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Ten years since Act IV - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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Ten years since Act IV [Jul. 8th, 2011|03:15 am]
Lindsey Kuper

Playing at Act IV 2001

The first Act IV concert happened ten years ago today, on July 7, 2001. I've written about the Act IV project before, but a lot of the links in that post are dead now.1 So, then, to recapitulate past-Lindsey, substituting fresher links where available:

Following a period of a couple of years from about 1998 to 2000 during which being a Smashing Pumpkins fan was a startlingly important part of my life, I played in a Pumpkins tribute concert in 2001 that, to the surprise of most of us who were involved, ended up becoming sort of a Thing. The show happened again in 2002, and together, the two concerts and the various other stuff we did comprised a project called Act IV.

I ought to say something thoughtful and incisive about Act IV, but I don't have to, because in 2003, my sister Maya made an audio documentary about Act IV that pretty well captures what it was all about, and both parts of her documentary are available.

I was only nineteen when I played Act IV for the first time. It was the summer between my first and second years of college. I hadn't yet started studying computer science.2 I hadn't even met Alex online, much less in person. In other words, I was a tiny baby. But I'd like to try to explain why and how I ended up involved with the Act IV thing, and to do so, I have to back up even further, to when I was an even tinier baby.

Many of the formative experiences of my early teens happened during a total of three weeks, spread out over three years, that I spent attending a summer camp held on the campus of a certain small liberal arts college in a rural town in Iowa. For each of those three years, the one week per year I spent at camp was unquestionably the least awful week of the year. The first summer I went to camp there was, I'm pretty sure, the longest time I'd spent away from my parents. The second summer I went, I kissed a boy for the first time, in the basement of one of the campus buildings. It was the sort of thing that never in a million years would have happened to me back at home. In fact, he and I declared our so-called "love" for each other, to much eye-rolling from my mother when I tried to tell her about it, and we carried on a short-lived long-distance "relationship" that ended not long after I brought him to my ninth-grade homecoming dance back home.3

The third and last time I went to camp, I was sixteen, and it was the summer of 1998. My roommate at camp that year was a girl named Lauren. I already knew Lauren from my previous times at camp, and I admired the hell out of her; she was my age, but much more sophisticated than I was. She had brought her little stereo and a couple of CDs with her to camp, and we had them in our room. That alone was kind of novel to me. Despite self-identifying as a musician and as someone who loved music, I didn't really own any recordings of music that I'd picked out for myself, because, at age sixteen, I was still very much afraid of liking specific things. Lauren, apparently, didn't have that problem -- it was one of the reasons why I admired her -- and I was happy to just ride along on the wave of what I saw as Lauren's taste and sophistication. For a week, I thought, I would get to share a room with someone who somehow knew things about pop music. No one at camp would know that I didn't know those things, too. No one at camp would need to find out that I was nowhere near as cool as Lauren was. For a week, I would pretend to being cool enough to have some music I liked, and maybe not even Lauren would be the wiser. I had it all planned out.

Then my plan was spectacularly ruined: I fell in immediate love with one of the albums that Lauren brought. For the last few hours, I've been scouring the web for anything that I can point to that might explain how I reacted to Adore when I heard it. None of the reviews I've found are apropos, because they all situate the album in the context of everything else the band had produced up to that point. But I had never heard any of the Pumpkins' other stuff. I didn't know that the band had been around for a while, or that they were hauling around a lot of baggage; I didn't even know who the band was. You could argue that I was sixteen and impressionable, and you'd be right. You could argue that the late 90s were a terrible time for pop music and that I was soaking in that, and you'd also be right. (That other album that Lauren brought to camp was, I recall, a Creed album.) But I didn't know any of that then. The only thing I did know was that I had never heard anything like what Lauren played from Adore, and that it sent me into undignified paroxysms of joy. I actually do still think it's one of the most underrated albums of that time period, and almost certainly the most underrated album the band made.

I'd like to say that I immediately went and bought it after getting home from camp that summer, but, in fact, it still took me months to develop the courage to do so. What if it wasn't as good as I remembered? And we'd only listened to a few songs at camp -- what if I didn't like the rest of the album? And where did people even buy music, anyway? My family lived on a farm in rural Iowa. The nearest thing approximating a mall was a 40-mile drive away. But I finally made the drive, one weekend in November, and I paid something like $17.99 plus tax at some horrible mall store, and I drove back home with my treasure, and I listened to it over and over and fell harder and harder in love. Then, over the rest of that winter and spring, I gradually and ecstatically discovered the rest of the band's catalog. I remember standing in a used CD store in Waterloo, Iowa, in February, finding Siamese Dream in the racks, and trepidatiously bringing it over to one of the listening stations. I'd pick two songs at random, I figured, and if they were good, then I'd know that I'd picked a good band to like. If not, I'd have to start all over. My two random choices turned out to be "Today" and "Rocket", in that order, and by the end of them, I was a puddle of happiness on the floor.

And then I figured out that there were shows, and that there were bootlegs of those shows, and a sprawling Internet community full of people who were all simultaneously also having undignified paroxysms of joy. Not only had I managed to discover something that I really genuinely enjoyed, but there were other people who enjoyed it with me: this was new, and it was really wonderful. I was a much happier person for the second half of high school. And that's how it went, until the Pumpkins broke up just as my first semester of college was ending, in December of 2000.

We weren't really ready for them to go.

There is, apparently, a band that still calls themselves the Smashing Pumpkins now, but they're not my Pumpkins. My Smashing Pumpkins broke up over ten years ago and will never get back together. They're done. That's the reason we did Act IV -- because the band was done, but the fans weren't. We were, in fact, just getting started. I don't want to overstate the importance of this particular band; it probably could have been some other band that made this all happen for me. But, for better or worse, this band was the catalyst for my finally figuring out that I didn't have to be afraid to like things, and that I had nothing to fear from pop music. Before the Pumpkins, I didn't think that pop music was for me. Now, I'm pretty sure that I'm exactly who it was for.


  1. More than anything else, the deadening of the links to all of the nice fan-centric stuff that the Smashing Pumpkins used to have on their website is what's really made it sink in for me that "they really don't care about you, at all". With Act IV, we saw some flashes of them caring about the fans, but in the last ten years, as my musical world has expanded, I'd like to think I've learned something about what it looks like when a band really does appreciate their fans, and I don't think that this is what it looks like.
  2. Which means, incidentally, that I'm coming up on ten years of learning to program. Yep, that's right -- I'm now only a couple of months away from knowing how!
  3. I was, as far as I could tell from the things girls at school talked about, pretty long overdue for starting to kiss boys. But none of them had ever explained to me that I was not supposed to kiss boys in public in our small conservative town, and I was definitely not supposed to kiss boys in public with anything approaching enthusiasm. My obliviousness was so great that it wasn't until the days and weeks following that homecoming dance that I gradually realized that I had done something horribly wrong in the eyes of my peers, something that would take me most of the rest of high school to live down. And all for someone who wasn't even a particularly good kisser!
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: tim.dreamwidth.org
2011-07-08 06:15 pm (UTC)
I thought the business about being afraid to like things was inevitably a consequence of a fucked-up childhood (it is in my experience), but yours doesn't seem to have been fucked up. Must revise assumptions...
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-08 08:30 pm (UTC)
I had a good childhood, but I had some oddball issues that, I think, stemmed from having a very close relationship with my twin sister. Interacting effectively with anyone who was not my sister was so much more work that I did it as little as I could, and as a consequence, I think I didn't even really start learning how to interact with other people until it dawned on me, around age ten or eleven or so, that I might like to have other friends and a distinct personality and set of interests. But I had no idea how to go about getting my own friends and my own interests, and I started out going about it in entirely the wrong way. For instance, I genuinely thought that the way to make friends was to blast into someone's life and do some really stunning thing that would dazzle them into being my friend. As you can imagine, this did not really go over well with most of the people I was trying to befriend, and the one or two times when it "worked", the "friendships" it began weren't what I'd wanted anyway. I went to school with the same group of people from age ten through when I graduated from high school, and it took me most of the rest of middle school and high school to recover from the mistakes I made in those first few years.

I eventually figured out that I had to like myself before I could make friends. In order to like myself, I had to know who I was, and to know who I was, I had to know what I liked. So there was a lot resting on knowing what I liked, and I was terrified of messing it up. Being able to figure out even one tiny thing that I was sure I liked was therefore a pretty big deal for my happiness.
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[User Picture]From: tim.dreamwidth.org
2011-07-08 09:06 pm (UTC)
This is interesting. As an only child, I've always imagined that if I'd had siblings I would have learned better how to relate to other people, or at least I would have had an ally in the me-vs.-parent war. What, you mean everything involves trade-offs? :P

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[User Picture]From: aleffert
2011-07-09 12:43 am (UTC)
I don't think my childhood was especially more fucked up than anyone else's but I used to be terrified of having opinions about stuff because I thought people would make fun of me for them. I lacked the self confidence to stand behind them. Also, as I got older people got nicer.
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[User Picture]From: keystricken
2011-07-08 06:44 pm (UTC)
Going to summer camp was really intensely formative for me as well, but in subtle ways. Incidentally, that's where I was first introduced to TMBG.

This is a really vivid, really beautiful post, and I just wanted to say: thank you for that.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-09 05:50 am (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: conform
2011-07-11 04:47 am (UTC)
I came home from orchestra camp in summer '92 and promptly bought my first CD: Apollo 18.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-12 02:48 am (UTC)
How did you know where to buy a CD the first time you did?
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[User Picture]From: conform
2011-07-17 11:07 pm (UTC)
By 1992, pretty much every music store that sold new music had CDs, so I'm not sure I had to think much about it. I'm pretty sure I bought it at a chain store at the local mall.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-18 06:01 am (UTC)
Oh, my question wasn't about the medium; it was about how you knew how to buy music at all.

I vow that if I have kids, they'll grow up having spent time in the record store. I don't want them to have to be afraid of going into record stores like I was. (Of course, this limits where I can live to "places that will still have record stores in circa 2016".)
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[User Picture]From: tornadogrrrl
2011-07-08 08:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. It is so evocative of that kind of new discovery and joy. Lovely.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-09 05:50 am (UTC)
Thanks, Megan! As Alex can attest (by the fact that I didn't go to bed until 3 a.m. last night, because I was up writing this), I work pretty hard on writing these journal entries well.
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[User Picture]From: deepdistraction
2011-07-09 06:22 pm (UTC)
I would like to point out that I found that particular summer camp, and signed you up for it. I thought it would be wonderful for you. It was!

Also, while I may have rolled my eyes at your professions of love for the young man whose name I don't recall, I remember enabling his visit by working with his rather skeptical parents to retrieve him, host him for a night and deliver him back to them even though he lived some 90 miles from our home. This involved a lot of waiting at an I-35 truck stop, as I recall, the local name for which is 'Boondocks.' To underline our home's remoteness.

And lastly, while my first reaction about your enthusiasm for a band that, so far as I could tell, had named themselves after a well-publicized stunt involving the throwing of a pumpkin off a highway overpass, which resulted in the senseless death of a driver passing beneath (at least according to the press at the time), I also recall eventually swallowing my own inhibitative fears and driving you to a Smashing Pumpkins concert venue 3 hours north of us and staying overnight there so you could enjoy the concert with a young man attending college there. Because it was by then clear to me that you were becoming a strong, capable woman whose choices were her own, and my job was to encourage that process.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-10 01:09 am (UTC)
Indeed; all of this is true. I'm very thankful that you were accepting and supportive of all the eyeroll-worthy ridiculousness. (His name was Stephen, incidentally, and the guy I later went to the concert in Minneapolis with was named Ben. (And Ben, you'll recall, also went to the prom with me! I have a long history of having to import guys from faraway places.))
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[User Picture]From: deepdistraction
2011-07-10 03:31 am (UTC)
Clearly you kept your classmates guessing. I was most pleased to have played a part in these shenanigans. Three cheers for the import of international men of mystery into provincial backwaters!
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[User Picture]From: oniugnip
2011-07-11 06:38 am (UTC)
I'm pretty international :)
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[User Picture]From: deepdistraction
2011-07-13 04:07 am (UTC)
And mysterious! As befits a ninja.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-11 10:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, he's off the deep end. Maybe he always was.
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[User Picture]From: catechism
2011-07-13 11:37 pm (UTC)
I love this post. That is all.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-13 11:51 pm (UTC)
Yesssss! I live for the "I love this post. That is all."s that I get from you at the rate of approximately two per decade.
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[User Picture]From: catechism
2011-07-13 11:51 pm (UTC)
Hey, come on, I think we're up to like THREE per decade!
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[User Picture]From: catechism
2011-07-13 11:52 pm (UTC)
Also, I have to say that I appreciate that you link to your posts on twitter, because that means I read them. Yours might be the only LJ I have read in the last six months.
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[User Picture]From: minervacat
2011-07-13 11:59 pm (UTC)
catechism linked me here, and I, too, love this post. Thank you so much.
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2011-07-18 06:01 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
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[User Picture]From: jes5199
2011-07-21 05:11 am (UTC)
I don't remember how it happened that I discovered pop music, but I remember that 12-year-old me smuggled a portable radio in his jacket, threaded a speaker from a pair of headphones through the sleeve, and listened to a faintly whispering FM while pretending to be asleep in class.
I'm pretty sure that my first CDs came in the mail - like, "buy 8 CDs for a penny if you commit to buying 11 more this year!" - I'm not sure how I got away with that, either.
I didn't really have a favorite band, there were some songs I liked by Aerosmith and by Counting Crows, and I used to leave MTV on while I played video games (I had three TVs in my room, for a while). I know I started doing that early enough that I got the news from Kurt Loder that Kurt Cobain had gone into a coma (while I was playing Final Fantasy Six)
but even though there's several years from there where I was eagerly absorbing all the pop that existed, I remember a sense of the overwhelming joy the day that the video for Tonight Tonight premiered (wikipedia says it was april 1996, so I was 15, and the thing that was the 90s was finally really taking off)
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[User Picture]From: jes5199
2011-07-21 05:19 am (UTC)
of course, that means, to me, "The End Is the Beginning Is the End", was an exciting hint of a comeback, and "Ave Adore" was a disappointment. but you know, context.
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