Things are brewing underground, ready to explode. You may not feel it yet, (especially if you don’t use MySpace) but something is being created which millions of people are holding their breath over. The Pumpkins are returning…
This is the time when the weather grows cold and the leaves litter the ground, Jack-O-Lantern’s brightly smile at little children in costumes. Halloween is here, and what better time than now to reminisce about arguably the greatest rock band of the ‘90s? Refresh your memory (or learn if you’re a new fan) in preparation for the nail-biting return of a monstrosity of a band: The Smashing Pumpkins.
In 1985,a young Billy Corgan could be found at Wheaton High School in the suburbs of Chicago. His father, Bill Corgan, Sr., a jazz guitarist, first introduced the young Corgan to music, which when combined with early influences such as Cheap Trick sent Billy to Florida to start his first band.
The Marked, a goth metal band, found little followers in Florida, and by 1988 Corgan disheartenedly returned to Chicago to work in a used-records shop. It was there that an arts student named James Iha straggled into the store. Corgan and Iha – both guitarists – began collaborating, writing a few half-decent songs which they performed with a drum machine.
At one of the young band’s shows Corgan was pulled into a vicious argument about the Dan Reed Network with D’Arcy Wretzky, a guitarist herself. She accepted (for some reason) the invitation to play with Corgan and Iha on bass, and – despite a horrifying audition – became a part of the band.
The trio donned themselves The Smashing Pumpkins (smashing being an adjective, not a verb) and began to gain steam with the local crowd. In desperate need for a drummer before an opening show for Jane’s Addiction, the Pumpkins hired jazz drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, and he soon became their full-time drummer. The band was complete.
In 1990 there was a force collecting. All over the United States – particularly in Seattle – an underground reaction to the reign of heavy metal was brewing, and the Pumpkins unintentionally became part of that early movement. Two successful early EP’s led to a record deal with Virgin Records through Caroline to retain street cred. With a major label backing them (sort of), it was off to the studio to record with young producer Butch Vig. The result was Gish in 1991, a strong indie debut that blended metal with what would become alternative, otherwise known as grunge. Gish was arguably a grunge record, though in hindsight it shows alternative tendencies that would be magnified in coming releases.
Gish’s tour set the quota for what would become The Smashing Pumpkins’ ongoing drama between its members. Wretzky and Iha – who had been dating – went through a messy break-up while Chamberlin became dangerously addicted to drugs and alcohol. Corgan, as a result of his own relationship problems and on-going pressures to create new music, sunk into a deep depression, considering suicide. The Pumpkins almost collapsed before rising.
Meanwhile, a regime change took place in music. Nirvana and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit the masses in 1991, and grunge destroyed heavy metal. The Pumpkins instantly became part of the grunge movement, which put more pressure on Corgan to separate himself from the plethora of flannel-clad Seattle-born rockers.
The band limped into studio in 1992 again with Vig (fresh from Nevermind) to record their sophomore release. As it became obvious that he could not rely on his band mates to record consistently, Corgan recovered from his depression by writing songs nonstop and recording almost all of the guitar and bass parts. With that, Siamese Dream was released in 1993,
Siamese Dream delivered the Pumpkins’ first truly pop song, "Today" and headed down the emotional path that would come to define their music in "Disarm," a song that identified with the listeners but never told you what the hell was wrong. The band toured nonstop as the album debuted at the number ten spot in the charts. Most importantly though, Siamese Dream gave Corgan and the Pumpkins the artistic license to create what would come next.
Nirvana was still king of rock, but The Smashing Pumpkins had become the unofficial heir to the throne.
The band disappeared in 1994 to the studio. Pisces Iscariot was released late that year to hold fans over for what would be an excruciatingly long recording process. The band had reached their peak, and recorded literally hundreds of songs during the sessions. Songs just kept on coming, and the biggest problem became picking which ones would be put into the double-album. 28 songs were eventually picked to create Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness which would cement The Smashing Pumpkins as the number one band of their era.
The double-album debuted at the top spot in the charts, and sold four million copies. The hits "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "1979" made the Pumpkins a pop monster. The diversity of the album was incredible. Songs like "Tonight, Tonight" and "Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans" were sweeping orchestrations of dramatic bliss, whereas "Tales of a Scorched Earth," "x.y.u.," and "An Ode to No One" were blistering hard rock attacks at emotional scars. There was something for everyone, and the band sky-rocketed into fame status.
Ah but the drama returned.
Drummer Chamberlin had never really gotten a grip on his addiction problems, and during the tour for Mellon Collie he and tour-keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin OD’d consistently, the last of which resulting in Melvoin’s death and Chamberlin’s hospitalization. The band kicked Chamberlin out of the band so he could recover, and faced a future without their stable impressive drummer. More importantly, Corgan faced more studio time without the one band member he relied on the most.
Adore represented this shift in the band’s make-up. While they hired temporary studio and tour drummers, Adore was a softer and less-rock-influenced album. Released in 1998, the follow-up to Mellon Collie was disappointing to many fans, who were expecting another "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." Yet it showed the Pumpkins ever-present quality of change. Not one of their records was exactly like the one’s previous or next, and if Gish had received the same attention and scrutiny that Mellon Collie did, Siamese Dream would have been shouted about as well. Adore found the band experimenting in electronic techniques, and the hard-rock was all but absent from the album.
A few months after the release, Chamberlin – fully recovered from his drug problems – joined the group just as Wretzky left it. Wretzky was always a mysterious character of the band, and not much is known about why she left, or where she went. Again though, the Pumpkins were faced with a hole in their line-up, so Corgan hired Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur.
The Smashing Pumpkins’ final official release came in 2000, and was surrounded in Corgan-created mythology and lore. MACHINA: The Machines of God found the band combine Adore into their hard-rock into a mess of sonic creation. "The Everlasting Gaze" was pure Pumpkins from their Siamese Dream/Mellon Collie years, whereas "Heavy Metal Machine" and "Stand Inside Your Love" held more electronic and emotional influences.
On December 2nd, 2000, The Smashing Pumpkins played their last show at the Metro in Chicago. And with that, the biggest rock band of the ‘90s bowed and left the stage for good. Well…not really.
Zwan appeared in 2001 with Corgan and Chamberlin to release Mary Star of the Sea before collapsing, while Iha and Auf Der Maur formed the short-lived Virgins. Auf Der Maur released a solo album in 2004 and Corgan released his The Future Embrace in 2005.
On the day of Future Embrace’s release, Corgan took up a page of the Chicago Tribune to declare that he wanted his Pumpkins back. By summer of 2006, the gears were moving, and Corgan and Chamberlin were again paired in the studio to create the next Pumpkins album.
Fans are biting their nails to this. Will this be yet another Zwan? Is it really The Smashing Pumpkins without guitarist James Iha, who was estranged from Corgan after the break-up of the Pumpkins? Will this reunion taint the excellence that is The Smashing Pumpkins?
As the cold wind blows through Chicago streets and Jack-O-Lanterns’ candle-lights cackle, The Smashing Pumpkins are brewing their own concoction as the world holds its breath in anticipation. The Great Pumpkin is coming…