Rock Is Dead!
May 20, 1997
Typed by: Nikki Christoff
Squinting through blue eyes anxiously awkward in his 6"3' lanky frame, bald and attentive show about him, something other than ordinary about his music and his stand. Yet when he sits down to talk, another humbly down-to-eart Corgan emerges.
After all, Billy is really just a kid from the Midwest who grew up listening to the big rock of 70'sand new wave from the early 80's. The thirty- year-old singer, songwriter, and musical auteur draws his magic from these sources but takes it so much futher, infusing the standard rock song with hits of swirling nostalgis for times before Corgan was born ("Tonight, Tonight"), dead-on angry screed ("Zero"), and vivid, often mythical soundscapes ("We Only Come Out At Night").
It was the regular boy from Chicago who turned up early one Wednesday on the TV morning chat Regis & Kathy Lee. News broke that Corgan would be appearing only the night before the February 19 broadcast, but no one knew exactly why he wanted to be on a show that comes before most rock stars even dream about waking up. Did Pumpkins bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha dare him to go on the show? Did he lose some kind of bet?
No. Clad ni a tapered black suit, a wide awake, though vaguely stubble headed Corgan trudged contently onto the faux-living room set and perched uncomfortable in a chair only to reveal that he called up and asked them if he could be on the show because he is such a big fan. Kathy Lee dragged out a letter from two years ago the Billy hand written to them, raving about the show.
Though TV interviews like that tend to be a lot less revealing, the pair of hosts managed to elicit some interesting discussion with their simple questions. If we hadn't guessed by the fact that he is up to watch Regis & Kathy Lee, Billy revealed that he is indeed a morning person; that his mind is clearer and more focused and there are fewer people around to disrupt his creative process.
Playing the hopelessly-out-of-it-role to the hilt, Kathy Lee asked Billy if it was cool to wear pants that hung three inches about the ankle, as his were. Billy blushed slightly and admitted that since he is so tall, he just couldn't find any that fit. The camera but to a jovial, rotund, balding man in a warm up suit sitting in the audience who was chuckling along. Regis exposed the man as William Corgan, Sr., Billy's dad, and Billy blushed even more.
Two days before his run-in with early morning TV, Corgan vared his more spiritual side with a duo of largely acoustic songs at New York's famed Carnegie Hall. The concert, an annual benefit for Tibet, also counted R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe , proto-punk poet/singer Patti Smith, Natalie Merchant, and infamous veat poet Allen Ginsberf to name a few.
A week after being on Regis & Kathy Lee, the more spectral Corgan was in full eddect at the Grammys, reveling in a much more electronic/club oriented version of "1979" complete with two drummer (one playing digital drume). Shimmying go-go dancers filled the stage around Corgan, who had a purple velvet suit clad James Iha and an extra-paleD'Arcy in an offwhite shroud of a dress rocking out at his side. The trop would go on to pick up a Grammy of their owndirectly after finishing the song.
But it was a month before Billy went under the TV lights, that he managed to exude his harder, rock orientated, emotive persona to the hilt. Taking the stage at New York's Madison Square Gardren with the original rock chameleon, David Bowie himself, Billy held his own deuting on two of Bowies's "Jean Genie" and "All the Young Dudes." Brought out as the coveted last guest performer of the evening in honor of Bowie's 50 birthday, Billy brought a new flavor to the old tunes and raged on guitar, which is saying a lot sondifering that Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, and The Cure's Robert Smith were among the ohter guests that night. Ath the very leastm the head Pumpkin Magaed to set himself on a positive, brand new, different again course for 1997.
1996, of course, om tje emd jad [rpvem tp be a truly mixed blessing for the Smashing Pumpkins. The double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a multi-million seller all over the globe, MTV America handed them seven awards and MTV Europe named them as "Rock Act of '96". But it would be a big mistake to claim that the Pumpkins were in fine fettle.
In May '96, 17 year old Bernadeete O'Brien died tragically during a gid in Dublin, Ireland. She was crushed to dealth by the euphoric crowd.
On July 12th their tour keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of an heroin overdose at the Regency Hotel in New York. Five days later, the rest of the Pumpkins handed drummer Jimmy Chamerblin his notice, claiming they were no longer willing to tolerate his growing drug addiction.
The singer of the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson, attacked Smashing Pumpkins in an interview and claimed Jimmy wasn't fired because of his drug addiction but because he was a potential financial risk. he also said the Pumpkins were "the most commercial band I have ever seen."
Circus Magazine caught up with the ever busy Corgan to talk about Rocinson's comments, the recent past and future of the Smashing Pumpkins.
CIRCUS: Chris Robinson claimed the Jimmy's drug addiction was not the reason why you decided to make him leave.
Chris Rocinson wasn't on tour with Jimmy for a couple of years, didnt share a tour bus with him, didn't wake up with him in 500 differnt placees and didn't spent countless houes waiting on Jimmy, hopin that Jimmy would finally show up. Robinson never had to drag Jimmy out of the gutter. How will he feel if Jimmy was found dead one day? We tried to help him, he refused treatment and the onl way to wake him up was to ask him to leave. Anotehr factor was that his addiction was starting to destroy the band.
Was it really the last resort to kick Jimmy out?
It wasn't an easy decision. Apart from the fact the Jimmy used to be a friend of mine he was also one of the best drummers of his generation. He wasn't easy to replace and we were in the middle of a tour. It is the most stupid accusation to claim there were "financial reasons". Seen stricktly from a business view, the split was bad for the Pumpkins and harmed the band, but it was good for us; for our minds and souls.
As a friend, didn't you notice his drug problems?
We were very close, at least I thought we were but when the shit hit the fan I discovered that we weren't as close as we seemed to be in the begining. I only knew one small part of him, the part he showed me. There were aspects in his personality, hidden aspects only a few people knew.
Is Matt Walker, your new drummer, a member of the Smashing Pumpkins or an employee?
I like Matt and he is a great dummer, but if he is going to be a steady part of our world is something else. We are not even sure if we should complete the Pumpkins with a steady fourth memeber or if we would rather work with different people. All possibilities are ioen. We don't think we have to make any sudden decisions.
But Smashing Pumpkins will go on?
Of course! If there wasn't a future for the Smashing Pumpkins why on earth would we continue to give concerts? My wrists hurt, my back hurts, I feel every single bone in my body but we keep on working on new songs and new material.
You often announced that rock is dead, so what will happen to your sound?
It's like a car, we built the car and we made it run as fast and as far as it could and now we are changing cars. That's it.
Which direction will the car go?
Difficult to say at the moment. I wrote some music for this movie "Ranson." Whoever is interested in what goes on in my brain, which music is plauing in there, should get the soundtrack. The soundtrack of Ranson, with its interumental tracks is the ideal window for that.
So no more rock?
I said it before and I say it again: I love to play rock music. What I don't like is playing rock music that bored me and others to tears. We are not interested in playing "Siva" on the 15'th anniversary of our band, that's dead. Rock'n'roll has to deal with now, with today. That is how we think, maybe we are brutal but most rock music is completlu unnecessary. We will approach the future and see where it will lead us.
Some may say "It still sounds like the Pumpkins" and some may say "It's no the Pumpkins anymore". I don't know. The onlyu thinkg I know for sure is that we surpassed that whole rock thing. Rock music was already five times at the point of dealth and today it is deader than ever.
How about other bands? Do you think they are dead too?
No, not at all. Bands like U2 and REM are almost role models for us. They are not afraid to lost some of their popularity and don't hesitate to change their sound. And the reason why they do it, is that they know the world is changing all the time.That the whole world is always changing. Our lives are a steady change and teh music should reflect it. I can gaurantee you on thing: oue new songs will sound different!
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