While the upbeat arrangement and catchy chorus of “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins may suggest that it’s a happy song, when you take a closer look at the lyrics you’ll find that it is very much not a happy song.
Released in 1993 as the second single from the band’s breakout sophomore album, Siamese Dream, “Today” (along with “Disarm) helped to make the Smashing Pumpkins famous. Now it is seen as one of the band’s signature songs, and one of the decade-defining songs of the 90s.
With lyrics by frontman and guitarist Billy Corgan, “Today” uses irony to express feelings of suicidal depression that coincide with how the singer was feeling about his life at the time.
He has spoken on this extensively over the years, including notably in an 2000 airing of VH1 Storytellers.
During this session, Corgan plays a full acoustic concert and discusses the background of each song before he plays it. The first song he does is none other than “Today”, before which he shares with the audience the emotional state he was in while writing the song:
It was written in a very difficult period of my life. We had put out our first album Gish in 1991. We did the tour for about 14 months, the longest we had been on tour before that was about 20 days. After the tour, I entered into the worst writing slump I’d ever had. Being in public brought out a lot of feelings that I had repressed from childhood…I found myself confronted with all these demons I thought I had locked away.
I entered into this really horrible part of my life. At one point, I ended up sleeping on D’arcy’s floor. I lived in a parking garage for awhile. I was completely obsessed with killing myself, it became my primary preoccupation. Out of the depths of this despair, I bottomed out and it literally came down to a simple decision: Either kill yourself or get used to it, work, live, and be happy. So I wrote this song….as you can see I chose another kind of death which is rock and roll….at this point in my life it’s a positive song in that it’s about survival.Billy Corggan on the origins of “Today”, VH1 Storytellers, 2000.
You can watch that full session in HD below:
Corgan also shared some details about the meaning of “Today” in the liner notes for the 2011 reissue of Siamese Dream:
The song that changed my life more than any other. The ultimate in irony: a chirpy song about my near-suicide that all the kids can sing along to. Probably would not have been a hit if I had offed myself in the gloaming before its release, but one can still ponder past the graveyard.
I stood in our dingy rehearsal space, amps a-buzzin’, and said, “This song needs an opening bit.” I placed my hands on the guitar, stared down waiting, and without warning out came this chiming clock of anticipation.
I wasn’t sure why I needed to sing ‘I want to turn you on,’ but in hindsight it makes perfect sense locked in the dust of a new millennium. We are born, a generation dies soon enough.Billy Corgan on the meaning of “Today”, 2011.
It goes without saying that we are all glad Billy Corgan decided not to kill himself, because the world would have never heard many of the great songs that he has written with the Smashing Pumpkins since then, nor would they have gotten the chance to see the band perform them live.
They do say that the greatest art often comes from the darkest times, and “Today” is a shining example of that.
“Today” Lyrics Meaning
The song begins with a quiet guitar melody that soon transforms into a big, booming and distorted wall of sound. Then, before the opening chorus, the distortion drops out and we have another gentle period that gives Corgan space to sing:
Today is the greatestFirst chorus to “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Day I’ve ever known
Can’t live for tomorrow
Tomorrow’s much too long
I’ll burn my eyes out
Before I get out
Right away, the lyrics proclaim that today is the best day ever.
However, this is quickly proven to be sarcasm, as Billy essentially says that he doesn’t want to live for tomorrow, because it’s taking too long to get there. He plans to burn his eyes out before he gets out of “Today”.
This draws a dark contrast between the positive affirmation that begins the chorus and the realities of the singer’s mental health at the time.
As Corgan offers up the darker imagery at the end of the chorus, the song begins to pick up pace again, and the distorted guitars drop back in as he sings the first verse:
I wanted moreFirst verse to “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Than life could ever grant me
Bored by the chore
Of saving face
Corgan’s voice comes through the fuzz, lamenting a life of disappointment that could never possibly live up to his hopes and dreams. He finds himself bored of trying to save face, or avoid rejection and humiliation around his peers.
Next up we have the second chorus, which again draws a dark contrast between the positivity of “Today is the greatest…” and the opposite reality that he faces:
Today is the greatestSecond chorus to “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Day I’ve ever known
Can’t wait for tomorrow
I might not have that long
I’ll tear my heart out
Before I get out
Here, Billy says that he can’t wait for tomorrow, because he might not make it that long. He’s going to rip his heart out before he gets out of “Today”.
The second verse brings more distortion and lyrics of depression:
Pink ribbon scarsSecond verse to “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
That never forget
I tried so hard
To cleanse these regrets
My angel wings
Were bruised and restrained
My belly stings
When he sings of “pink ribbon scars,” he is either referring to scars of drug addiction or scars of self-harm, both of which serve as constant reminders for the low point that they represent.
No matter how hard he tries, he can’t rid himself of his demons. He wants to fly away and become an angel, i.e. die, but his wings are bruised and tied.
This could be because he is supported by friends and family who care about him and won’t let him die, or it could be a reference to childhood trauma that has caused him to be emotionally stunted.
His “belly stings” either because of self-harm or because of the ingestion of a substance that causes an upset stomach, like pills or alcohol (which may also be taken for self-harm purposes).
Corgan is losing grip as we reach the third chorus:
Today isThird chorus to “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
The greatest day, ooh
Ooh, oh, oh, ooh
The bridge is strange and at first does not seem to fit with the rest of the lyrics to the song, but there are some possible interpretations:
One possibility is that Corgan is singing to an ex-lover, whom he hopes to “turn on” once again, and rekindle their relationship.
He also may be talking about drugs, and wanting to turn others onto them so that he has someone to get high with, someone else to hang out with at rock bottom.
The song ends with one final chorus, and we ride the distorted wave of guitars to the finish line.
Watch the music video for “Today” by The Smashing Pumpkins below.