The Pumpkins after the smashup-Jim Sullivan
Boston Globe - August 30, 1996
(Thanks Jamie Halle)
They have climbed the highest of rock mountains. And yes, they've crossed the valley of death.
Hyperbolic? Maybe. But if truth is a defense...
"We know that we're lucky," says D'Arcy, bassist for Smashing Pumpkins. "We know that we've gotten another chance at a brand-new start. Things were going so well before, [but] there was still this thing in the back of your mind that tells you to worry, that something bad is going to happen."
Smashing Pumpkins' latest album, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," has sold 3.5 million copies in the United States, making it the best-selling double CD of the past two years. The album has had blockbuster sales in Europe and Australia as well. They're currently kings of the commercial alternative rock. Their arena concerts, including the one Sept.8 at Providence Civic Center, are jam packed. A fleet center or Worcester Centrum concert is in the works for early November. "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "1979" and "Tonight Tonight" have been all over modern rock radio. They've received nine MTV music video nominations in the next week's competition.
But, of coarse, there is "this stuff," as D'Arcy refers to it. As in 'before this stuff happened" and "after this stuff happened." The bad stuff.
The first event happened May 11. A young female fan was crushed to death at a Pumpkins concert in Dublin. "That shouldn't have happened," says D'Arcy. "That was terrible. We stopped the show twice before that because kids were just out of control and we though kids were getting crushed in front. We're like, 'We're gonna stop before someone gets crushed.'"
They didn't manage to do that. A pained Billy Corgan, singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist, said later that is was only rock n' roll- not worth dying for.
Then, on July 12th, the Pumpkins' touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin died. He overdosed on heroin. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who tried to revive Melvoin, had allegedly shot up with him. Chamberlin was arrested for possession-he goes to court Sept.25 and faces a year in jail if convicted- and was subsequently ousted from the band.
Matt Walker, from Filter, has replaced Chamberlin. Dennis Flemoin, of the Frogs, has replaced Melvoin.
The delayed tour kicked up again last week out west. D'Arcy checked in from Las Vegas on her cell phone, where after taking in a hokey King Arthur's Faure, she was wandering around a casino's giant fake pyramid and trying to be heard over the clanging slot machines-"This is insane!"- and discussing what's up with the tumultuous band she play in.
"Never a dull moment in Pumpkin-land anymore," D'Arcy says wryly.
D'Arcy's comment recalls an interview with Chamberlin, about three years ago. He was out of drug rehab and amiably chatting during a tour stop: "We seem to have overcome the biggest monkeys on our backs, emotionally and physically, so things seem to be clicking-very blissfully even-keeled. Which is a scary thing. We're starting to wonder what's wrong: 'Why aren't I throwing a chair at you?'"
Prescient thoughts, it turns out.
Chamberlin was dismissed five days after Melvoin's death. "It was all so stupid," says D'Arcy. "Really sad and really just senseless. On the other hand, it makes us very angry. It never should have happened."
The band though Chamberlin had beat his addiction. "It was the last straw," D'Arcy says. "We thought they were both clean. It was just a slap in the face, finding out that we had been lied to for so long."
Smashing Pumpkins brought in Walker, whom they knew from a joint European tour, and Flemoin, whom they've known for years. Walker makes sense to anyone, insider or outsider. He's a had rocker, also from Chicago, the Pumpkin's home base. Flemoin? He's the wild card. He's part of a Milwaukee-based, glam-rock cult duo prone to dressing up like insect/angels onstage and singing misanthropic, scabrous punk rock songs that can be construed as sexist and homophobic. Or a send-up of sexism and homophobia. Sometimes hilarious, often off-kilter, guaranteed obnoxious.
"I love them!" exclaims D'Arcy. "We've been friends for years. They're doing a record with me and my brother-in-law's label. I'm going to play with them [this weekend in New York]. I'm gonna be a Frog!"
So they're not, like, scum of the earth?
"See, that's the thing they're not at all," she says. "They just like to make fun of everybody. They're not at all biased. It's like the old saying: 'I'm not prejudiced, I hate everyone.' They just have a really bad sense of humor. We can't all do that all the time like they can. I mean, it's nothing sacred? You just love going to their shows and seeing the kids standing with their mouths open."
Will Pumps fans be getting a smidgeon of the Frogs? "Just when things get dull we can bring Jimmy [the other Frog] or Dennis out and they can do a little dance and liven things up."
Forewarned if forearmed.
"We need a little levity after all this stuff," says D'Arcy. Not Selling Out
Smashing Pumpkins' ascent has not been smooth glide. They sprouted up in Chicago in 1989, but D'Arcy, a Michigan native, says, "Chicago was a very conservative city, more oriented towards blues bars and sports bars. There was not much support for rock music at all."
They did better, she says, out of town. When they played Chicago, which was only occasionally, people would ask where they were from. "Well," they would say, "we're from here."
Smashing Pumpkins released "Gish," on Caroline Records, but were seen more as poseurs than peers by many in the clique-laden punk/indy rock scene. What they heard in Smashing Pumpkins was a debt to the un-hip pseudo-progressive hard rock of the 70's (Deep Purple, ELO). What they saw in songwriter Billy Corgan were outlandish ambition and overtly commercial tunes. Not punk at all. Indy heroes Pavement took a swipe at them in a song.
No apologies from D'Arcy here. "I mean how many of these bands are still around? We believe in working hard. And I guess that some people believe that they get into music and they can have a good time and party. Music as always been the most important thing for us...
"Everybody always thought that we were selling out, but we were wanting to make a decent living. The thing is: We are doing what we want to do. As long as you don't compromise your art and stay true to what you are doing. We love what we're doing...and we don't want to have to work a day job."
With their second album, "Siamese Dream," in 1993, they moved to Virgin. It was a hit- as was a follow-up album of rarities and B-sides, "Pisces Iscariot"- but there was no smooth sailing within the band. D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha, once a couple, went through a breakup; Chamberlin had his drug problem. Corgan, the brains of the band, was prone to deep, dark mood swings- something fans can hear in the music as well. And there was the perception- that remains in some ways - that Corgan, and admitted control freak, is the band.
"There's a lot more give and take than people realize," says D'Arcy. "We spent six hours a day, seven days a week, for 10 months writing this album. In the rehearsal space for three months. It's like, 'What are we doing in there?'" Keeping rough edges
Corgan has, tough, talked somewhat cryptically about and era of Smashing Pumpkins coming to an end after this tour. "I try not to think about it," says D'Arcy. "I'm really into organic music and he's really into keyboards. I'm just gonna see how it goes. If it gets to a point that I'm just not interested anymore -well, oh well. I mean he's done a few things on his own, on the side, that's pretty good. Then it's like: 'You don't need me?'
"A lot of what he writes is personal," D'Arcy continues. "A lot of it is universal. He really tried for the last album to make it more universal -things everyone can relate to."
This, sometimes, can have a leavening effect -a sanding-off of the edges. "I don't think that happened with us," D'arcy says, with a laugh. "I don't think we could ever do that."
A nation that sang along -pumping their clenched fists in the air- with "Despite all my rage/ I'm still just a rat in a cage" (from "Bullet...") would no doubt agree.
Smashing Pumpkins in concert are a somewhat different-sounding outfit that they are in the studio. Some critics have faulted them for those rough edges. D'Arcy is happy with the roughness, and says people who only know the studio work will tell them, "I didn't know it was such a rock concert." And she adds, their sound is better then ever with their soundman being a veteran of the ex acting Prince. "The musicianship is so important to us," she says. "Some things we do to re-create and other things we do to let go and change and make as interesting as possible."
The goal is, at this point, just to keep on keeping on. Stay centered. Let the media vortex ease. "I know that I'm a good person," says D'Arcy. " I just am who I am and I'm not going to do something because I'm afraid I should set a good example but...I just go about my business. Because I don't really have anything to feel guilty about either."
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