Smashing Young Man

The song “Smashing Young Man” by Collective Soul was a top ten hit on the Mainstream Rock Chart [1] but its most powerful and lasting impact has been to document the hostility of douchebaggery of one particular “smashing young man” as well as provide an anthem for dealing ironically with arrogant people who think too highly of themselves. It is also a song that I tend to sing rather ironically about myself, to add personal meaning to the larger meaning.

There is a significant amount of controversy about the song. For one, though it was long denied by Collective soul lead singer Ed Roland [2], the song is about Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins [3]. It was long denied partly because Ed Roland as a whole seems rather disinclined to comment specifically on the inspiration of his songs, especially when they reflect negatively on others. This is a virtuous position (though not one I personally take), but the song makes much greater sense when one sees the influence of Billy Corgan’s hostility on Collective Soul. The Smashing Pumpkins were once a tremendously influential modern rock band, and they were already successful when Collective Soul had their first hit with “Shine.” Immediately, and without investigating, Billy Corgan loudly insulted the band Collective Soul and claimed in a lawsuit that the band had ripped off their song “Rhinocerous” in “Shine.” As it happens, the song “Shine” came from a 1987 Ed Roland demo that long preceded the obscure “Rhinocerous,” and the lawsuit was dismissed.

It is fairly straightforward to understand the lyrics of “Smashing Young Man” in light of their inspiration by the leader of the now defunct Smashing Pumpkins. The first verse reads as follows: “Beggar’s description/ Of what I’ve been missing./ Exploit your position./ Don’t think I didn’t listen./ Hey I hope you’re feeling/ A little better now. [Instrumental part.] Success is so tragic,/ Pain is your gadget./ Your tongue’s just lashing,/ Just bitching by habit./ Hey I hope you’re feeling/ A little purer now./ Hey I hope you’re feeling/ Securer now [4].”

It’s pretty easy to understand this song being written in light of the lawsuit (one of several that Collective Soul has endured). First, Ed Roland sarcastically comments that the hostility of Billy Corgan for him and for his band exceeds Corgan’s ability to describe what Roland has been missing by being charitable. Despite his lack of a public response, though, Roland wants Corgan to know that he has paid attention to what has been said and how Corgan has tried to exploit his position through the lawsuit and through his rants. He then says that he’s hoping that after the dismissal of the lawsuit Corgan is feeling a little better to know that Ed didn’t steal his song after all because he wrote his first. He then steps up the comments, pointing out the tragic fact that success hasn’t brought happiness to Corgan, but rather increased his suffering. He then says that Corgan’s lashing out at Collective Soul is just a bad habit of ranting, and not reflecting anything genuine or well-thought out. He then comments that he hopes Corgan is feeling a little more pure at having defended his supposed intellectual property rights as well as finding out that his song wasn’t stolen after all, so there is no need to be insecure.

Now comes the chorus: “Help me I plea/ I don’t understand/ Your ways and your means/ You smashing young man./ Help me to see/ The good you have planned./ You’re wearing me thin,/ You smashing young man.” Here we see rather straightforwardly that Roland simply doesn’t understand how Billy Corgan acts or the purpose for his behavior. He doesn’t see how it is good or productive or useful, and he is (perhaps sarcastically) asking Corgan to explain himself and his purpose for such negative and hostile behavior when no such hostility is merited. Personally, I really like the like “you’re wearing me thin,” as it is an ironic personal reference to me.

The second verse reads: “You preach synthetic-like/ Peace is an oversight./ It’s nothing to ignite/ Your self-lit spotlight./ Hey I hope you’re feeling/ A little special now./ Hey I want to tell you/ I think you’re special now.” It would appear as if Roland starts the second verse by mocking the preachy tone of Smashing Young Pumpkin songs considering the rather hostile tone Billy Corgan sneered at his own band. He’s saying that rather than being a preacher of peace, you spew self-righteous hostility in order to show off and put the spotlight on yourself by starting feuds. This is a rather pointed but worthwhile insight. Additionally, Ed further twists the knife by sarcastically commenting that he agrees with Billy Corgan that Corgan is “special,” though probably not in the sort of “special” that he originally intended to be. Oh well.

Finally, the bridge reads: “I don’t recall asking for guidance./ I don’t recall wanting to./ I don’t recall bowing before you,/ But I’m so impressed/ With the kindness in your attitude.” Here the bridge comments on the ironic nature of the Smashing Pumpkins lead singer presuming himself to be a guide to life and superstardom when it is obvious that this is not the case. There seems to be an implicit condemnation of Corgan’s arrogant presumptuousness, while also an ironic dig at his unkindness and bad attitude towards Roland and his band. Here we see that despite the nastiness of Corgan’s actions Roland gets the last laugh by turning it into an ironic masterpiece of understated rock. Even without knowing the lyrics one can sing along to the chorus, unaware that this is a masterfully witty putdown. Knowing all of that makes the song even better.

Suffice it to say, if you’re Billy Corgan, you don’t like this song. But if you happen to like Collective Soul as I do (both for their Christian worldview as well as their modern Southern rock sound), this song is a reminder that putdown songs work best when one has a sense of humor and a taste for witty wordplay. As I happen to like musical feuds (thanks to my own interest in conflict studies, whether it involves musical wars or more literal ones), this song is an excellent example of musical feuding done correctly. For that, Ed Roland deserves a lot of credit. If Collective Soul can put out a few more albums full of songs as good as this one, within five or ten years I may be writing about their deserving place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But that must wait for its appropriate time. Collective Soul is still together and still making worthwhile music long after Billy Corgan has faded into insignificance. I’d say that Collective Soul won this feud hands down.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_Soul_discography

[2] http://www.experts123.com/q/is-smashing-young-man-actually-a-song-about-billy-corgan-of-the-smashing-pumpkins.html

[3] http://www.angelfire.com/wi2/csoulblender/meanings.html

[4] http://lyrics.is/song-smashing-young-man-lyrics-collective-soul.html

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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16 Responses to Smashing Young Man

  1. f00sballfan says:

    I thought the song they supposedly ripped off was Drown, not Rhinoceros. Shine doesn’t sound anything like Rhinoceros, whereas it does share a few similarities with Drown. Not that it matters either way… Corgan is still full of it.

  2. I’m a big Collective Soul fan; on the other hand, I have very little familiarity with the Smashing Pumpkins. However, I recently found a Pumpkin’s DVD called “Viewphoria” at a thrift store and watched some of it. Several songs into the video the Pumpkins played a song which is almost the spitting image of Collective Soul’s song “Reach”; in fact, when the acoustic guitar began playing at the beginning, I thought they were going to do a cover of the song! I was already vaguely familiar with the Roland – Corgan feud, but I couldn’t remember the details. I googled it and was surprised to learn (from your blog) that the song Corgan claimed that Ed ripped off was “Shine” and not this one. (I believe the performances on the Viewphoria DVD are from 1993 -94 so this song probably pre-dates “Reach”.) I’m sorry I don’t know the name of the song on the Video; if you ever watch this DVD you will understand why – it’s very disorganized and like I said, I’m not familiar with their music. However, the resemblance between the two songs is so strong, it’s hard to believe it could be coincidental. I definitely think it might constitute a second chapter of the Roland-Corgan episode!

    • That’s very intriguing, I have to say. It seems possible, even if it is impolite to speculate, that Billy Corgan wanted to take “revenge” for what he viewed as the theft of his song by Collective Soul by ripping off one of their sons as well. I’m intrigued as to the possible relationship between Corgan’s familiarity with the demo material of Collective Soul before their major label release. It is possible that there is more than meets the eye with this story and a lot more to the feud. I will have to investigate the matter more fully.

      • Hi Nathanalbirght! I’m sorry I didn’t have more information at hand when I last posted. I finally had an opportunity to pop the Smashing Pumpkins’ disc back in the player and discover the name of the song in question. It’s the third song from the beginning of the “Vieuphoria” DVD and it’s called “Cherub Rock (acoustic for MTV) (’93)”

        On second listening, maybe it’s not quite a “spitting image” of “Reach”, but I definitely think that given the existence of The Feud and what we know of Corgan’s personality, the resemblence is probably intentional.

      • Thanks for providing more information. I would agree with you that it was probably intentional, though. In Billy Corgan’s eyes, such a thing would be “getting even.”

    • Joshua Schwartz says:

      A few years late here, but FWIW even before I had listened to Collective Soul very much (only knowing a few songs from my parents playing CDs in the car; in particular, I don’t think I had ever heard “Reach”) I thought the intro to “Cherub Rock” sounded very Collective Soul-ish.

      • Ah yes, it’s okay to be a bit late to the party. I try to keep my posts evergreen, and thinking about the beef between Billy Corgan and Collective Soul’s Ed Roland still makes me smile from time to time. Apparently, given the fact that this post has been viewed more than 100 times in the past two days, other people feel the same way :).

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  5. JLE says:

    The song in question is actually “Snail” off of the Pumpkins debut album “Gish”. Corgan plays an A chord motif after the quiet intro of the song which does bare resemblance to the main riff of Collective Soul’s “Shine”, but it literally lasts about 5 seconds and is not repeated again in the song.

    • Thanks for your comments. The real deciding point in the lawsuit was that Collective Soul had been peddling their demo of Shine for many years, and could prove that it was written before the Pumpkins debut came out, so there was no theft, even of a five second sample. Apparently it caused quite a stir, though, and Collective Soul was not exactly thrilled that Smashing Young Man was released as a single either, given the bad blood between them and Corgan. I hope they are not still fighting, though.

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  7. Intelligent Music says:

    SMashing Pumpkins is objectively the better band. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Billy was wrong and was (and continues to be) an ass.

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