"We Come To Kick Butts"
Smashing Pumpkins Brings a Mix of Bombast and Beauty
Chicago Tribune - July 25, 1993
(Thanks to Becky Eilering for the article)
"My stepmother told me I had a persecution complex," says Billy Corgan, the cherub-faced singer-guitarist-instigator of Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins. "I don't know if it's self-fulfilling, but it seems like every step along the way there's some resistance to what I'm doing. I take it for granted that when I turn some corner, there'll be somebody standing there saying, 'You can't pass.'"
Adversity makes some bands crumble. Other bands rise above. Smashing Pumpkins has soared- "Altitude not attitude" the band's t-shirts proclaim- leaving bridges burning in their vapor trail. The quartet's new album, Siamese Dream, their first major-label gorilla Virgin Records album , will be released Tuesday. It follows Gish, an unexpected 300,000-seller for indie label Caroline Records in 1991.
"We thought it might do 50,000," says former Caroline executive Janet Billig. "It really didn't get a lot of support from radio or MTV."
So what happened?
"Magic dust," Billig says, not trying to be funny. "They've got magic dust. You see them play live and people start talking".
It's magic born not out of technique or musicianship, but out of strife and risk. "One of my friends says that when there is a problem in his life, all he wants to do is turn and run away," Corgan says. "And I say, when there's a problem in my life, I want to run at it."
The 26 year-old singer grew up in a divorce-riddled family in Glendale Heights, a self-described "stupid, nongroovy" fan of bad metal music and basketball. When his ability could not longer keep with his passion for sports, the gangly, 6-foot-3 1/2 inch youth turned to the guitar and formed the Marked, which evolved into Smashing Pumpkins with Guitarist James Iha, bassist D'Arcy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.
Soon the band was developing a distinctive sound- a mix of metal roar and confessional whisper, bombast and beauty- and a demeanor to match: dour, serious, self-possessed.
"We weren't blessed with amazing, God-given talent, so we have to work really hard," Corgan says of the no-smiles image. "But also, we didn't come to make people laugh. We come to kick their butts. It's like a mini paramilitary unit."
At their best, the Pumpkins are a devastating, high-wire guitar act, and soon were opening shows for the likes of Jane's Addiction and the Buzzcocks in Chicago. When local groups who had been around twice as long grumbled, Corgan responded with typical tartness.
"There's an awful lot of whining in this town from band who, let's face it, aren't very good," he told the Tribune before Gish was released. "There are bands that wish nothing more than to be popular in Chicago. It doesn't matter that they couldn't get arrested anywhere else. To me that's not success."
In the summer of '91, at the New Music seminar in New York, the Pumpkins packed CBGB's and left a long line of industry hot shots outside. Afterward, many people who managed to squeeze in-including a healthy chunk of the East Coast music press- proclaimed the Pumpkins the seminar's revelation.
Now with Siamese Dream, one of about a dozen good-to great records out of Chicago this year, the Pumpkins are getting the Next Big Thing write-ups in national magazines. Which, Corgan says, misses the point of the band entirety.
"I feel like we're the square peg trying to be stuck into a round hole," he says. "we're not a hit song kind of band. Our songs aren't three-minute pop hits. We're being taken as if we're part of this big rat race: the 'next big band' rat race, the 'next Nirvana' rat race."
"We accept the inherent limitations of our music in terms of mass culture. Mass culture is not necessary gonna embrace the Smashing Pumpkins. We knew that three, four years ago. Is Siamese Dream gonna the transcendent album that captures the imagination of the whole world? My response to that is that I'm not writing albums for the entire world. I'm writing albums for people of my generation, and if the rest of the world wants to listen, fine."
Corgan's disgust with the business end of being in a rock band is addressed on "Cherub Rock," the new album's opening track. "Who wants honey as long as there's some money?" Corgan sings. "Let me out."
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