“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by The Smashing Pumpkins
Let’s be frank. Many of us go through experiences in childhood, as a result of our upbringing, which prove to be psychologically and/or emotionally damaging. Yet at the same time, we never go as far as to actually talk about these incidents in public.
And according to the multi-faceted explanation(s) Billy Corgan provided for this song, that would be the premise upon which “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is based. And that is not to suggest that the lyrics are about his childhood.
But in the chorus, when the vocalist refers to himself as being “still just a rat in a cage”, his aforenoted explanation would imply that said line is historically harping back to his youth.
The Lyrics of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
And with that noted, what the lyrics actually speak to is the externally-sourced emotional turmoil the vocalist is going through in the here and now. It is what we on this blog generally refer to as a success-is-not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be kinda song, i.e. Corgan’s roundabout detailing of the negative aspects that come with being a star.
Or explained differently yet again in light of what has been put forth in the first paragraph (at the beginning of this post), the vocalist asserts that “the world is a vampire”. But he’s not making that statement solely in reference of what he’s presently going through.
Rather that assertion is based on his lifelong experiences. And such would be just the surface meaning of this song, i.e. Billy seeking sympathy, if you will, from those who may judge him negatively. Or explained alternatively yet again, a less-than-ideal characteristic one may notice he possesses now may have actually been formed in childhood.
And again, as complicated as the above may read, that’s just the surface meaning of the lyrics. In relation to that, there are also a couple of Biblical references made, one of Job and the other of Jesus.
As far as personal suffering goes, Job is perhaps the most notable character of the Old Testament, having an entire book dedicated more or less to his misfortunes. And in the pre-chorus, what the vocalist puts forth is that like Job, he is too dedicated to keeping ‘his cool’. He would not let the harrowing circumstances of his life overcome him.
But as far as the Jesus reference goes, it has been interpreted quite interestingly by some analysts, as alluding to two ideas. One would be Billy also recognizing Jesus as someone who has endured his fair share of suffering or more to the point being a figure that others looks up to as a shining of example in that regard.
But as for the vocalist himself, he seems to reject that notion, i.e. Jesus being the savoir, if you will. And to support that understanding, analysts who adhere to it also point to the statement that highlights the outro. The statement in question finds him singing that he ‘still believes that he cannot be saved’.
Is Corgan Anti-Jesus?
Now it may be easy to jump to the conclusion that Corgan is being anti-Jesus. But such is not how the lyrics read, honestly speaking. Instead, what it appears the vocalist is saying is that he personally feels that he is not worthy of redemption.
In fact more open-minded logic would dictate that “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” may actually be a Smashing Pumpkins’ version of a gospel. And if one were to look up how Billy Corgan personally views and practices as far as religion goes, then it becomes more obvious that such may well be the case. That is to say that by the looks of things, he doesn’t have any type of actual beef with Jesus whatsoever.
So in closing, let’s say that a more reasonable explanation for this piece is that it is actually Biblically inspired. No, this is not an argument that Corgan and co. are actually Christians or even religious for that matter.
Rather, Billy’s own suffering has caused him to remember certain Biblical characters who reportedly went through similar experiences. In other words, like a prophet in a manner of speaking, he perceives the entire world to be in a messed up state for a lot of people resident therein.
But that said, he is not as optimistic or faithful as a Job or Jesus as far as such matters (i.e. being depressed) is concerned. Instead he perceives the mass suffering of mankind, if you will, as an inescapable aspect of existence. He sees it as one that is even germinated, as put forth earlier, during our youth when we don’t even fully understand what depression is.
With all of that being noted, the title itself doesn’t seem to make an appearance in this piece. But what it would ultimately allude to is life being deceptively dangerous. Dangerous not so much from a physical standpoint but more along the lines of its ability to demoralize and discourage.
The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins is a group hailing from Chicago, and they rank amongst the most well-known turn-of-the-century alt-rockers. During their heyday, they were able to win two Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy Awards. One of these awards was for “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”. The said Grammy was awarded in 1997.
When was “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” released?
It was released on 23 October 1995. This track is from the band’s third studio album, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”. The entire project came to us via Virgin Records.
And to note said outing firmly remains Smashing Pumpkins’ most-successful album to date. It achieved the elusive diamond certification (i.e. 10,000,000 copies sold stateside) from the RIAA.
More Facts about “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was a relatively-humble success itself. It was certified gold in the US. The song performed most impressively chart-wise up north (i.e. in Canada). Here, it was ranked the 1995 year-end number one on the Canada Rock/Alternative list.
This single may not have received ample love in the band’s homeland when it was first dropped. However, its greatness was recognized about a decade later by the likes of VH1 and Rolling Stone. VH1 named it one of the “100 Greatest Hard Rocks Songs”. Rolling Stone also included it in their list of “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”.
This song was written by Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan. It’s writing dates back to 1993 when the band was recording their second studio album, “Siamese Dreams”. And Corgan is also credited as the track’s producer, alongside prominent British behind-the-scenes’ men Alan Moulder and Flood.
Corgan is now a baldy, but there was a time when he possessed locks of hair. And the music video to this track is noted as being the last The Smashing Pumpkins filmed before he shaved his head.
Said music video was partially inspired by pictures taken by Sebastião Salgado. Salgado is an award-winning Brazilian photographer. The video itself was directed by prolific music video director Samuel Bayer. Bayer also directed the music video to Nirvana’s iconic song “Smells Like Teen Spirit“.
Kid Cudi interpolated “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” into a track he dropped in 2018 entitled “The Rage”. And that is perhaps the most notable usage of this classic in pop media to date. and the reason is because Cudi’s “The Rage” served as part of the soundtrack to a movie that came out that same year entitled Rampage starring Hollywood A-lister The Rock.