Nostalgia in The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979

“Adolescence is such a fun time in your life, because you think you know it all, and you haven’t gotten to the point where you realize that you know almost nothing.”

Anthony Kiedis,
Scar Tissue



Not long ago, I was sorting my bookshelves and I randomly decided to pull out my copy of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. As I breezed through the pages, I uncovered a few weathered and folded scraps of foolscap paper that were buried in the book. 

And suddenly I remembered. One particular song immediately silhouetted the memories that resurfaced in my mind.

It was the semester break, sometime when I was doing my Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering (which I later didn’t finish). I was in Subang Jaya where I lived, and I went for a night out with a friend. It was supposed to be a short dinner, but wouldn’t you know it, it stretched into a late night drive.

It was the phase in my life where I was utterly obsessed with Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, so agreeing to spontaneously hit the road without a definite plan didn’t sound like a bad idea at all. 

We somehow got to exploring Cyberjaya where I studied. Malaysia’s first ever 24-hour bookstore, BookXcess just opened its doors, and we checked it out. I bought a copy of Absalom, Absalom!, and my friend — well, he bought a book called Porno by Irvine Welsh. 

We spent the rest of the night just listening to music in the car and drinking coffee while we cruised around. We reminisced old memories, talked about life — our dreams, our troubles and everything in between. When I had control of the music, I chose to play 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins, off the Mellon Collie album all night. With that song as our backdrop, it felt as though we had the night completely to ourselves. 

When I got home, it was nearly half past four in the morning. I felt restless and I still couldn’t sleep. Mentally I was still living in the song, so I grabbed a few pieces of paper and I stayed up writing a short story based on the cinematic scenes that the song triggered in my imagination. 

This wasn’t my first creative act that the Mellon Collie album incited. I had written another horrible story inspired by the line “The world is a vampire” in Bullet with Butterfly Wings, and sketched a horrible drawing inspired by the dreamlike characters in the Tonight, Tonight music video and the song itself. 

At some point, I didn’t get around to finishing Absalom, Absalom!, thinking I would get back to it someday (I still haven’t) — and I buried those papers in the book, probably thinking it was alright if I never saw them again anyway. 

To this day, 1979 still touches me to the core whenever I listen to it. The song embodies a mood that’s so visceral, that it never fails to evoke strong feelings of nostalgia for my fondest memories, when I was younger and bolder, albeit dumber.

How does it do that? — I don’t know. And honestly, a part of me doesn’t want to know. Maybe some things are best not having a technical explanation for. 

What little I do know about it is that the year 1979 was when The Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan was 12, and was on the cusp of adolescence. He was nearing his 30s when he wrote the song, as he felt that he was “losing his connection” to his youth and wanted to communicate to the listener from this edge. He sought to capture everything he felt as a young boy that he previously couldn’t articulate — and that’s pretty much what the entire Mellon Collie album is about.

For me as a listener, 1979 isn’t about the actual year. Rather, it’s simply an idea — a representation of my youth, of the times that I could never get back. In some way, it holds out some hope too, that perhaps it’s telling me, “You know well how quickly time flies, so make the most out of the time that you have now. You still have a long road ahead of you.” 

I recently made an unplanned drive to Kuala Lumpur and explored places and took in sights that I never had the time to. Sometimes, you just need to do more of these silly off-the-cuff things to remind yourself that you’re still alive.

I had 1979 playing in the car the entire time.


“To the lights and towns below,
Faster than the speed of sound,
Faster than we thought we’d go,
Beneath the sound of hope.”

The Smashing Pumpkins,

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