Fasten Your Seatbelt
30th Nov 96

(Thanks to Ryan for typing this out for us)

....It’s going to be a dark ride. On board their private plane, SMASHING PUMPKINS are reflecting on the strangest year of their lives- a year of massive success and desperate tragedy. After surviving it all, Billy Corgan tells Paul Elliott why he’s now decided that rock is dead...

Billy Corgan cuts a comical figure backstage at the MTV Awards in London’s Alexandria palace. Smashing Pumpkins towering leader is wearing a heavy greatcoat over a suit, black leather gloves and a bobble hat on his bald bonce. He shivers as he chats to Metallica’s flouncy shirted guitarist Kirk Hammett. Corgan is cold and rather bored by the whole affair.

Nobody in England gives a fuck that we’re here, he groans. So why come at all? Because we want people in Europe to realise that we do actually exist, he says with a weak smile.

If you don’t know that the Smashing Pumpkins exist after the year they’ve had, what planet are you on?

In 1996, the Pumpkins have rarely been out of the news. Their brilliant double album, ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’, has continued to sell by the million. The band scooped the seven American MTV awards. And despite Billy’s self depreciation, the Pumpkins successfully toured the world.

But there’s been bad news, too. In May, 17 year old Bernadette O’Brien was crushed to death amid an over excited crowd at the Pumpkins’ gig at the Point in Dublin. Then in July another tragedy befell the band.

Jonathan Melvoin, a keyboard player hired for the ‘Mellon Collie...’, died from a heroin overdose in New York. Melvoin and Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had injected the drug- an especially lethal form of heroin called Red Rum (‘murder’ spelt backwards) - in a room at the Regency Hotel. Chamberlin survived and was charged by the NYPD for criminal possession of a controlled substance. The charges have since been dropped on condition that Chamberlin undergo drug rehabilitation treatment.

The Pumpkins have since recruited Filter drummer Matt Walker to complete the tour. The tour schedule is so busy that they’ve had to fly to London for the MTV Awards and then back again to Florida for a gig the next night. They shared the plane ride with fellow alt-rockin award winners Garbage. Phew, rock ‘n’ roll!

Given the events of the past few months and the head full of jetlag, it’s understandable that Billy Corgan should survey the MTV Awards with a weary cynical eye.

All these people running around acting all tense like it’s a big fucking deal, he shakes his head. That part we don’t like. But getting up for one song and blasting everybody’s brains off for one song, especially with all this wimpy r&b fluff on it, that feels good.

Most people don’t even now who the fuck we are. We just want them to connect the dots. You know, ‘Oh yeah, the guy who looks like an alien’...

Corgan retires to a small interview room set up for a BBC radio broadcast. He settles into a plastic chair beside James Iha, the Pumpkins’ second guitarist, stick-thin and sporting this season’s colours ‘in colour, brown. Bassist D’Arcy is back in the dressing room.

Billy is wrapped in his winter woollies, but he chuckles at the mention of the private plane and his showbiz buddies in Garbage. Billy and James immediately click into ‘heavy irony’ mode.

‘It was awesome,’ says Billy. ‘Me and Butch Vig belly up to the bar on the jet.

The famous grunge producer and his band - and us,’ James purrs. Its was good fun,’ Billy adds. I don’t think we’d have done it with any other band besides Garbage. We’ve known three of the guy’s since our second single. It’s a bit like family. James acts suspicious.

‘Are you saying it’s a bit ostentatious for us these alternative rock bands to come over in a private jet? Might be.

I hate to drop the bomb, sneers Billy, but we are now at classic rock status in America. We’re as big as the Scorpions or Ted Nuget. We don’t even care even more. We make a lot of money and we spend a lot of money.

We’re really over the alternative rock mindset. Basically, everybody we ever respected sold out anyway, so for people to point the fingers at us is kind of ludicrous. What kind of fucking difference does it make?

No, the Pumpkins don’t care if alt-rock purists accuse them of selling out, but when The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson labels Billy ‘the most corporate man in America’ criticising the Pumpkins decision to fire Chamberlin, Corgan is angered.

It’s obvious that Chris Robinson is a little bitter because he’s no longer selling records, he says. ‘Everyone fails to remember that they actually sold a lot of records and did lots of commercial things at one point. His bitterness could stem from the fact that they’re running short of bands to imitate. If he wants, he can give me a call and I’ll give him some new direction.

He also said something like, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about with drugs, adds James with a look of distaste. Obviously, with him being pro-drug, I guess we’re just not cool enough.

I don’t think our dismissal of Jimmy is a situation that anybody can judge, states Billy. ‘Chris Robinson didn’t ride around in a van with us for four years with Jimmy in tow. He didn’t wake up and waiting for Jimmy in 500 various locations. He didn’t drag Jimmy out of the fucking gutter.

Chris Robinson can go to fucking hell. Although we have to say that when he criticised us, we were a little worried we might lose the hippies, laughs Billy.

Right now, Jimmy Chamberlin is not a subject to be raised in interviews with the Smashing Pumpkins. This is the official and it doesn’t take a genius to work out why. The Pumpkins have survived 1996, but their music will never be the same again. Quite simply, Billy believes rock is dead. And he that the Pumpkins future lies in electronic music.

We feel like we’ve built this car and we’ve made it go as fast as it could go for as long as it could go, and we’re going to get in another car. That’s it, he says flatly.

Hopefully they won’t crash, sniggers James. Many Pumpkins fans will be horrified to see you hear you talking about ‘electronic’ music. What exactly does that mean, Billy? Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, the Pet Shop Boys or something altogether new?

"I did some instrumentals for this new movie ‘Ransom’, and if anybody wants any kind of window to where my heads at, that soundtrack is a good place to start. D’Arcy, who is absolutely the most cynical Pumpkin, was surprised by how heavy it was. D’Arcy thought I was taking us into wimpy land.

But I’ll say it for the millionth time: I fucking love playing rock music. But I don’t like playing rock music every night that’s going to bore people to tears. We’re not interested in doing our 15th year reunion and playing ‘Siva’ all over again. That stuff is dead and gone. That’s just the way we are. We’re fucking brutal people.

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