Following the unexpected critical success of their debut album Gish, the Smashing Pumpkins crafted a modern masterpiece that would help define a generation with their follow-up, 1993’s Siamese Dream.
It’s a record of unparalleled scope and limitless emotional depth, and one whose completion notoriously almost killed the band (that’s not even hyperbole: Billy Corgan has talked at length about his suicidal ideation during the recording process of Siamese Dream, not to mention the multiple drug-related disappearances of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and the tumultuous ongoing breakup of the romantic partnership between bassist D’arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha).
It was a perfect storm of personal horror that yielded what is arguably a perfect record.
Having recently survived a severe mental health crisis, Billy Corgan used the wreckage from that experience as kindling for his most honest and vulnerable lyrics to date. Themes range from eating disorders and self-harm all the way to familicide.
The nature of these topics was bound to land the Pumpkins in some degree of hot water, but it was outright misinterpretation for the lyrics that wound up getting them banned.
According to Billy Corgan,”Disarm,” the third single from Siamese Dream, is about his fraught relationship with his parents. He has gone as far as to say “I never really had the guts to kill my parents, so I wrote a song about it instead.” If that isn’t disturbing enough for you, the BBC’s interpretation of his lyrics takes it a step further.
The 1993 case of James Bulger, in which two ten-year-old boys tortured and killed a two-year-old child before leaving him on railway tracks to be dismembered by an oncoming train, was the subject of considerable media attention in the UK. Much of the British public attributed the “Disarm’s” lyrics to the murder, although these events were not well known outside of the country.
It was further assumed that the lyrics were a reference to abortion, citing phrases from the song such as “The killer in me is the killer in you,” and “Cut that little child inside of me, is such a part of you.” It was the controversy surrounding these implications that led to the song being banned from the BBC’s Top of the Pops music television program and its radio play becoming largely restricted.
Needless to say, banning the song in order to appease myopic anti-woman pearl clutchers didn’t hurt its popularity. “Disarm” reached number 11 on the UK singles chart and remains one of the Smashing Pumpkins’ most beloved songs.