Smashing Pumpkins and smashing pyramids

pyramidWelcome to A.M. Shuffle, where I begin the day writing about whatever music pops up on shuffle, and whatever pops into my head as a result. Today: Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero.”

During the post-grunge/proto-emo bang of the 1990s, I was living in Memphis. This is a supremely weird city, a place where the kind of absurdity that would send most other Americans screaming back to the sanity of the suburbs is accepted with a shrug and a tip o’ the dry-rubbed rib rack.

Case in point: the Pyramid. Look at it. That’s a gigantic freaking pyramid in the center (well, just north) of a major (-ish) American city. It was an arena that nobody quite knew how to manage or run properly; the first night it opened in 1991, it nearly flooded, and pretty much every major plan hatched for the Pyramid in successive years (observation deck, casino, aquarium, external elevator) has failed. Now? Now it’s supposed to be the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops outlet. Of course. (It was also the centerpiece for the climactic scene of my most recent novel, which you should totally buy.)

Where were we going with this? Oh, right, Smashing Pumpkins. Anyway, I saw quite a few concerts and games in the Pyramid, some amazing (Memphis playing then-No. 1 Arkansas), some absurd (a Memphis Pharaohs arena football league game with actual camels wandering the field). When the Smashing Pumpkins came to town, well, I was there, brother.

Here’s one strange architectural element of a pyramid: while inside, sound travels upward to the point. That’s fascinating from an acoustic perspective, and nightmarish from a performative one. Sound from the arena would hit those walls and rocket straight upward, so that even full-volume concerts wouldn’t sound all that loud to the people and performers at ground level. Huge sound baffles hung from the inner walls did little to alter that.

You can see where this is going. Billy Corgan and the Pumpkins started playing, and Corgan is not the most, shall we say, forgiving of performers. He was clearly frustrated from what he perceived as the audience’s lack of response, and kept imploring the crowd to “make some noise. This is rock n’ roll.” Thing is, we were making noise; this was the 90s, and we were all about the atmospheric spacey mood-rock.

Corgan couldn’t hear it, and after a routine set stormed off the stage. And that was how he left us Memphibians, cheering our fool heads off for someone who couldn’t hear us. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Anyway, here. Listen and enjoy. Clap and maybe Billy will hear  YOU.


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