Reclaimed Timbre: Waiting Forever on the Sidewalk for the Machina CD Release.

(Music Subseries: 002)

It was leap year 2000, or at least a couple of hours leading up to the rare 29th of February – twenty years ago as I write this. Dave and I took the one-hour trip to the north side in hopes of procuring the CD release of the new Smashing Pumpkins album Machina/The Machines of God. We knew they were performing in-store but we didn’t have high hopes of making it to that. If we could just be there at midnight for the album release meet-n-greet, all would perfect.

Passing by Comisky Park, playing Pumpkins’ cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming” on my Maxell CD-R, smashed to the brim with b-sides, never fully sure of exactly where I was going once I passed Blue Island, heading north, turning left, looking right…

Either Dave had directions to Tower Records in Lincoln Park, or I might have dialed-up to a friend’s Acer to scribble rudimentary Mapquest directive on the back of my Taco Bell receipt.

A tower of Babel with musical genres spreading as wide as language across continents – a multiple floored haven for the album collector and music enthusiast with full on displays, box sets, shelf after shelf of import. Its only true rival was Virgin Megastore on Michigan Avenue. These places are relics I never understood would vanish. I should have taken higher advantage. Instead I spent most of my time music shopping at our shitty local mall.

I remember parking in perhaps a hospital lot or some other place where I didn’t feel like we were actually supposed to be parking. But hey, when you’re from the suburbs, taking a gamble on parking in any random lot seems worth it compared to the combination of decrypting terrifying street signs and then parallel parking, often times in front of people. Not to mention the worry that comes along with figuring out how to pay a parking meter with your greasy ass quarter.

As I think about this, my memory harkens back to later that same year when we would see Pumpkins play during the Sacred & Profane tour, only to leave the venue at 1am after second encore, to find my car missing. I/we decided it would be ok to park in a JJ Peppers parking lot on Lawrence and walk a few blocks to The Aragon. Never did it cross our minds just why no one else seemed to have this same sense of brilliancy in terms of puzzle-solving. All we knew was our ingenuity. Suckers, all. (This came crashing down on our trek to the impound, right as an oddball acquaintance pulled up in a limousine, only to leave us in a plume of exhaust).

I might blame my parents for all of this due to a Freudian unconscious, but I think overall my priming for a trending decision-making process that would lead me to park in a convenience store parking lot for a concert, led from a pathway of influence garnered by cultureless, clueless, suburban fear; and suburbia is a place I have vowed to never raise babies.

As we walked down Clark Street toward Tower Records the horizon slowly magnified and we began to see the line of people on the sidewalk, stretching around the corner. We knew immediately that we were not going to see the in-store performance. No, we then knew the remainder of our night would consist of us standing on the sidewalk for hours with other nerds, and honestly we didn’t even know if we would make it in to the store at all. This practice was nothing new at the time, and it would never quite leave my life as it would slowly shift from concert ticket lines to becoming entrenched in beer geek culture some time later, waiting on line with other bearded nerds in hopes of procuring special release beer bottles.

In the first hour of standing there in line, we gazed in everlasting childlike wonderment as the assumed owner of a turquoise Geo Tracker attempted to parallel park for at least five minutes. We watched the operator as she mechanically backed in to and out of a janky spot, half-cocked and subpar, with angles too obtuse, then entirely acute, undercompensating over and over.

On the sixth or seventh try this individual, undoubtedly from Schaumburg, managed to pull a second-rate parking ticket worthy park job. Upon exodus from the Geo Tracker the line of Pumpkins fans abruptly exploded into riotous applause, shifting focus from boredom to this immediate deity of unintentional humor. A concert in its own right.

Do you see now why my teenage self felt motivated to avoid being this target at all costs?

We stood there as sunshowers set, silhouetting the buildings. We stood there debating Pumpkins canon, merit, lyrical meaning in the Billy Corgan songbook, subtext, Adore. The things we talked about of peak importance, before Kid A would be released, and before we could legally get in to bars.

We stood there as a Chicago news crew came and went, and we stood there even after security came out to inform us Pumpkins had left the building.

I’ll be honest; I wanted to leave at that point. I didn’t have any reason at the time to not believe a guy in a uniform with a plastic badge telling me my night’s efforts were futile. Why in my oblivious, insular world would anyone like that lie to me?

Thankfully Dave was not as gullible as I, and that combined with peer pressure and a general lack of personal accountability, we continued to persist, even as crowds of Pumpkinheads began to peel off and hop in their sad machines, dejected. For there was no Spotify. Most of the droves would have to wait until the next day to buy and hear the new CD. Suckers, all.

We remained astute and we remained determined. We made it in to Tower Records after midnight. The line snaked around tables and record shelves all the way up to The Smashing Pumpkins sitting at a table. Billy, James, Jimmy and, well, Melissa Auf der Maur, at the time.

I picked up the Machina CD for signing. I can’t recall if I paid for it before or after or at all. All I remember is opening it while in line, looking for the best place on the liner notes to get my autographs as I trudged forward in the corral.

“Jeez Louise”, James Iha remarked after asking someone how long we’ve been waiting outside.

I got up the nervous guts to ask Billy in what I can only describe as a pre-pubescent sounding, crackling, squeaky voice, “What does Machines of God mean?”

That was it. That’s what I had come up with after about four hours of standing on a sidewalk with nothing to do but think. “What does Machines of God mean?”

With a twinkle in his eye like Mark Twain he kindly, quickly, and warmly responded, “Aw, you can’t ask me that.”

He and the others signed my new CD and before I knew what hit me, I was ushered away from my heroes forever, shoved backward down a big plastic, curly slide only to land in a pile of cotton-fake snow, to lie in the sewage of my own regret, and recall the dread of my stupid question which I knew would echo the halls of my eternal reverberation.

We hopped in my black Nissan Sentra which nobody towed, slammed the doors, and put on the new CD for the drive home. Heading down Lakeshore Drive, south toward our dwelling, we listened in its entirety.

Knowing full well, owing our due diligence, stubbornness, and lack of obligation, we were in the first small handful of people on earth to witness Machina, Dave and I coasted in to the darkness, a buzz in our hearts with the glow of city lights behind.

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