The Smashing Pumpkins

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uppladdat: 2002-02-04
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For more or less twelve years Billy Corgan fed both the music industry and starving fans with The Smashing Pumpkins. A rock band, avowed being America’s most innovative, that survived the 90’s despite deaths, drugs, dropouts and pop music. Remarkably the new millennium wasn’t the beginning of something smashing new for the Pumpkins, it was the beginning of the end. Only a few months after releasing their fifth and last official album MACHINA/ The Machines of God, Billy Corgan pulled the plug and declared his band dead. This was news that only confirmed the fans’ worst apprehensions, but made critics and other music scholars snort and proclaim that this was the best thing they’ve ever done. Mostly because of their latter two albums didn’t sell as much as they were expecting to do. Jimmy Chamberlain, drummer of The Smashing Pumpkins, describes it as “watching your kid flunking out of school after getting straight A´s for ten years”.

The “Billy is god”-phenomenon

Billy Corgan was undoubtedly the front man and leader of The Smashing Pumpkins; no one ever really questioned his position or authority. He wrote almost all songs by himself and their fourth album, Adore, was considering more being Billy Corgan’s album than The Smashing Pumpkins’. Billy Corgan didn’t leave much room for the other band members, both literally and figuratively. He was an egomaniac dinosaur with shaved head, gothic gowns and a voice that could, and still can, break windows. The others surely felt suffocated by Billy’s believes of being a divine creature. This is something I refer to as the “Billy is god”-phenomenon. In several lyrics and interviews you discern Billy’s own assertions of his divinity. Especially in an extract from their song Glass and the Ghost Children (for complete lyrics see appendix 1) where Billy believes he’s acting upon a heavenly intuition “So, like, I started thinking that everything I operate on is based on what I believe god was telling me to do. God could be my intuition or whatever but I always assume that the voice I hear is the voice of god”.

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Billy’s thoughts affected his admirers. It’s not so conceivable that every fan with a common sense believed that Billy Corgan actually is god. Though, for the most fanatic fans it most likely was an aim to believe that Billy Corgan was or operated upon god himself, and this is almost certainly the most essential part of the “Billy is god”-phenomenon. The Smashing Pumpkins’ own record label actually did a research once showing that “the fans of Smashing Pumpkins were the most devoted of all the artist in their book”, though, you could question the relevancy in this survey! The high devotion could also be a result of high expectations from the band; Billy Corgan once told his fans in an interview that they weren’t real fans until they worshipped and glorified the ground he’d walked on. It maybe was a try to fulfil those rock star dreams with devotees and an endless supply of materialistic necessities!

The interpretations can be many when different people try to understand Billy Corgan’s lyrics with all those presumed veiled secrets and prophecies. The songs Glass and the Ghost Children and Zero seem to be people’s favourite target for pseudo-analyses. Though, if you were a witness of Smashing Pumpkins’ last tour you probably understood there actually was some kind of hidden agenda behind Billy Corgan’s change of clothes – from a white gown to a black – half through the concert. Was he going from good to evil? Was it illustrating himself going from being an innocent preacher to become this insane goth-diva? Probably most people think he is being pretentious, and that’s probably what he is too. It’s an interesting point of view though, is the stardom too much for Billy Corgan? Is it going way over his head or does he really deserve the appreciation he has received and achieved? You can’t deny that he in fact is a very good songwriter and a very prolific one! He is in the same league as other famous songwriters such as John Lennon when it comes to write many songs. Billy Corgan is absolutely not underestimated, but his powers easily overestimated. Especially if you’re high on euphoria after being a spectator of a concert or manically been listening to their records several hours in a row! In some interviews he admitted having a hard time dealing with his celebrity and that he had to mend his wounds with therapy. But probably the wounds are much deeper than that, as many other rock stars he experienced a difficult childhood. As a child of divorced parents he was shuffled around from one family member to another and ended up living with his stepmother, which he had very little in common.

Last Song – a beginning of an end

On the same spot as The Smashing Pumpkins made their debut in 1988 they also finished their very last tour on December 2nd 2000. At the very crowded club Cabaret Metro in Chicago people patiently were longing for The Smashing Pumpkins to enter the stage and do their very last performance ever. The band had grown and become so enormously much bigger than the band they were twelve years ago, and so had their audience. Proportionally the situation was quite bizarre. The expectations were high and many had paid over 1300 dollars for a ticket. But disappointed was a word erased from everyone’s vocabulary that night. The set lasted for more than four and a half hour; James Iha (guitar player) thanked D’Arcy (former bass player, but also James’ former girlfriend) and told her he still loved her. Apparently everyone burst into tears and the ending couldn’t be more perfect for the beloved Pumpkins.

The doom and the gloom

Forming the band Smashing Pumpkins was obviously a lot much easier than living with it, and ultimately eradicate it. The beginning was apparently not more complicated than the fact that Billy Corgan wanted to start a band named The Smashing Pumpkins, he knew what he wanted and made his wishes come true. In 1988 Billy Corgan was introduced to the guitarist James Iha, they became the first version of Smashing Pumpkins, next to join was D’Arcy. Their first meeting actually started with an argument between her and Billy, but love always begin with a fight and the third wheel became the third member. Joe Shannahan, owner of the small club Cabaret Metro was very impressed by this three-piece band, and promised them a gig at his club if they just got a drummer. Billy Corgan hired a drummer from JP and the Cats; the drummer’s name was Jimmy Chamberlain. The gig was now a date - and a ramp for Smashing Pumpkins’ rocket to rock’n’roll universe! The eventually got a record deal, recorded and released two successful albums between 1991 and 1993.

Things looked bright and in 1995 while touring for their third and best-selling album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, they hired another band member. His name was Jonathan Melvoin and he had the prestige job as the keyboardist. Though, the keyboardist turned out to be a real black sheep. A year later both Melvoin and Chamberlain took an overdose of drugs, Chamberlain survived but Melvoin died! Due to his drug problems Chamberlain is forced to leave the band. This is a difficult time for the whole band emotionally and creatively. To replace Chamberlain a certain Matt Walker from rock band Filter is asked to join them – and so he does. In 1997 they start to record their, earlier mentioned, fourth album Adore. The album reaches no greater success since it’s, to quote Billy Corgan’s exact words, “more distant […] with more simple songs and still have them to be very affective, without, you know, the typical Pumpkin accoutrement”. Many of their elder fans were disappointed; they expected the usual “pumpkin sound” and accoutrement but instead got this calm and quiet album dedicated to Billy Corgan’s late biological mother, who’d passed away in cancer.

Now when The Smashing Pumpkins had played nearly everything from grunge to electronica it was very exciting to see what the birth of their fifth album, MACHINA/The Machines of God, had to bare. That Jimmy Chamberlain was the band’s drummer again was also a fact. Apparently this excitement wasn’t enough, rumours spread via Internet and words of mouth that The Smashing Pumpkins were about to split! Geno Lenardo, also from rock band Filter, told in an interview from early 2000 “Billy expressed to me that this is it - this is the last time he will go out as the Pumpkins - and he wants to conquer the world, do it one last time and go out with a big boom”. Was this the extinction of the dinosaur? And yes, Billy Corgan later confirmed that this was true.

So why did The Smashing Pumpkins split? Conflicts and dissonances within the band had with no doubt influence on Billy Corgan’s destructive tendencies to break up the band. Billy Corgan was way ahead with his own plans that the rest of the band members began to feel that they were more likely a detriment than an asset. This might be one of the contributions that led to D’Arcy, bass player of The Smashing Pumpkins, left the band for her career as an actress. Melissa Auf Der Maur, more know as the bass player in grunge band Hole, replaced her. Melissa Auf Der Maur joined The Smashing Pumpkins knowing that she was a bass player in a doomed band. After their last tour, The Sacred and The Profane, they would put their instruments down and resign. Almost all concerts sold well and the tour went well too, though the album still sold very poorly.

It was also known that The Smashing Pumpkins had problems with their current record label Virgin Records. They obviously had a bad relationship with their manager at the time, Sharon Osbourne. She resigned as a manager of The Smashing Pumpkins “due to medical reasons”, apparently someone in the band made her feel sick. She was not shy to later point out that this someone was Billy Corgan, according to netzine Dotmusic. The band now was without a record deal; Billy Corgan was delighted “I´m out of my deal so I´m no longer an indentured servant. We´re free agents no, we´re done with our commitment to Virgin”. Obviously everything was very tense and turbulent at the time, and looking back makes you wonder why the band even managed to stay alive as long as they did. Billy Corgan once revealed that the band probably would have remained and maybe reached same heights as U2 and REM if they’d kept their original edition of band members - if they’d kept being Smashing Pumpkins with Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’Arcy and James Chamberlain. If these visions of his were true, the band already was doomed while reaching their first huge success with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It’s easy to be wise after the event.

In your dreams of Glass – the present and the future

Being without a record deal did definitely not stop The Smashing Pumpkins from releasing records. They printed a mere 25 copies of a 3 EP/ 2 LP box set titled Machina II: The Friends And Enemies Of Modern Music which were given to a selected group of friends and fans to be disseminated for free via the Internet. A quite pleasant gift for mourning fans, but there was more to come. Billy Corgan gave another birth to one of his, seemingly endless, figments of his imagination: Glass - the main character of his modern fable The Mystery of Machina (for extracts from Mystery of Machina, see appendix 2). Mystery? Yes! Confusing? Definitely! With a touch of Billy Corgan’s fingers and a magic breath from today’s Internet he brought life into Glass. Glass is the artificial lead singer in the artificial band THE MACHINES OF GOD, the biggest band on earth on a mission, from god, to change the world – all this according to the fable. You’re sometimes not sure if this has finally completed the Smashing Pumpkins circle, or just made everything less understandable. Though, this isn’t something remarkably new, Gorillaz was first to break-through commercially wit...

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Inactive member [2002-02-04]   The Smashing Pumpkins
Mimers Brunn [Online]. http://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=1023 [2018-10-20]

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