mellon collie

To Forgive
  • To Forgive
  • The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Deluxe Edition)
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“To Forgive.” Disc One, Track Seven.

The charitable act of forgiveness is made scare mention of, but that in itself really stands as a lie, as there is nothing and no one to be forgiven in the solemn halls of this song. 

You could argue that it’s out of place, that it’s nighttime when last it was day. But of the differences between “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “To Forgive,” the most glaring is direction. “Bullet” is aimed purely to the outside, to all around, the those who can never understand. It rages, it is overly loud, it’s the side of anger that has you on all fours beating the ground until your fists are pulp.

And then it’s quiet. The nighttime of the mind. Mellon Collie is an album that has no fear of insane juxtaposition. The band’s greatest strength was to stretch the mold of what could be considered “alternative,” before eventually deciding to completely shatter the idea.

The majority of Mellon Collie is sequenced under the edict of extremes, with really only tracks 3-6 on “Dawn to Dusk” maintaining any sort of ‘rock album’ vibe of consistency. So then, just as “Jellybelly” was a shock of a song to follow “Tonight, Tonight,” here we go in opposite from “Bullet With Butterfly Wings." 

"To Forgive” is an outlier in the Pumpkins’ canon. There’s nothing else that’s quite as emotionally raw as this song. “Disarm” contains the same area of subject matter— lost (vaguely abusive) childhood— but whereas “Disarm” is cloaked in that Patented Purply Poetry and strives for (and yes, achieves) a zeitgeist-defining line, “To Forgive” is completely content to wear its heart on its sleeve, and keep its words on the ground. And this is a song of the dirt, through and through. It’s a song for empty streets, for empty rooms, for rainy days. Even if this is “Dawn to Dusk,” there are still days when no light can seep through.

It’s finally Winter now in Chicago as I write this. For too long the sun’s still been a presence, wiggling its way into my life when there is no room for sunshine in it.

“To Forgive” is when the overcast mind meets the overcast sky, and a grim emotional darkness perseveres.

It is more so a song of condemnation, the greatest of which is reserved for the hand that writes it, who despite knowing better will carry the same destructive patterns he has learned in youth into his own unnatural life.

“To Forgive” feels like a song against someone, a song that’s quietly raging against a childhood that doesn’t mesh with the storybooks. But if you pay attention to it, you’ll notice the truth— the verses are peppered with “I’s” and “My’s.”

You can blame everyone else for your surroundings, but you’re still there. Maybe it’s as bad as you think it is. Maybe it isn’t. But if you never stopped to wonder at your emotional surroundings, are you denying yourself the chance to realize that your life is better than it seems? So forgive yourself for denying yourself relief, if you can.

“To Forgive” tries, but I’d argue it doesn’t succeed. The awful emptiness of youth wins out, every time. And it becomes embarrassing to even think about it. It’s foolish to dwell, to remember your negative emotions. Drive them away. Dig deeper. Hide them any place you can. 

But those emotions seep out, around those corners, through those cracks, through every part of your day and life. Your heart is like a dam. You’re holding back the fool— the part of you that feels. But that dam is leaking. How can’t it, when the past returns unbidden? Unbidden and super-specifically. You can smell the carpet, follow the woodgrain.

This is where I forgot how to cry.

The success (as much as it seems inappropriate to use a word like “success” at a song this sad) of “To Forgive” is in the details of those 'empty body afternoons.’ Pretending to enjoy your birthdays that no one showed up for. I once watched a live version of this song with a cousin of mine. In the bridge, he said that this one small keyboard line near the end reminded him of his youth. He couldn’t explain why— I looked at him, and I could see him try to explain it in his mind. But he couldn’t. His eyes were heavy. The live version didn’t even have the keyboard part he was talking about. I knew exactly what he was talking about, though. It was the descending line that brings the song back to the verse. I knew because that line does the exact same thing to me every time I hear it.

This is the kind of effort one only needs to make but once, and once is more than enough.

“To Forgive,” at the time, seemed like an arm of the Pumpkins that would never again be stretched. As far as the media was concerned, the band was a rock band, through and through. Listening to Mellon Collie disproves that almost immediately, but for all the copies of “1979” the band sold, or all the times than MTV aired “Tonight, Tonight,” people still went to their shows for the brutal rock they’d been hailed for. 

Misunderstanding is all part and parcel of the Smashing Pumpkins. As much as “Eye” and “The End is the Beginning is the End” seemed to herald the “electronica” era of the Pumpkins’ career, it’s really “To Forgive” that’s the true precursor to Adore. It’s a broken family song, a song for missing a thing that never was. It’s music for someone who sees the nighttime through their eyes at all hours of the day.

The song is the future of the band, but it was the future no one seemed to want. That is, of course, brutally unfair. But for all the people who didn’t care for Corgan’s softer side, a hidden response was cached away in the howling wails of the next song over.

Post-script: The song was played basically every night in 1996. But after one last attempt at the beginning of the next year, it disappeared completely, and was never found again. Which makes a certain amount of sense. As much as “To Forgive” prefigures the familial exorcism of Adore, it had nothing to do with the percussive reinvention of that album’s tour. 

It’s a secret favorite song for everyone, I think. It’s problem is that everyone agrees that it’s good. But if you’re trying to be precious about your Pumpkin fandom, it’s way more impressive to call “Galapogos” your favorite song.

And who would actually want to see this live? It’s so universally evocative it would remove everyone from the concert immediately. Maybe that’s why it’s disappeared. Maybe Billy isn’t as tough as he thinks. I know I’m not.

I can barely hear the fucking song through clenched teeth, lumped-throat, and held-back tears.

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THE SMASHING PUMPKINS’ career-defining 1995 double album MELLON COLLIE & THE INFINITE SADNESS has earned Diamond certification by theRIAA for sales of 10,000,000 discs and digital equivalent per disc (5 million copies of the double album). This news comes in the midst of EMI Music’s extensive reissue campaign honoring the legacy of the iconic alternative band. It continues December 3 in North America and December 4internationally with the PUMPKINS’ fourth album MELLON COLLIE & THE INFINITE SADNESS receiving the fully remastered treatment for the first time. This follows last year’s acclaimed reissues (*see quotes below) of the band’s groundbreaking first two albums, Gish (1991)and Siamese Dream (1993), as well as this past summer’s PISCES ISCARIOT (1994), the band’s third album.