Breaking up with Billy Corgan

July 18th, 2007

Pop culture
Sunday, July 8, 2007

It’s hard to be a Smashing Pumpkins fan.

Let me clarify – it’s hard to be a Smashing Pumpkins fan when I’m not 14, living in 1995.

In those days, I’d blown my bar mitzvah gift certificates on Green Day’s “Dookie” and Nirvana’s “In Utero,” but those were the albums my friends liked (or said they liked). Songs like “Longview” and “Rape Me” were more useful to upset my parents than to actually listen to.

All that changed when Smashing Pumpkins bandleader Billy Corgan walked out on “Saturday Night Live.” With his (newly) clean-shaven head, his black “Zero” shirt and silver pants, Corgan looked like he was ready to fight the X-Men.

He made public statements about world domination. He was a totalitarian bandleader. His music’s angst was just as loud as the guitars.

In other words, he was a ready-made idol for 14-year-old boys.
“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” blasted on boom boxes at heavily supervised ninth-grade parties. Any picture of the band that wound up in my high school’s Rolling Stone magazines mysteriously made its way to my bedroom wall (sorry about that). And, probably not the smartest idea for a kid still growing into his body and face, I shaved my head.

That summer, keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose. Corgan fired drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who had also been shooting up.

By my estimation, the band never recovered.

Following two disappointing albums, the band – reunited with Chamberlain after a successful stint in rehab – called it quits.
In June 2005, after an ill-advised new band, Zwan, Corgan released his “proper” solo album (featuring Chamberlain). One listen in my car told me all I needed to know. It was trash.

On the same day, Corgan had taken out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, announcing the return of the Smashing Pumpkins, and, presumably, drumming up sales for the solo album:

“I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams,” Corgan wrote.

Here’s what I posted on my livejournal that morning:

“A full page ad, announcing the intent to reform a band that now is more “classic alternative” than “relevant” is a bit disgusting. Corgan has enough money from his rock star days to take out a full page ad, dedicated to himself, assuming 1) the vast public still cares about his career and 2) his work is still important and relevant.”

The new album, “Zeitgeist,” comes out Tuesday, the same night they’ll take the stage at the 9:30 Club.

I told myself not to care. Why listen to Corgan try to recapture what he did 10 years ago, when bands like Silversun Pickups and My Chemical Romance do it better?

Besides, the decision to release multiple versions of “Zeitgeist,” with stores like Best Buy and Target offering different bonus tracks didn’t help.

But … the July issue of Spin included a tribute disc, featuring bands like The New Amsterdams and Panic! At the Disco, covering classic songs, reminding me what I loved about this band so much in the first place.

Who knows? Maybe “Zeitgeist” will be good. The early single, “Tarantula” didn’t entirely suck (the video did). Maybe Corgan will realize it’s his music, not his ego, which people love.

Whatever the future brings, for one brief moment in the 1990s, with the “1979” video in heavy rotation, selling out stadiums, an endless supply of radio singles on deck, and an appearance on “The Simpsons,” Corgan met his goal – The Smashing Pumpkins were the biggest rock band on Earth.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.


Pumpkins virgin? Here are some of my favorite songs, from various stages of the band’s career:

• “Rhinocerous,” Gish, 1991
• “Drown,” Singles Soundtrack, 1992
• “Mayonaise,” Siamese Dream, 1993
• “Frail and Bedazzled,” Pisces Iscariot, 1995
• “Through the Eyes of Ruby,” Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995
• “Thirty three,” Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995
• “Pennies,” The Aeroplane Flies High, 1996
• “Appels + Oranjes,” Adore, 1998
• “Wound,” Machina, 2000
• “1979,” VH1 Storytellers, 2000
• “Let Me Give the World To You,” Machina II, 2000
• “Untitled,” Rotten Apples, 2001

3 comments to “Breaking up with Billy Corgan”

  1. Wasn’t 1979 originally released on Mellon Collie? Was the Storytellers version any different? Also, I think that the Tonight, Tonight video was probably the most memorable from that album.

  2. Yup– 1979 was on Mellon Collie– and it’s a different version. I was partial to the 1979 video over Tonight, Tonight… but that’s just me.

  3. My Chemical Romance sucks balls. That guy is a scab off Billy’s ass.