Rock star and former Smashing Pumpkins front-man Billy Corgan is occasionally accused of having something of a messiah complex. Could it be that he’s now planning a resurrection?
Alt-rock superstars The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most popular rock bands of the ’90s. Influenced not only by the burgeoning indie/alternative music scene at the time, but also psychedelic rock and heavy metal as well, they had a sound that was more dense than most bands at the time and their albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were huge hits. Guitarist and lead singer Billy Corgan led the band with his signature whine and personal, often obtuse lyrics. He became known as moody and pretentious, a spoiled rock star who chose to strut around like Vlad the Impaler at concerts.
The Pumpkins broke up in 2000 on the heals of infighting and lagging record sales. At the time, Billy Corgan was unsure what the future would bring. “I’ve been in The Smashing Pumpkins, at least with (gui
tarist) James (Iha), since I was 19 years old,” he said “and everything I’ve seen as an adult is literally through the eyes of the band, or about the band . . . so I really need to walk away from music for awhile and sort of see what I wanna do.”
Two years later Billy Corgan was heading up a new band, the so-called “indie super-group” Zwan which also included former Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) guitarists Matt Sweeney (Skunk / Chavez) and David Pajo (Papa M/ Tortoise). Corgan seemed to be forging a new identity with the band, and Zwan’s first album was upbeat and poppy, more in tune with The Smashing Pumpkins’ psychedelic earlier records than their final, dour ones.
It was not to last. The band’s first album was to be their last, and the band broke up in the fall of 2003. Corgan embarked on a number of solo projects, including a weblog, a poetry book, and his first solo album, which debuted in June 2005.
On the same day that the album hit stands, Billy Corgan took out a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune. It discussed his current solo project, but ended on a surprising note, with Corgan writing, “I have made plans to renew and revive The Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams.”
Fans were abuzz. The Smashing Pumpkins had changed the face of popular music in the ’90s. Could they do it again? “If the Smashing Pumpkins came back, it would be like a revolution,” said long-time fan Kyle Warner, “everything they did, from the music, image and artwork, really pushed what music could be.”
Others were skeptical – the ad stated that Corgan wanted the band back and had “made plans” to do so, but The Smashing Pumpkins’ last few years were rocky ones. Jimmy Chamberlin was fired from the band for drug problems during the tour for Mellon Collie after a hotel heroine binge he had with touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin in which Melvoin died of an overdose. The next album, Adore was recorded without Chamberlin and was more experimental. It was a commercial let-down compared to the band’s previous success.
Chamberlin was recruited back into the band for their final album, Machina/The Machines of God. The original Smashing Pumpkins were reunited for most of the recording of this album, but bassist D’arcy left before the band went on tour. James Iha and Billy Corgan, the founding members of The Smashing Pumpkins, were also the only ones who were not replaced at somepoint during the band’s tumultuous career.
A few days after Billy Corgan publically announced his desire to reform The Smashing Pumpkins, Chamberlin made his thoughts on the matter public as well. “I’m in, and I’m excited,” the drummer said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. This was not unexpected, since Corgan and Chamberlin had collaborated frequently since the break-up of The Smashing Pumpkins. Aside from playing together in Zwan, they had both contributed to each others’ solo albums. But as far as getting the original line-up back together, this made it two down and two to go.
Would the other half of the band be as receptive? So far, the last word has been Chamberlin’s interview, in which he said he hadn’t talked to Iha or D’arcy about the project, but he hoped they would be on board.
Nearly four months later, there’s still been no word on the involvement of the other former Pumpkins, but an entry on Billy Corgan’s weblog from early 2004 exposes what may be an even deeper rift in the band than what was previously known:
“The truth of the matter is is that james iha broke up the smashing pumpkins…not me, not jimmy, but james…did it help that d’arcy was fired for being a mean spirited drug addict, who refused to get help? No, that didn’t help keep the band together, not at all…it made it very hard to go on, but we soldier! ed thru it even though our hearts were broken…But d’arcy didn’t break up the band, we didn’t let her…and jimmy didn’t want to break up the band, not at that time…and I would have gone on forever…the smashing pumpkins were essentially my entire life…a dream I still believe in…many friends at that time suggested letting james leave, so jimmy and I could continue on under the name…but I was too loyal to the man I had started the whole thing with, and I protected him until the very end…right up until the last show on dec 2, 2000, when he thanked d’arcy on stage, but not the 2 men standing next to him…”
In the post, which came a few months after the break-up of Zwan, Corgan alludes to the possibility of keeping The Smashing Pumpkins going with just him and Jimmy Chamberlin, and if the other members of the band don’t rejoin, that may be exactly where the “new” Smashing Pumpkins are headed. It also casts doubt on the idea not only that Iha and D’arcy would want to rejoin the band, but also the idea that the notoriously moody Corgan would even want them back.
If the band is simply Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin playing with new musicians, it begs the question of what would make that band any different from Zwan, except for the name and back catalogue.
Either way, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour in the immediate future. Right now, the reformed band seems to be little more than an idea, at most a statement of intent.
In an interview in July, Billy Corgan admitted, “There’s a lot of variables that are still unanswered, so I have no time frames, nothing – all I’ve done is just put the light switch back on . . . maybe I’ll never re-form the band.”