What If Billy Corgan Hung Out With The Weeknd?
We were four beers in—local Texas double-IPAs of ass-knocking caliber—when I handed my phone to my older (and only) brother, Pete. “This is my ‘Keep It 100’ playlist,” I told him as his thumb flicked up on the Spotify screen. “More or less, my 100 favorite songs in the world.” His eyes scanned the 74 tracks (I haven’t quite filled it out) and cherry-picked the ones he actually knew: “September,” which we danced to at weddings as kids; ““Heroes,”” which he agreed was among the best of all time; “Everlong,” whose manic music video he remembered very fondly. We had brief conversations about Deftones (he doesn’t get them) and Phoenix (he gets them). Unfortunately, we couldn’t play any of these songs because we were in a loud bar in suburban Dallas that felt much more like a businessman’s hotel lobby watering hole. But it didn’t matter.
Soon enough, the planets aligned: “1979” came on and filled the room. My brother, a 31-year-old MBA grad who once referred to himself as “the epitome of American middle management,” sat straight up. His eyes relaxed. He let out a prolonged “ahhh” and declared this, too, one of the best songs ever. I agree; it’s on my playlist. We took big sips of beer and let that skittering keyboard sound punctuate each line as it does, and I imagined our minds traveling back to 1995 together, listening to rock radio and watching the Smashing Pumpkins’ generation-defining music video on MTV. Not our generation, of course. But we both grew up on it, and that’s important because we grew up five years apart. Much of the first music I ever liked or claimed to like came from his recommendations. And I’m very tempted to say it began with “1979.”
We predictably stayed at that bar too long, and I suffered through the next day with an even more predictable headache. When we got ourselves mostly together, we hopped in the car with his wife, Laura, and drove downtown to a science museum. As we passed the triple-decker overpasses that make I-35 feel more like a roller coaster, Pete popped on the radio to discover “I Feel It Coming,” the Weeknd/Daft Punk collaboration brought to life inside a neon ice cave at this year’s Grammys. As a lingering Top 40 entry, it was a recurring tune that weekend, and we heard it no fewer than six times cumulatively between speakers at restaurants and bars and on local radio. We heard it so much that at an ice cream shop the night before I flew back to New York, Pete used it to describe a feeling he’d been having, a kind of longing he couldn’t explain. He’s nearly 32 now, living 1,400 miles away from his family and the place he grew up, navigating a new job, and expecting a baby with Laura in four short months. It’s exciting, sure, but it’s nerve-wracking. Not sad exactly, he told me, but almost. Wistful for simpler times, I guessed. “I kinda get that feeling when I listen to that Weeknd song,” he said to me, “I don’t know why.”
I might know why. I feel similarly about Billy Corgan’s rubbery opening riff to “1979,” and I know I’m not alone. Here, Smashing Pumpkins sounded like they missed something—what was it? “The time it’s really nostalgic for is right now,” Andrew Unterberger wrote when Spin retroactively named “1979” the best alternative rock song of 1996, “because it’s imbued with the sense that the best years of your life don’t have many calendar pages left to turn.” Or, as Corgan whisper-sighs shortly before pulling the plug after four and a half minutes, it’s about “the urgency of now.”
What “1979” and “I Feel It Coming” have in common is that specific longing, musically represented in one by that repeated tremor like someone blowing into a comb (and the surge of the chorus) and in the other by The Weeknd’s gentle croon bending the title refrain. The same guy who once self-identified as the dude “with the hair singin’ ‘bout poppin’ pills, fuckin’ bitches, livin’ life so trill” is now melting at the thought of sharing a deep connection with another person that’ll last longer than a single night. That’s a big deal! “I Feel It Coming” is a love song, and undoubtedly its twinkling synths and lite-funk rhythms spurred a yearning within my brother—as his pregnant wife draws closer to her due date and as they enter a new phase in their connected lives together.
As The Weeknd’s guest musicians on that track, Daft Punk know nostalgia, too. Remember “Giorgio By Moroder” and, well, the fact that their entire career is a repurposed love for disco? At Pete and Laura’s wedding reception in May 2013, I asked the DJ to play “Get Lucky” as the night was nearing its end. It hadn’t hit the top 10 in the U.S. yet despite cleaning up in France and the U.K., but Daft Punk’s return was a big deal, so I was on the case. The DJ, however, refused. “Not enough people are gonna know that one,” he dismissed me as quickly as I came over. It hit №1 the following month, staying on top for 13 weeks before winning Record of the Year at the 2014 Grammys. I bet enough people know it now. I also bet Pete associates Daft Punk somewhat with his wedding, maybe even subconsciously, because I’ve told him this story plenty of times, and it’s made him smile before. Pair those already potent nostalgia feelers with the golden vocal hum of The Weeknd and impending fatherhood—you may have a recipe for feeling a tad wistful when “I Feel It Coming” begins to play as you eat a chocolate chunk ice cream cone.
I expect to feel my own sharp pangs of nostalgia whenever I hear “1979” for the rest of my life. And I expected that I’d expect that. I did not expect, however, to ever feel a pang of wistfulness at either The Weeknd or Daft Punk for the rest of my life. But as it always goes when you get too hazy in your own head, and even as I type this right now, I feel it coming.