Cover Stories: Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Siamese Dream’
The artwork for Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream might not be quite as iconic as the Clash's London Calling, nor was it created by a legend like the cover for Muse's Absolution. That's no matter: The sleeve oozes charm, capturing the sort of childhood closeness for which we all feel nostalgic now and then. I've always liked to believe that's what the album's title alludes to – the dream of being so close to someone as to feel literally connected.
That title and the close proximity of the two little girls pictured on its cover led many to assume they were conjoined twins. Billy Corgan even seemed to have a little fun with this assumption back in 2007, when he posted that the band were looking for their 1993 cover girls "who are not conjoined anymore, as far as we know." In fact, they never were. We know this for one very simple reason: We know the identity of one of the two girls pictured on the album cover, and she has no siblings attached to her side. The girl to the right in the photo is Ali Laenger. When the FW posted a recent photo of Laenger in 2012, they noted that she now works as both a model and a designer.
As for her front cover friend; well, that's where things get a little weird. On February 17, 2011, Corgan tweeted: "Just found out the weirdest news: our bass player Nicole [Fiorentino] just admitted she is one of the girls on the cover of Siamese Dream. She said she didn't want us to know because she thought maybe we wouldn't let her in the band." The news sent the music media into hyperdrive, but it took Rolling Stone less than a day to discredit the claim. However, the magazine hedged its bets with the disclaimer that "in the off chance this is true, it would be one of the most bizarre stories in rock history."
Laenger weighed in on the topic, too, telling TMZ that Fiorentino was definitely not her photo buddy, citing the age discrepancy between the bassist and the cover girls at the time of the photo. Fiorentino would have been around 14 years old when the photo was taken, while the Siamese Dream girls appear to be half that age. Laenger also noted that the photo was taken specifically for the album cover, disputing Fiorentino's claim that it was a candid shot that the band just happened to use. Rolling Stone verified that the cover photo was a staged shot by talking to an assistant to cover photographer Melodie McDaniel.
And so we know that the album's cover does not feature conjoined twins and that one of the two girls is Ali Laenger and the other is not Nicole Fiorentino. What we don't know is the identity of that other little girl, which is something of a miracle in the internet age. We can tell you the name of the baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind and even the dog on Weezer's Raditude but that cute little face nuzzling Laenger's cheek remains a mystery. The best we can do is cite a report from the music blog Hipsters United, which identified her as "Lysandra R."
Another thing that's not a mystery: the identity of another little girl pictured in the old photo on the back of the album's booklet. In a 2005 blog entry, Corgan identified the girl in the moon as a childhood photo of his mother, Martha, whom he honored again on the album Adore with the song "For Martha." In the same blog entry, he discusses the creation of the booklet's interior artwork, a collection of old photographs adorned with the album's handwritten lyrics.
"We only have this single afternoon to finish everything, or the album will be pushed back," Corgan wrote. "Any attempt to this point of working with the label to get what I want artwork-wise have proven to be frustrating and disappointing…so it falls on my shoulders at the last second to get it done, and Chris [Fabian, Corgan's wife at the time] is recruited in because of her art school background… taking copies of a bunch of old photos, some of strangers and some of my family, we draw and write the lyrics on them in such a way to evoke a lost photo album (like one would find in somebody’s attic)…"
Inevitably, we're left to conclude that the cover of Siamese Dream works so well not because of its sentimentality, but rather because of its false sentimentality. We feel nostalgic for the friendship of little Ali and the other girl (name TBD) for a manufactured lost photo album from an attic that doesn't exist. This is what good art does. It allows the viewer room to project his or her own narrative onto the image.
So you go ahead and stay anonymous, Lysandra R. Leave us a little bit of mysterious space in which we can create our own Siamese dreams.