Friday, May 23, 2003

The Great Pumpkin

Since my long past youth I have been puzzled by the "true believers" in the world of music. You know these people. They put great pride in discovering the new bands first, and then abandoned them with acidic derision if and when they broke through and got a hit. They believed bands "sold out" by becoming financially successful, and by achieving an audience outside the music snobs, the true believers. I've noticed that, to a person, every one of the true believers stopped listening to music entirely somewhere in her/his 30s.

I think I recently found the key to these people's psyche. While reading Kurt Cobain's Journals recently, I kept running across the words these people, these true believers, use like a litany. Music has to be sincere, and honest, and pure, etc. (How some songs are sincere and others not is a mystery to me.) As I read Kurt's invocation of these words again, a glimmer of an idea danced just out of my reach. Where have I heard these words before? What was the circumstance?

Then it hit me.

It's Linus's theology of the great pumpkin! The true believers believe if their pumpkin patch is the most sincere, the most humble, the most worthy, the great pumpkin will visit them. (Has anyone ever made the connection and named their band "the great pumpkin" or "the pumpkin patch" I wonder? Maybe that's where "Smashing Pumpkins" came from.) Of course, crass commercialism, or heck, even purposely trying to write a hit song, with full intention of getting a hit, that will ruin everything and the great pumpkin will pass them by. They have internalized Linus's own private Idaho personal holiday.

It makes sense chronologically, too. You didn't hear these sentiments regarding old pop standards or big band music, or even early rock and roll. No, they began showing up in rock criticism and music snob circles about the time the first generation that watched "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" came of age and started going to concerts and writing about it.

The parallels abound. Sally, Linus's faithful wanna-be girlfriend believes in his cause, and misses trick-or-treating through her dedication to his ideals, then feels foolish when she realizes it's all bullshit. The other kids tolerate Linus's devotion and mythos, but really know the point is to go out and just have fun already. Lucy, the big sister, trick-or-treats for Linus so he won't miss out, thus she's the sibling who secretly loans her Led Zeppelin records to the true believer who thinks only Black Flag or the Melvins are worthy of public endorsements.

In Cobain's Journals, on page 117, there's a picture Kurt drew of Jesus on the cross with a jack-o-lantern on his head (I believe it was part of the plans for the "Heart Shaped Box" video.) Is this an unconscious reference to the great pumpkin? Dunno.

Next time you encounter a music snob/true believer, listen to them for a while. I bet you'll agree s/he sounds just like Linus on Halloween. Point this out to them. You'll probably get something akin to Linus's rant as the others leave him to his pumpkin patch to go to a party.

No comments: