Band Helped Redefine Rock Genre
Newsday - 07-13-1996

Anxious, high-strung, daring, egotistical, explosive: The image drawn by the band's name - Smashing Pumpkins - says plenty about its personality.

The high drama and deathly trauma that touched down on the Pumpkins early yesterday morning in a Park Avenue hotel room has been visited upon other rock acts of late: Drugs - specifically today's fashionable addiction, heroin - have been cited in the deaths of Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon, Dwayne Goettel of Skinny Puppy, former Replacement Bob Stinson and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.

Rock legends from Keith Richards to Jerry Garcia to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith have said they take the drug. And among this summer's hot films is "Trainspotting" from Britain, which tracks the tale of young men who choose heroin.

Heroin has become so insidious in pop music that Michael Greene of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has insisted that the industry confront the problem in a symposium on drugs in rock.

Whether the Pumpkins en masse were candidates for involvement in drugs, the band, since its formation in Chicago seven years ago, has been ambitious in its virtuosity, its melding of melody with raw passion, and in the internal acrimony that has periodically threatened to split the quartet apart, but hasn't. Yet.

The spark plug and creative force behind the group is a 29-year-old bundle of nerves named Billy Corgan, who formed Pumpkins first as a duo (with bass player D'Arcy Wretzky).

Blending Corgan's take-me-as-I-am confessional lyrics with powerhouse guitar lines and support from drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha, Pumpkins was forged into a college-radio staple before breaking loose with its 1993 major-label debut on Virgin, "Siamese Dream."

But the band stumbled in the face of adulation. Relationships soured as Corgan assumed control-freak status over the band: Iha and D'Arcy, a couple since the Pumpkins' early stages, broke up as an item, although they stayed with the band.

Chamberlin, who told writers that he left his "dysfunctional family" at age 15 to escape an abusive father, battled drugs and alcohol. Corgan had a nervous breakdown on the eve of making "Siamese Dream."

As a warm-up band for Guns N' Roses, as a headlining act at Lollapalooza, the Pumpkins continued to push the envelope, both on stage and in the studio. Their most recent album is a double-disc set released in a time when double-disc sets - like Michael Jackson's "HISstory" - are retail anathemas.

Yet "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," which helped redefine "alternative" with its mix of gentle piano, distorted riffs, steel guitars and a string section, has already sold 6 million copies. It is the band's most ambitious music to date.

In an interview last winter in Rolling Stone, Corgan said that "Mellon Collie" was about "how we managed to get a lot of blood out of the stone . . . For me, it's seven years of playing in clubs, dragging your equipment upstairs, dealing with my dad, all those doubts, people writing stuff about us, the band almost falling apart - you look at all those things, and you can't help but go, `We --- did it.' "

Late yesterday, on the Internet web site devoted to the band (alt.music.smash-pumpkins) was this unsigned message: "My local news just reported that a member of the Smashing Pumpkins was found dead in his hotel room in New York. Someone please tell me that this is a mistake."

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