Smashing Pumpkins - Zero
So it’s a Wednesday, Autumn, 1995, and I’m on the playground in line for a game of four square. Ahead of me in line is Johnny Hunilek, behind me is Anthony Grayson. Johnny’s got his headphones on and is nodding his head so intently I’m compelled to tap him on the arm and ask what he’s listening to. He pulls off one ear, “HUH?”
“What are you listening to?”
“Oh, dude, Smashing Pumpkins.”
He says it in such a way as to suggest I should know this band. I’ve heard the name thrown around but haven’t heard any of the music. Noticing my lack of recognition he immediately removes the headphones, puts them over my ears, and presses the “back” button on his Discman.
What I hear is the opening riff of “Zero”, the third single released from Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It sounds kind of loud and angry to me at first, but, not to be seen as soft or unhip, I begin nodding my head. I turn to Johnny and smile as the song sets upon me, pointing a single finger at each ear, “Is it OK if I listen to the whole song?”, he nods. By the time I get to Billy Corgan’s clipped declaration “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and God is EMPTY, JUST LIKE ME.” I’m sold.
About this time I feel a tap on my right shoulder. It’s Anthony Grayson and he wants to listen to the song. I mime the “one minute it’s almost over” and turn back around. A few more seconds go by and he taps me on the shoulder again. I turn around and assure him, out loud, “it’s almost over!” He says something back but I still have the headphones on and can’t make it out. I shrug my shoulders to drive home that he’s messing with my one-man listening party. Then he raises a tiny bottle up to my face and my vision fractures into a million whitewashed fragments while a sharp pain shoots back from my eyes and down through my entire body.
For Anthony has sprayed me in the face with Binaca.
Immediately I scrape the headphones off my head and toss them back at Johnny, then I decide to try and tackle Anthony. Problem is I can’t see anything so I instead tackle Alyssa Antonia, a girl who had been behind Anthony in line. Teachers are generally not thrilled about 5th grade boys attacking 5th grade girls. And so, removing myself from Alyssa’s tiny frame and apologizing profusely for pile-driving her to the asphalt, I am seized by at least one teacher and restrained.
As I attempt to regain my vision and explain the unprovoked assault on my face that has just occurred, I hear Anthony’s voice in the background.
“I sprayed him in the face with my Binaca, I’m sorry…”
“Anthony, why on earth did you do that?”
“Because he wouldn’t let me listen to Smashing Pumpkins.”
“What is Smashing Pumpkins?”
I had probably heard “Disarm” and “Today” on the radio, but that will always be the first moment I really heard Smashing Pumpkins. I went home later that night and told my parents that I wanted to forgo my next two allowances, drive to the record store that very night, and purchase Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was a good decision.