Longing and the Gothic within The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mayonnaise”

by Kate Oliver

The band The Smashing Pumpkins has many songs that can be considered in the genre of “Gothic” with their sad lyrics, long, heartfelt guitar riffs, and Billy Corgan‘s voice in general, but my personal favorite is “Mayonnaise.” Even the title itself is an almost Gothic choice, ironic as you are thinking of sandwich condiments, then the song rips into your very brain and forces you to consider your life in ways you may never have before. 

The album cover even evokes the Gothic. Siamese Dream depicts two girls dressed in costume, as typical of children’s play:

The picture itself seems to be a longing for the past, for the simplicity childhood brings. They are smiling, laughing—they are happy. This is something that the entirety of the album seems to draw on, loss, however “Mayonnaise” really exposes this perpetual nostalgia often found in adulthood. 

The song opens softly at first, then, as typical of 1990’s grunge, goes into a harder guitar solo that you feel in your soul. Corgan’s voice is indescribable—I honestly feel as if it would be almost unpleasant to hear if not paired with the music, due to just how piercing and raw it can be. It suits him so well, and you can feel the emotion in it. The band as a whole is very talented; they how to create a song that is like nothing you have ever heard before. Pictured circa 1993:  

Corgan begins: 

Fool enough to almost be it

Cool enough to not quite see it


Pick your pockets full of sorrow

And run away with me tomorrow


Like, what does that mean? It goes along perfectly with the Gothic—for me, the song seems to be about growing old, nostalgia, observing yourself in the then vs. the now. Although childhood has long passed and one may be unsure of where life is going, the future is bright—June. You are doomed if you do not seize upon this knowledge. 

It continues, guitar riff bumping:

I send a heart to all my dearies

When your life is so, so dreary


I’m rumored to the straight and narrow

While the harlots of my perils


Mother weep the years I’m missing

All our time can’t be given


Shut my mouth and strike the demons

That cursed you and your reasons

Out of hand and out of season

Out of love and out of feeling

So bad

It almost feels like a Poe novel, the darkness of the lyrics having to be deciphered and revealing the narrator’s deepest insecurities regarding not only himself but whoever he is talking to. Perhaps he is even just talking to himself. “When your life is so, so dreary / Dream,” similar to the narrators in “Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” “Ligeia,” the narrator is compelled by possible dreams of a different life. But unlike most of these characters, he is attempting to move into something greater, not linger with his demons. He is tortured by his past self, trying to understand how to move forward, “all our time can’t be given / Back.” He understands that he can no longer live this way, trying to reclaim nostalgia and an out-of-reach way of being.

The lyrics from the beginning verse are then repeated, coming to a more worthy conclusion:

Fool enough to almost be it

And cool enough to not quite see it

And old enough to always feel this

Always old, I’ll always feel this

He realizes he was almost overcome by these feelings of longing, and he will always sometimes feel this way. It is a part of growing old, and growing old you always are. 

The song concludes with a declaration of acceptance of the self:

No more promise no more sorrow

No longer will I follow

Can anybody hear me

I just want to be me

When I can, I will

Try to understand

That when I can, I will

He will no longer follow this pining perspective—”no more sorrow.” He is yelling out into a void (and trust me, Billy Corgan is yelling) that he just wants to be himself. His understanding of this self will only progress, and he will take it as he can. For now he is content with at least the knowledge that this is possible. 

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One Response to Longing and the Gothic within The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mayonnaise”

  1. mallery says:

    Hey Kate,
    Your post really opened my eyes into what one would consider Gothic music. I do not really listen to The Smashing Pumpkins, only their big hits I suppose. But the way you describe the song made me decide to listen to it while reading your post a second time. I like how you turned the message of life passing a person by into something that can be consider Gothic. Because I think that you are right, nostalgia is one of the downsides of transitioning into an adult. I like how you pointed on the album cover for Mayonnaise before anything else. I found that to be a great and strong piece of evidence for setting up your overall argument. I like how you compared the lyrics to Poe because the lyrics alone made me feel like I was reading a Poe poem. And tying Mayonnaise to the dream-like scape of an alternate life that is found in so many of Poe’s works was great. Poe’s themes are so focused on life and death, I am glad that you were able to tie that to the main point of Mayonnaise. Another aspect that I found great about your post was the original and personal touch that you gave it. An example being putting your own personal thoughts in parentheses at the end of sentences. I felt like you were talking to an actual person rather than just stating facts and hoping the reader would get it. Overall, this post was great with strong evidence as to why you’d label Mayonnaise as a Gothic work. Really great job!

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