MELLOW, JOLLY AND THE INFINITE MADNESS
by Paul Elliott
Transcribed By Jamie Halle
AMSTERDAM. The sex and drugs capital of Europe. Hookers w/ their kit off standing right there in shopfront windows under blue neon lights. Soft drugs sold openly in coffee bars. Eye-watering sex toys available on every corner of the city's infamous red light district.
Add a rock band to the equation and we're talking serious smoking, snorting, shagging and pill-popping perversion. But what if the band is Smashing Pumpkins? Wouldn't the dark lords of alt-rock be happier secreted away in a low-lit, posh-arse hotel suite reading philosophy and counting their money?
Well, no. The Smashing Pumpkins are not the pompous, precious rock stars they've been made out to be. A lot of people hear their bittersweet music and nail the Chicago foursome as whining post-grunge depressives. But maybe we've got the Smashing Pumpkins figured wrong - or at least half wrong. Because here they sit in a suite of Amsterdam's Grand Hotel, laughing about drugs, gay bars, UFOs and the strange case of TV that nearly killed bassist D'arcy.
Here, then, are the real SP. And lorra lorra laffs [huh?] they are, too. "Everyone always interviews us so seriously," shrugs Billy Corgan, the Pumpkin's shaven-headed top man. "There's very little room to have any personality beyond pontificating about the philosophical aspects of rock and roll. No one ever asks us about getting high. Everyone asks us why we're sad."
Well, let's talk about getting high, then! We are, after all, in the Euro-druggie's paradise.
"First thing I did when I got here was go out and get some fucking hash bon-bons," says Billy in a voice redolent of a mellowed-out Jack Nicholson. "I ate one and an hour went by and I thought,'It's not working', so I ate another one - and then I went to a rehearsal before the show and I was so stoned I couldn't even play the keyboard!
"I didn't feel bad doing it, but I felt bad because the last time we were here we played a small club gig, and I ate two bon-bons and three pieces of hash cake and I was on another fucking planet. I was so fucked up I could barely play. So I was Mr. Sober last night. I just went to bed. [ I wonder they're really serious in this interview. Sometimes they just like to play along - Karen]
"It's really hard after a gig. We used to play gigs for 45 minutes, so you're all adrenalised and you want to go out and fucking rock it up. But now it's 2 hour shows, by the time it's over you've got nothing left. And you know if you go out and party all night, you're not going to be able to sing and you'll play like shit. You feel a responsibility to keep yourself together."
BC can be an intimidating figure. For a start, there's his physical presence. At a couple of inches over six feet, Billy towers over most people [ I wonder what James' height is]. And then there's his reputation as the Pumpkins' tortured genius [He really is a genius. The lyrics he write are certainly works of art!].
Here is a man who toys with journalists like a cat plays w/ a dying mouse. A man whose moods reputedly change like his songs, from the lonely calm of 'Galapagos' one minute to the tension and rage of 'Bullet w/...' And yes, here, it is alleged, is a man who had a fling with Courtney Love [Do you know how long this went on?].
So it's a little surprising to find him leaning back contentedly on a sofa, cracking jokes and letting the rest of the band have their say. Within minutes of meeting him, it becomes clear that BC is no monster of dictator. The reason he dominates the band's press interviews is that people are always asking about songs and lyrics, and who is best qualified to answer questions about Corgan's writing?
It's a pity that the other Pumpkins are often ignored, because they're an entertaining bunch. To Billy's left sits drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, whose rumpled face and throaty chuckle make him the Sid James [who the hell is Sid James] of the Smashing Pumpkins.
"The only thing I can say in Dutch is 'take off your pants'," he winks. Back home in Chicago, his seduction technique begins with his own home-made French onion soup.
Next to Billy on the sofa is D'arcy, one of the cutest women in rock, although she makes no concessions to the rock babe dress code. D'arcy and guitarist James Iha were once an item; she has since married some other sprawns git. D'arcy still loves to tease James, telling him at one point in the interview: "You should not wear that hat. You look like some Disney character." [ James was wearing a floppy hat]
Later that night at dinner, D'arcy still confesses that she still suffers stage fright even though she's been performing on a stage since she began ballet classes at the age of four. She also sank enough red wine with her meal to begin revealing other embarrassing personal details. She has, for example, a couple of Duran Duran records at home, and she also knows the lyrics to Foreigner's crass '70s rock anthem 'Hot Blooded', w/c go 'I'm hot blooded, check it and see/Got a fever of a hundred and three.'
And so to James, the least demonstrative guitarist in rock. A man who walks around Amsterdam's red light district w/ a look of faint amusement on his face, then turns to you and asks, "Mmm, what did you think?" as if choosing wallpaper.
James is also short-sighted, w/c causes him a few problems at gigs. "Instead of going onstage, I'll just accidentally walk out into the audience." he smiles.
When our interview begins in one of the hotel rooms, the band are still laughing about last night's TV terror incident. D'arcy tried to change the angle of the TV screen, and the whole thing fell right off the wall and on top of her, injuring her hand.
"Normally, when TV sets jump out at you, they give you a little warning,"says James. "But the one that attacked D'arcy yesterday was a spontaneous, sneaky one."
"Look at my hand," D'arcy pouts, delicately massaging a bruise. "And I couldn't even walk when i woke up because my leg is so fucked up."
"You know I'm in the room below you," Billy asks her.
"Did you hear the crash?"
"Of course I heard it - it was like a fucking megaton bomb went off!" Billy grins and the others all crack up.
"It was like an OJ Simpson thing. I thought maybe I should make a not when I heard it, in case somebody had been murdered."
"It was almost me," D'arcy cries."I could sue for this."
The Pumpkins go on like this all the time,exchange one-liners and hamming it up. This is what half-an-hour in their company sounds like.
"So where were you last night?" says D'arcy pointing an accusing finger at Jimmy.
"In my room."
"I don't believe you," she snaps. "You were at that gay club."
"I couldn't find it," Jimmy insists. "But you guys went there, right?"
"Looking for you," D'arcy counters. "But it was too crowded. We couldn't tell if you were there or not."
"I slicked my hair back and ut on a fake pencil moustache," Jimmy cackles.
"And a thong," adds D'arcy. "Then we went to this other club and this lesbian who didn't speak very good English told us, 'No bondage clubs on Wednesdays - you have to make sex w/ yourself.' And then she tried to hit on me. They let us in this club because they thought we were drag queens or something."
"That's always a compliment for a woman," says Billy dryly. "You know, 'Great outfit, dude'."
"I was wearing the Madonna hair," D'arcy says, trying to explain, then giving up. "Anyway, it was pretty intense. men in thongs dancing."
"Like that place in New York?" Jimmy asks, wide-eyed. "Oh , my God. that's about the closest a penis has ever been to my head! This guy just has a jockstrap on and I'm trying to order a drink, and he shuffles down the bar and I look up and I'm like, 'Hell-o!'. Another guy had a fake snake sticking out of his G-string."
James: "Did you go to that transvestite bar in New Orleans?"
Jimmy: "I was working that night."
James: "What do you call those things you inhale?"
Billy: "Whippets. Nitrous oxide, laughing gas. It used to be you could buy them on the street. We were doing them in New Orleans right in front of the cops. One time I did this stuff called Headcleaner. I don't know what the fuck it is."
Billy: "It comes in a can and you spray it in your clothes."
D'arcy: "Or in plastic bag and put your head in the bag."
Er, don't try this at home, kids.
"Man, that shit gave me a fucking headache," Billy groans.
"Isn't that the night you saw the UFOs?" Jimmy asks him.
"Yeah. That same night."
"But we all saw it," says D'arcy, 'we' meaning Billy, D'arcy, her husband and another friend. "people didn't believe us because they thought we were all just tripping or something, but we called them up and they saw it. It was a dot in the sky, zipping around. [ I actually saw something like this. We should be in X-Files]
"There are a lot of UFO sightings in New Orleans, w/c isn't really too surprising. there's lotta crazy people down there."
"The people there lack the intelligence to know what they're seeing,"deadpans Billy. "So that's why the UFOs go there."
No close encounters of the flying saucer kind occur tonight, sadly. the Pumpkins have another sell-out gig at Rotterdam's Ahoy Arena tomorrow, so a little restraint is called for.
Billy is spending a quiet night in with, ahem, a friend. [Hmmm...Very intriguing. Who could that be?] Jimmy is off to check out a tattoo parlor with a bunch of road crew guys. D'arcy and James come out to dinner with Kerrang!, but only James sticks around to enjoy the full Amsterdam experience.
A stroll around the red light area leads to the Baba coffee bar, where stodgy hash cake and caffeine-bomb espresso are consumed. James is the only one who doesn't indulge.
At the gig the next day, the backstage vibe is mellow. but what's this? Billy in one room, The Dark Room, and everybody else in another, The Light Room.
"He's evil and we're good," D'arcy explains. "We have to keep heaven and hell separate."
"It's actually born out of a simple situation," adds Billy. "I have to warm up and it's a completely intolerable thing to listen to."
What's in The Dark Room?
"Do you really want to know?" Billy warns.
Oh, go on then.
"It usually consists of some noxious fumic aromatherapy candles, some weird thing like a throat steamer, and one out-of-tune guitar."
And the Light Room?
"We have all the food, the booze,"says D'arcy.
"And the sacred scrolls, the Ark, and Hitler's moustache,"says James.
So if drugs are off-limits when a gig is imminent, how do the little Pumpkin people entertain themselves on the road? Didn't you all go hang-gliding in Rio?
They laugh, but it's true.
"We like any type of flirting with death," nods Jimmy. [this is kinda creepy]
"We watch a lot of movies on the bus as well," continues Billy. "We like a lot of things blowing up. 'Die Hard' is the ultimate bus movie. A good explosion every 15 minutes. And wisecracks."
And that's your idea of fun on the road?
"No," Jimmy shrugs. "That's what we do."
The Pumpkins rock the Ahoy in glorious style. They open with the near-regal pomp of 'Tonight,Tonight'; like 'Today' and '1979', this is the Pumpkins at their most irresistible. They play some beautiful quieter stuff like 'Disarm' and '33', then finish w/ a few blasts of white noise. It's still pretty alternative stuff for an arena rock show.
As the punters stream out of the venue, a kitsh pop tune plays over the PA. It's 'Xanadu', signature to an atrocious flop movie that died on its arse in 1980, sung by Australian pop queen Olivia Newton-John, the Kylie of the '70s.
"I love that song," coos a dreamy-eyed D'arcy. "It changed our lives. And I think that was quite possibly the stupidest movie ever made."
"I figure that by the time we leave the stage, we've depressed everyone, so I wanted to give them a little upper on the way out," smiles Billy. "Thank you for coming. Please leave."
Cheeky monkeys, those Smashing Pumpkins. Who'd have thought it?
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