Rolling Stone Article
By David Fricke

Sept 1996

Billy Corgan remembers answering the phone at his Manhattan hotel, the Four Seasons, at about 5 a.m. The call was from Tim Lougee, a.k.a. Gooch, co-tour manager for the Smashing Pumpkins. Gooch was in drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's room at the Regency Hotel, on Park Avenue, with one of the band's security managers, Bill Sitkiwiecz. Gooch's message, as Corgan recalls it, was simple and devastating: "Jimmy's OD'd. Jonathon's dead. Cops are here."

In a matter of hours, Corgan was supposed to be onstage with Chamberlin, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy for the first of two sold out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. Instead, in just a few moments during the pre-dawn hours of July 12, what was supposed to be one of the most triumphant days in the singer-guitarist's life and the Smashing Pumpkins' eight-year career had collapsed in ruins. Jonathan Melvoin, a 34-year-old keyboard player hired last December to play with the group on tour, was dead, the victim of a mixture of alcohol and a lethal strain of heroin known as Red Rum. The 32-year-old Chamberlin, who was using heroin with Melvoin that night, had not overdosed but was in police custody and about to be charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance. By later that morning, Corgan, Iha and D'Arcy (last name Wretzky) had been taken to the 19th Precinct police station on East 67th Street for questioning, then released and left to contemplate the tragedy of Melvoin's death, Chamberlin's serious legal plight and their precarious future as a band.

"I guess they wanted to know if we were involved," Corgan says later of his, Iha's and D'Arcy's questioning by the police. "I think they thought maybe bands were like gangs, and it was all interconnected: If somebody in the band was doing drugs, then everybody in the band was. In the end, they turned out to be genuinely just doing their job."

It has been three weeks since Melvoin's death and Chamberlin's arrest and subsequent firing by the Pumpkins. Corgan is sitting in a lounge at Chung King Varick Street Studios, in downtown Manhattan, where he is busy mixing a new clutch of Pumpkins B sides, and he is talking on the record for the first time about the circumstances leading up to that disastrous morning and the consequences immediate and long-term - that he and the other Pumpkins must now address. Corgan is dressed entirely in black (boots, pants, long sleeved turtleneck top), and the sober ensemble contrasts dramatically white-marble pallor of his closely shaven head and broad, boyish face.

"The initial wave of thought was 'OK, Jimmy's got a court date, Jimmy's going into rehab. Four weeks and we'll be back on tour,' " Corgan continues, going back to the events of July 12. "Part of this is denial. You just want everything to go back the way it was. And I don't mean we were being insensitive. The thought of going back onstage was completely horrifying.

"We just went into that mode. As someone in the band pointed out - I think it was D'Arcy - people on the outside don't realize that in a band, you're used to dealing with stressful situations. Dealing with this was, in a weird way, like dealing with just another crazy fucking day.

"It wasn't until 48 hours later," Corgan says grimly, "that the bomb hit. The real weight of it: Jonathan's life. Jimmy's life. It was completely devastating

The devastation was widespread. On July 17, five days after Chamberlin's arrest and shortly after he'd entered an inpatient rehabilitation program at an undisclosed facility, he was notified by phone by Pumpkins co-manager Peter Mensch that the band had fired him. Corgan considered telling the drummer personally but felt "there's nothing I want to hear him say." Chamberlin had a long history of drug addiction and alcohol problems, and the catastrophe at the Regency Hotel wasn't "the final straw," Corgan insists. At was the final brick."

Chamberlin appeared in New York City criminal court for arraignment on Aug. 13 on the possession charge, which stemmed from drug paraphernalia and a small amount of heroin that the police found in his Regency hotel room. But the case was put over until Sept. 25 to enable the district attorney's office to complete its investigation. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail, but Chamberlin's attorney, Richard Schaeffer, speculates that because the drummer had no prior offenses, "the district attorney might agree to some form of dismissal."

Schaeffer says that to his knowledge Chamberlin was never in any danger of facing additional charges in connection with Melvoin's death: "I don't think that [the police] would have released him that day if that were the case." As to why Chamberlin was staying in a different hotel than the rest of the Pumpkins, Schaeffer says that his client told him "there was some groupie who was harassing him. He was trying to isolate himself so he wouldn't be found by that person." When asked if the drummer's explanation might have been a cover for going off to use drugs, Schaeffer replies, "Jimmy's statement to me seemed logical and sensible. I just accept that at face value."

Jonathan Melvoin's sudden death, its cause and allegations about his previous use of hard drugs left his family in shock. His father, Michael Melvoin, a former chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, has been instrumental in launching NARAS' MusiCares Substance Abuse Initiative, an outreach program combating drug abuse in the music industry. On July 25, Jonathan's younger sisters Susannah and Wendy, also singers and musicians, issued a statement describing Jonathan's death as "a tragedy and a travesty, a freak accident" and insisted that he "was not a drug abuser. A recreational digression took a deadly turn and we pray that our loss will not be in vain. . . We are consoled in our grief only by the hope that the circumstances surrounding Jonathan's death will inspire at least one person to reconsider before challenging the vagaries of fate." Jonathan is survived by his wife, Laura Marie Vasquez, and an infant son, Jacob Arthur, who was born in March.

A NARAS spokesman told ROLLING STONE that Michael Melvoin "would not be available for comment." But Wendy Melvoin, speaking to ROLLING STONE by phone from Los Angeles, elaborates on the July 25 statement, pointing out that her brother was not feeling depressed or lonely on the Pumpkins' tour. "Everything was going great for him," she says. "He was having a fabulous life. He just had a brand-new baby. He never had any problems with his friends or family.

"The only thing I can speculate," Wendy says, "is that somehow, someway, Jonathan developed this incredible jones with Jimmy on this tour. We've all been around people who do drugs. We've all been around people who have problems with it. We've all seen people go through programs. And my brother just didn't have, in our minds, in any sense, any of those classic symptoms. Jonathan dabbled, as almost everybody else in our life did. This wasn't an anomaly whatsoever. At the same time, we never heard of any of these episodes that had happened to Jonathan on the road. No one knew any of this."

"I still think about Jonathan, and I can't picture him dead," Corgan says. He notes that during the six months that Melvoin toured with the Smashing Pumpkins, Jonathan was with us in just about everything. We did not exclude him for [band] dinners or anything.

"The weirdest thing was, I was in the police station with my head down, and I was so tired, I wasn't even thinking. Somebody walked in, and the way they walked, I went, 'Oh, that's Jonathan.' In my brain it said, 'Jonathan.' I looked up, and it was a cop.

"You just refuse to accept that somebody is really dead," Corgan admits soberly. "It's like they're on permanent vacation."

Jonathon Melvion came to the Smashing Pumpkins with a high recommendation. Corgan says that when he met vocalist Chris Connelly of the Revolting Cocks late last year, Connelly who had worked with Melvoin told Corgan, "I hear you're looking for a keyboard player. I really like this guy. I think he'll fit the bill. He's a good person; he won't drive you fucking nuts." For the most part, Melvoin lived up to his advance billing.

Jonathan David Melvoin was born in Los Angeles, on Dec. 6 1961. His parents divorced when he was 14, and he moved with his mother to New York and later to Conway, N.H. Melvoin was a prodigious multi-instrumentalist and composer; he started playing drums at the age of 5 and had an original work performed at the Juilliard School when he was 14.

Melvoin also came from a family with a rich musical pedigree. In addition to being a major figure in NARAS, his father was a jazz pianist and composer. In the mid-1980s, Wendy was a singer and guitarist in Prince's band the Revolution; she and the group's keyboard player Lisa Coleman later formed the critically acclaimed duo Wendy and Lisa. During Wendy's tenure with Prince, Jonathan and his other sister, Susannah, were both members of the Prince-protege band the Family, which recorded the original version of Prince's classic ballad "Nothing Compares 2 U." Jonathan also played on Prince's 1985 album, Around the World in a Day.

From 1991 to mid-'93, Jonathan Melvoin played drums with the Los Angeles cartoon-punk band the Dickies. That was his energy gig," says Wendy. That was him saying, I need to get out and play 164 beats per minute for about two and a half hours onstage.' "

But, she adds, "he was a very well-rounded guy. He certainly was not a moron. This is a guy who would study Stravinsky scores for fun. He was a great intellect and a great spirit."

Bad Religion drummer Bobby Schayer, who worked as Jonathan's drum technician with the Dickies, says that the other Dickies had a nickname for Melvion on the road: Mr. Perfect.

"He always ate well, never ate fried food, drank bottled water," Schayer recalls. "He was very conscious about that, and he was a very serious musician." According to Schayer, Melvoin also acted as the Dickies' road manager, drove the band's van and did the tour accounting. He even did Schayer's taxes. "He was the most responsible one out of the whole lot of them," Schayer says.

In 1994, Melvoin moved back to New Hampshire with his wife, Laura, and a year later received his emergent medical technician license in Conway. He worked as a paramedic in the area in between music gigs, and Schafer says that one of the reasons that Melvoin left Los Angeles "was because most of the musicians were doing drugs." Ironically, while playing with the Dickies, Melvoin had another band called Redrum - murder spelled backward - a name taken from Stephen King's book The Shining. Red Rum is also the street name of a potent strain of heroin that the New York police say Melvoin and Chamberlin purchased on the Lower East Side on the night of Melvoin's death.

When Melvoin joined the Smashing Pumpkins as a backing keyboard player last December, the Pumpkins were riding a tidal wave of commercial success - their recent double CD, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was on its way to selling more than 6 million copies - and setting out on a yearlong world tour. Tragedy first struck in early May, a 17-year-old girl died of massive internal injuries suffered in the mosh pit at the Pumpkins' Dublin, Ireland, concert. But it was largely an exciting and auspicious time for the band . "From everything I was told and everything I felt," Corgan insists, "we were playing the best concerts we'd ever played For once, we were hitting on ail the cylinders"

Corgan says that Melvoin "fit in right away. I kept telling him, I'm very proud and happy that you're here and you're doing your job, and at the same time you're not getting into the middle of our little world.' " While playing with the Pumpkins, Melvoin also got to showcase his drumming prowess in the band's long, psychedelicized jams on the Siamese Dream track "Silverfuck."

Corgan says he was aware of rumors that Melvoin had some history of drug use. "I spoke to him personally," Corgan claims, "and he assured me up and down that there would be none of that going on on this tour, that playing with us was a completely great opportunity and he would do absolutely nothing to fuck that up. And except for these forays off the deep end, there was no evidence that he was ill intentioned"

According to Corgan, those "forays" were two separate incidents involving heroin use by both Melvoin and Chamberlin during the spring Asian and European legs of the Pumpkins' tour. The first one was in Bangkok, Thailand, in late February. "Jonathan was fine, but Jimmy was definitely out of it," Corgan says. "And because we were in Thailand, we didn't call anybody. What are you gonna do? The next thing you know, you end up in the clink and you need an interpreter. So we just dealt with it ourselves."

"Jonathan called me after Thailand," Wendy Melvoin says, "and said that they had experimented with something really powerful. He said it was heavy and that Jimmy had had a problem. But he wasn't specific with me. I think back on it now and . . ." She pauses. "It went right by me. That's it. It went right fuckin' by me."

The second, more serious occurrence was in Lisbon, Portugal, in May. Corgan says Chamberlin and Melvoin were both found unconscious outside a hotel by hotel staff and rushed to a local hospital for emergency treatment - "Adrenaline shots to the heart, the whole Pulp Faction bit," as Corgan puts it.

"After the first time it happened, I had a talk with Jonathan where I told him, If this happens again, you're gonna be fired, " Corgan says. "After Lisbon, I told him, 'You're fired, but I want you to finish the [European] tour because you're gonna leave us in the lurch.' He was very forlorn, very repentant."

According to Wendy Melvoin, her family was not told by either Jonathan or the Pumpkins organization of the Lisbon incident, a miscalculation that she feels might have cost her brother his life. "Mostly, I wish the wife had been informed," she says. "We don't hold anybody responsible for any of this. Jimmy, Jonathan, did this with their own hands. But at the same time, if we could have just been told, maybe we could have said something to him. Whether or not he'd be pissed off or humiliated because he got busted, I don't give a fuck. He'd be alive."

When the Pumpkins opened their U.S. summer tour, in Saginaw, Mich, on June 25, Melvoin was still playing with the band. "When I really thought about it, I thought, 'He's not just some guy I hired who just came off the Poison tour' " Corgan says. "I liked him so much I thought that as a friend, he deserved another chance."

The Pumpkins confronted Jimmy Chamberlin's renewed drug use with a different tack, an approach that reflected his status as an official member and the powerhouse-rhythm force in the Pumpkins' sound. "With Jimmy, it was back in the category of 'You need help. Something's gotta happen, " says Corgan. "It was addressed as, 'What can we do?' I guess part of the problem is, having been through it before, we viewed it as, 'Here's how we deal with it' "

Chamberlin was born on June 10,1964, in Joliet, Ill. In a 1994 ROLLING STONE cover story on the Pumpkins, Chamberlin described his family life as "highly dysfunctional. My father was really abusive. I decided early on that I didn't want to be like him." A graduate of Northern Illinois University, Chamberlin played in jazz bands and worked as a carpenter in Chicago before joining the Pumpkins.

The drummer's first major substance abuse crisis as a Pumpkin came when Chamberlin went into rehabilitation for alcohol and heroin addiction during the sessions for the group's 1993 album, Siamese Dream. (His sponsor was Red Hot Chili Peppers and ex-Jane' s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.) Halfway through the Pumpkins' tour to promote that album, Chamberlin underwent rehab for a second time. "After that," Corgan says, "we set up support systems by which this would never happen again." (Queried as to whet her he has used drugs in the past, Corgan replies firmly, "I would never lie about that. Yeah, I have. Let's just say I'm no angel. Have I ever used drugs to the extent that it destroyed my life? No. Have I ever endangered anyone else with my drug use? No . I'm not perfect, either. Eve talked openly about taking so much LSD during the Gist period that I was stuttering.")

Corgan points out that to the best of his knowledge, Chamberlin was "basically clean" when the Mellon Collie album was issued last fall "When I say 'basically clean,' was he drinking occasionally? Yes," says Corgan. "Did I hear rumors? Yes. Did I see it? No. Did I worry? Yes."

According to the police, Chamberlin and Melvoin were in Chamberlin's room at the Regency Hotel, using heroin late on the night of July 11. They both passed out. When Chamberlin awoke at about 3:30 the next morning, Melvoin was still unconscious. Chamberlin failed to rouse him and called Pumpkins security man Bill Sitkiwiecz for help. The two made several unsuccessful attempts to revive Melvoin, then called 911 at approximately 4 a.m. Paramedics declared Melvoin dead at the scene at 4:15. The New York medical examiner's report said Melvoin died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and opiates.

Chamberlin was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. His attorney, Richard Schaeffer, says the police found traces of heroin on a hypodermic needle as well as additional packets of the narcotic in Chamberlin's room.

Detective Alex Perez of the New York Police Department took Chamberlin's statement at the 19th Precinct station at about 10 a.m. Chamberlin was finally released by the police at 2:15 p. m. "He was very upset at the death of his friend," Perez says, "but he was very cooperative and gave us no attitude at all." Corgan, Iha and D'Arcy were brought in for questioning, Perez says, "just to see if they could provide information as to the relationship between Melvoin and Chamberlin"

Corgan vividly remembers the media crush that greeted him as he left the police station: "It was the full Hard Copy scene, chased by camera crews and the whole bit. People with secret microphones, people trying to take pictures. 'Say something for your fans.' I felt like OJ." The Pumpkins were not invited to Melvoin's July 15 funeral service, but Corgan says, "I won't question the family's reason behind that"

Wendy Melvoin says her family is not considering civil litigation against Jimmy Chamberlin or the Pumpkins. As to whether she feels Chamberlin or the group bear any moral responsibility in connection with Jonathan's death, Wendy admits, "I don't know how to answer that. I know that Jimmy can answer some questions for us. My brother certainly wasn't a 2-year-old. He was 34 years old and had a mind of his own. But somehow they found this love triangle together, and it got nuts.

"I want everybody to understand that Jonathan had absolute, total respect and love for Billy and Jimmy and that band," she adds. "I can hear him saying to me right now, 'I didn't mean this. I didn't mean this to happen at all' "

Chamberlin issued no public statements following his arrest or after he was let go by the Pumpkins. Schaeffer says his client "intends to continue in rehabilitation. He realized he has to do this in order to save his life." Regarding Chamberlin's musical future, Schaeffer only says that the drummer "intends to reenter the field. I can't be more specific than that"

Corgan claims that Chamberlin got a fair severance deal from the Pumpkins: "What Jimmy has earned, Jimmy will get. He needs it. He needs what he does have and what he has worked for to straighten out his life."

On Aug. 8, after holding three days of auditions in Chicago, the Smashing Pumpkins announced the hiring of drummer Matt Walker of Filter for the remaining 90 dates of the Pumpkins' U.S. tour, which resumed in Las Vegas on Aug. 27 and includes two rescheduled Madison Square Garden shows on Sept. 17 and 18. Dennis Fleming, of the controversial underground duo the Frogs, one of Corgan's favorite bands, has been recruited to play keyboards. In addition, Corgan is preparing a deluxe Pumpkins box set for release later this year, a package that will include every Mellon Collie-era B side - 28 tracks in all - that the group has recorded, including recently cut covers of New Wave hits by Missing Persons, the Cars, Blondie and the Cure.

Corgan insists that he and the remaining Pumpkins are not acting callously by going back out on the road so soon after Melvoin's death. "In the context of everything, what could I do?" Corgan argues. "Jonathan's dead. No amount of guilting is going to change that.

"Maybe I'm in some highly sophisticated form of denial," he says with a tight smile. "Deep down, I'm really, really sad Jonathan's dead, and I'd give a lot to change that. Jimmy's in some other place, and I'd give a lot to change that. But what is, is. I' ve worked so hard. James and D'Arcy have worked so hard and been so consistent in their diligence. Why should we punish ourselves?"

Does Corgan believe that, given the events of the past eight months, the Pumpkins are a star-crossed band? "I still believe that we are a blessed, lucky group of people," he insists before adjourning to the recording studio next door to continue mixing. " We are not your tragedy band. We had such fucking amazing lives - this includes Jimmy, too. To be so lucky, to be blessed with such amazing experiences, you can't piss on it in any way, shape or form, and we won't start now.

"Are there times when you think you're fucking cursed? Absolutely. But that's why you've got to come out the other end of it"

Would he welcome a clean, reformed Chamberlin back in the Pumpkins at some future date? "You know, there's those off days when you think, 'I wish this was all gone and we could just go back to being the most killer band in the world,' " Corgan says wearily. "But there's that sentiment in my heart where I feel I've really turned a corner on it. I still believe he's got God's gift. But it would take a lot of tea in China to go back to that".

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