool kids didn’t have time for him. AKA, They didn’t want to hangout with him. When your a kid all you really wanna do is hangout with your friends and feel “cool”. I feel like Corgan does a really good job of bringing you back to what it was like as a kid but making it still feel like a memory. Live wire to me sounds either like a restaurant or a place in town where a local “landmark” is. By landmark I mean simply a name only used by the kids of a town as a place where they meet up and hangout that is not public but not at home either.

When finishing up the first verse Corgan talks about how when you are a teenager it feels like it will never end. Then, As soon as you’re an adult it seems ridiculous that you ever thought that. “Junebug skippin’ like a stone / With the headlights pointed at the dawn / We were sure we’d never see an end / To it all”. June bugs are a seasonal bug that are only active in the summer. I like to think of Corgan’s Junebug analogy like this. When you skip a stone across the water it slowly gets faster the more skips it does. June bugs represent a full year in the life. So, the symbolic translation as far as I can tell is that the years are going by faster and faster. The second line captures the glimpse of a moment that adolescence dwells within. Dawn is such a beautiful time of day but it is also so short. As kids you are living in such a small part of your life but since it’s all you know it feels eternal.

The chorus takes a darker turn and gets very existential focusing on the cycle of life rather than the neglect of that cycle in adolescence. “And I don’t even care / To shake these zipper blues / And we don’t know / Just where our bones will rest / To dust I guess / Forgotten and absorbed / Into the Earth below.” The zipper blues are the depression of someone who is constantly moving from one place to another and/or not able to stay in one place. Fast forward into the future the child from the first verse is an adult that can’t stay still and he doesn’t feel to need to change it. It is this existentialism that keep him moving searching for purpose and or answers, whatever that means. He asks himself what is the purpose of life is we are going to die and be forgotten anyway? He looks back on a time when this thought never crossed his mind to look for ways to think about it in a less menacing way. These thought keep him up at night as they do for a lot of us I assume.

The new Smashing Pumpkins
“The new Smashing Pumpkins” by matthewf01 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In the first verse he talked about how kids view life and in the second verse he moves onto the glum reality of what the answers to this unanswerable question might be. “Double-cross the vacant and the bored / They’re not sure just what we have in store / Morphine city slippin’ dues / Down to see.” Now that he is looking at the world as an adult he the illusion of overwhelming opportunity and time has faded. He sees people making mistakes and hurting others deliberately. When people get bored or don’t know what they are doing they will resort to hurting each other and this realization of the lack of humanity in society is something every person has experienced. We don’t know what to expect from adulthood as a kid and it can be scarier than we thought possible once we are aware. The morphine city slippin’ dues in my mind refers to the inevitability of some to do drugs and how it is almost paying your dues on that slippery slope whenever you fall into it. This line definitely implies that everyone does this at some part in their life.

The second chorus he gets even darker with his personal view on the reality of life. “Down to see / That we don’t even care / As restless as we are / We feel the pull / In the land of a thousand guilts / And poured cements.” Corgan thinks that nobody cares about this lack of purpose. We all have regrets or bad feelings that pull us down and make us stuck.

In the final verse he brings the story back to adolescent thinking. He goes into the societal rules that dont always make sense as a kid but everyone follows for some reason. “Justine never knew the rules / Hung down with the freaks and ghouls / No apologizes ever need be made / I know you better then you fake it.” He speaks of a girl he knew named Justine who didn’t follow these societal rules. She hung out with people maybe not considered cool and didn’t give a f***. She didn’t take apologies and sounds kind of like a baddy if you ask me. Based on the last line he does know this girl and she is putting on some kind of show for everyone else. Maybe this is him saying she pretends not to give a shit about anything but in reality she does.

Lastly is that iconic outro of only two lines. “The street heats the urgency of now / As you see there’s no one around.” He rounds out the song by a final statement implying that the way we see the world as kids and as adults doesn’t have to be that way. We could start changing it right now we just need to feel the urgency. That’s my perspective on the song! Leave a comment on what you think it’s about!

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