Classic Pumpkins Moment:
"Hi, I'm Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins."
"I'm Homer Simpson, smiling politely."
The first words spoken when these two animated '90s cultural icons met.
Back in '87 guitarist/vocalist Billy Corgan teamed with bassist D'Arcy. The duo managed to record some songs for Sub-Pop. By '91 guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had joined. That same year their debut "Gish" was out. '93 saw the release of "Siamese Dream" which contained "Cherub Rock" and "Disarm," a song that got banned by the BBC. What, the lyrics too honest? It's an incredible track, with bite and vengeance. What's even more amazing is that it's acoustic. No crashing drums or blazing guitar, only Corgan's vocals - a perfect combination of malice and control.
You'd have to travel a long road to find a more powerful double CD set than "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness." It opens with a somber piano synth intro… have they gone new age? Nope, soon the piano yields to the powerful "Tonight, Tonight." But the best moments are "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "1979." "Bullet" is one of the most riveting songs ever written while "1979" bubbles to oblivion on a great riff.
Even with this artistic and commercial success things took a nasty turn. The Pumpkins' touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin died in NY from a heroin OD in '96. If that weren't bad enough he was getting high with Chamberlin who ran into all kinds of legal trouble and just managed to escape getting locked up. But Chamberlin did get himself kicked out of Smashing Pumpkins. A cleaned up Chamberlin re-joined the group in '99.
Smashing Pumpkins released "MACHINA/The Machines Of God" in '00. The band displayed their patented alternative Rock sound and even dipped into Heavy Metal. "Try, Try, Try" and "The Imploding Voice" are but two songs that showed Corgan's range. The former was a textured masterpiece while the latter was the band's own unique take on Metal - with tons of imagery. Taken as a whole, the "MACHINA" made an excellent piece of Rock theater. Too bad the Pumpkins' days were numbered. Following a tour the group broke up in '00. Corgan's first post-Pumpkins stop was Zwan. From there he made his '05 solo debut with "TheFutureEmbrace."
Ever since Corgan spoke publicly about wanting to play Pumpkins' songs again (with the Pumpkins) it seemed inevitable the group would re-form - even if Corgan was the only original member. In the end, Chamberlin signed on but D'Arcy and Iha took a pass. In their place, Jeff Schroeder and Ginger Reyes, took over second guitarist and bassist duties, respectively.
A few months later, the Pumpkins gave their first public performance in nearly seven years. The May, '07, Paris show was the launch of a European tour that was followed by a U.S. trek. Comeback album "Zeitgeist" dropped that summer. In an interesting marketing move, the CD contained a different bonus track dependant on where it was sold: Best Buy ("Death From Above"), Target ("Zeitgeist") and iTunes ("Stellar"). Anything to keep the CD format viable.
The Pumpkins appeared at Live Earth in July '07 and were featured on the subsequent three disc, "Live Earth -- The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis." In the fall, the group co-headlined the three-day Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans along with another recently reformed group, Rage Against The Machine. But just a few days later, the Pumpkins were forced to postpone two Atlanta shows after Jimmy Chamberlin was admitted to a hospital complaining of chest pains. Doctors ordered the drummer to get rest.
The Smashing Pumpkins reissued "Zeitgeist" with a bonus DVD and extra tracks exclusively through Best Buy. The set included a full-length documentary, Inside The Zeitgeist. In early '08, the group unfurled "American Gothic," a four-track acoustic EP, via iTunes.
Later that year, Smashing Pumpkins were inducted into Hollywood's RockWalk. Corgan and Chamberlin (the only original members left) were on hand for the L.A. ceremony. "I'm so used to bad vibes, people hating our band and throwing things at us," said Corgan. "So it's strange to be honored."
Then there was the arrival of a two-DVD set "If All Goes Wrong," chronicling the band's '07 multi-show residencies in Asheville, NC, and San Francisco. There was a 105-minute documentary and a 115-minute concert culled from the San Francisco shows.
Any "strangeness" generated by the RockWalk honor eventually gave way to the usual angst. In March, '09, Corgan became the last original band member standing when a post on the group's website announced that Chamberlin had left. "I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don't fully possess," wrote Chamberlin. "I won't pretend I'm into something I'm not. I won't do it to myself, you the fan or my former partner [Corgan]." A Pumpkins' statement said, "Corgan will continue to write and record as Smashing Pumpkins."
A month later, in a lengthy blog post, Corgan discussed why he was carrying on. "When I decided to write and record again under the name the Smashing Pumpkins in '05, I committed myself 100 percent," he explained. "I'm not going to back out now."
Then news arrived that the Corgan/Pumpkins had found a drummer - 19-year-old Berklee College of Music freshman Mike Byrne. "Word from the studio is that Mike is an exceptionally talented and gifted drummer and things are going very well," said a post on the Pumpkins' website. "And that is that."
Corgan once again answered criticism for continuing to work under the Smashing Pumpkins banner. "The music I am making sounds like the Smashing Pumpkins," he insisted. "It doesn't sound like solo work, I can assure you of that. But only when you hear the music can you decide for yourself."
Perhaps to shift attention and to conclusively prove that the business model for the music industry had changed Corgan announced in '09 that the group would give away new songs free on the band's website. "A Song For A Son," the first single from the 44-song project, "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope," was available for download in December on the Smashing Pumpkins' official website.
It "My desire is to release a song at a time… until all 44 are out," said Corgan. "Each song will be made available absolutely for free, to anyone anywhere. There will be no strings attached." The track also marked Byrne's official studio debut.
While the "Teargarden" project was still underway, Corgan worked on the band's line-up. Nicole Fiorentino, formerly with Veruca Salt announced in May,'10, via her MySpace page, that she was the Smashing Pumpkins bassist. This was officially confirmed a few days later.
Fiorentino was the fourth female bassist in Pumpkins' history following D'Arcy Wretzky, Melissa Auf der Maur and Ginger Pooley.
For those who didn't download the songs for free when they were available, "Teargarden By Kaleidyscore - Vol. I: Songs For A Sailor," an EP, and "Vol. II: The Solstice Bare" were later available on CD. The full-length "Vol. II" had "The Fellowship," "Freak," "Tom Tom" and "Spangled," plus an unreleased B-side "Cottonwood Symphony."
On a totally different track, Corgan penned a spiritual memoir title is God Is Everywhere From Here To There. "The book is… about how this boy named William came to find God, or, vice versa, how God came to find William," wrote Corgan on his blog. "I can honestly say that my intention is to write a book that touches deeply on my life in a way that very few people know about, and I am excited by that, but also a bit intimidated. If you have ever wondered how I came to be so mercurial, reactionary, silly, or spiritually open, then this book will provide insight into that," Corgan added.
"Oceania," the band's 7th studio record, was released in '12. It was the first full-length set to feature the lineup of Corgan (who also produced), Fiorentino, drummer Mike Byrne and guitarist Jeff Schroeder. The album was another chapter in the band's "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope" project.
But before another album was recorded there was a departure. And a rough one at that. First, Corgan announced that Tommy Lee, of Motley Crue, would be playing drums on "Monuments To An Elegy." Corgan was effusive in his praise of Lee, comparing him favorably with the group's original drummer (Chamberlin).
So how did Byrne handle the news that he had been benched? Not well. A little over a month later, it was announced that he was no longer in the group. "Mmm, let's just say that Mike, like Elvis, has left the building," stated Corgan. Fiorentino was also out.
Corgan added that Schroeder was the only other person officially in the Smashing Pumpkins.
After the dust settled, "Monuments To An Elegy," also part of the "Teargarden By Kaleidyscope" collection, dropped in December, '14. Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk and The Killers bassist Mark Stoermer were added for the tour.
The Smashing Pumpkins lineup changed again in '15 when Wilk and Stoermer moved on. They were replaced by drummer Robin Diaz and bassist Kate Cole. Corgan stated there were no bad feelings and added that the Pumpkins line-up was now a "tour-to-tour thing."
Speaking of which, Iha rejoined his former bandmates, namely Corgan and Chamberlin, on-stage for the first time in sixteen years at the Ace Hotel in LA. Iha, who was celebrating his 48th birthday, walked onstage with guitar in hand. Just like old times.
1993 Siamese Dream
1995 Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
2000 Machina/The Machines Of God
2000 Machina II/The Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music
2010 Teargarden By Kaleidyscope (released online and on CD/vinyl)
2014 Monuments To An Elegy
Unfortunately, any discussion of Grunge usually revolves around the Seattle chapter. But Smashing Pumpkins are every bit the equal of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Corgan matched Kurt Cobain's misfit angst, then added a malicious twist.
His wounded, soul-baring reading of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide," on "Pisces Iscariot," caused the Fleetwood Mac singer to ban unauthorized versions of her songs. But Corgan made a wistful, sentimental ballad ache. No small achievement.
Then there's "Disarm" is one of the few truly hard-edged acoustic tracks. Bells ring, guitars chime, Corgan sneers and whips the song to a hostile crescendo. That song, along with the brilliant "Cherub Rock," make "Siamese Dream" the Smashing Pumpkins best early album. Their debut "Gish" is also excellent.
In '95, the Pumpkins honed their sound to perfection on "Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness." It became the top selling double set in history. Usually, anything that enjoys such massive commercial success is of a moment and quickly loses its appeal. Not so with "Melon Collie." It's one to put it in the time capsule because it'll last forever.
The CDs are labeled "Dawn To Dusk" and "Twilight To Starlight." "Dawn To Dusk" has the ever popular "Tonight, Tonight" and the Pumpkins defining moment "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." "In spite of my rage, I'm still just a rat in a cage." Along with "Disarm," it's one of the group's greatest creations.
"Twilight To Starlight" contains the hypnotic "1979" and the thrashing "We Only Come Out At Night."