“Tonight, Tonight.” Disc One, Track Two.
Where we go from the Dawn, of course, is Twilight.
Or, rather, we begin our day with the plans for what comes next. Like I said before, the night is the pasture, the battleground of the teenager, and Mellon Collie is about the life of a teen. ”Tonight, Tonight,” though, seems to come after. Far after, as if it’s looking back on adolescence from afar.
It could be that. Yet it’s also the ‘call to arms’ that’s usually reserved for album-openers. “Tonight, Tonight” is the song you sing before you sing “Nightswimming.” Before you spend that kind of night with your friends and redefine ‘fun,’ and look up at the stars every now and then and tell yourself that nothing will ever change, that time stretches out forever, that none of this could ever possibly end. Because if you stop believing in youth for just one second, that’s when it stops.
The most amazing nights of youth are always a little bit sad. After every night where you know you’ll end up telling the story of ‘what happened’ for the next thirty years, you know that you’ve moved the abacus one more notch. You might not be able to quantify it in something like a grey hair, but you know you can’t stop it. You’re growing up. Becoming the thing you hate the most: an adult.
I remember a winter during freshman year when I was back home from college. My friends and I were sitting in a friends room. His room was like HQ. You’d sneak in through the window, make plans, eat chips, get in the car, go to the moon. But we were there, this winter break, and we were discussing our disillusionment with college. Where were the adventures? We decided that part of it was the freedom of ‘adulthood,’ that since we could just go out whenever we wanted, it dulled the experience of going out at all. If we weren’t rebelling against anything, what was the point?
The other part of it was each other. “We were building our adventures on 5, 6, 7 years of experience.” (I wrote it down.) How could we be living out our ‘golden years’ when we barely knew anyone around us?
That conversation seems silly now, especially since it was more or less repeated verbatim with the new friends we’d made in college four years later. But it’s pretty indicative of the over-emoting that’s part of the territory of youth. When you’re young, and the night is going to be yours, things like “the resolute urgency of now” make sense to you. Sense that you’ll cringe at later. But that raw, unedited emotion is what you’re striving for. Anything less is a crime punishable by death (“crucify the insincere,” anyone?).
But at the heart of all this intensity is a simple line, repeated. “Believe in me.” It in itself is a perfect and simple line, but the deal is sold in it’s follower: “…as I believe in you.” “Tonight, Tonight” is a song that gets at the crux of the difference between “Dawn to Dusk” and “Twilight to Starlight.” “Dawn to Dusk” is about the excitement of the oncoming night, the promise, the expectations, the swelling excitement of what-is-to-come. That’s the reason for the repeated words: “tonight, tonight.” The key is in the non-specifics. The song applies to every single day.
“The impossible is possible— tonight.”
“Tonight, Tonight” is a response to the success of “Disarm.” Not entirely, of course. But it isn’t hard to imagine Billy Corgan watching swarms of teens swooning to a ‘rock’ song with gentle cellos and wanting to up the ante. That’s what the Smashing Pumpkins are all about. Alternative Escalation. So a string quartet, you say? Let’s get a full orchestra next time.
And so they did. And the results, it turned out, were amazing. Now, “Disarm” and “Tonight, Tonight,” when boiled down to their deepest stringlessness, are much the same song. Yet “Disarm” and its bare strings work to highlight the raw confessional that the song details. “Tonight, Tonight” is vague, devoid of brutal specifics, and so its strings are sent to the clouds, multiplied to the hundredth. Not to mention that “Tonight, Tonight” is certainly a song containing unbridled joy. “The years burn” is not a line that contains any sense of joy. “We’ll feel it all tonight” is much more promising of a good time. Not that it’s assured. The song’s chords veer back and forth from minor to major— a changed that’s overscored (ha) by the strings.
And of course, there’s the video. From a recent age dearly missed where a video defined a song more than anything actually heard within the four minutes it was provisionally advertising. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, 90s video director MVPs, figure into this story more later on (oh, don’t they though). But their take on George Meliés “A Trip to the Moon” is a wonderfully playful finger in the eye of the aggressive darkness of the general mid-90s alternative video.
There’s no irony in the childlike wonder. Just four minutes— beamed from the past, and ready to lead us into the future.
Post-script: the song’s figured in every tour the Pumpkins have played. As it should— of all the band’s singles, it’s the easiest one to fit into any era of the band. The most recent airings of the song have Billy starting the song with a snippet of its sequel song, “Tonite Reprise.” Here (wonderfully), “A Trip to the Moon” is played above the band, with the full band coming in right as the Rocket lands on the face of the moon.
Post-post-script: “Tonight Reprise,” a b-side to “Tonight, Tonight,” is a solo recording by Billy Corgan, apparently recorded late at night after Billy watched the Bulls lose a game. His voice is hoarse, the performance casual. Yet there’s an aching sense of loss to this version that puts it more in league with the “Disarms” and “Stumbeleines” of his work.
The song was intended to go near the end of Mellon Collie itself (it still does on the original vinyl pressing). While I couldn’t tell you what would have had to be cut for it to have made the grade, it would have fit in pretty well with the second half’s more disillusioned vibe. “Reprise” could have been the final weary rally before it’s time for bed.
The second post of my new blog, where the impossible is possible. Later on, like, tonight, or something.