Smashing Pumpkins: An Alternative Success Story

Starline Magazine, 1994

Contributed by: Jennifer L

"I've never had a stable life," says Smashing Pumpkins vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Billy Corgan. "I lived in 5 different places before I was five. I saw divorces, messy breakups, boyfriends, girlfriends and drugs. I don't trust stability. I understand chaos. I muck things up because it forces you to have everyone like you and think you're great."

Entering at #10 on the charts, Siamese Dream was the highest debuting album by a Chicago band in a decade. Although its lyrics reflect bitterness and frustration, Corgan has stated, "I don't have a political manifesto I want to press. I wonder what it is about America that makes kids want to be in bands. What is it that we're so desperately trying to get away from?"

It took five months to complete Siamese Dream, the band's second album and first for a major label. Influenced by everyone from 'Black Sabbath' to 'Cheap Trick', Corgan has shaped the Smashing Pumpkins unique sound. The disc, he admits, is much more personal than its predecessor, Gish. "When I wrote the lyrics for Siamese Dream, I would sit down at a type-writer and just type pages and pages, and then when I came to a line that made me cringe with embarrassment, that's the one I would use," he tells Spin magazine. If you were to sit down with the lyrics in your hand and listen (to the album), really listen, you could get a pretty good insight into me. I think that that is a better insight into me than anything I could ever say. If you really listen to the record, you would know that I'm a real wimp and a hopeless romantic.

"My whole life I was told there was something wrong with me, that I was different. I mean, all I ever heard was, 'you're a freak, you're different, you're not like everybody else' I didn't grow up with my mother and that really (messed) me up. I grew up with my stepmother. My parents got divorced and I went to live with my great-grandmothers, then I lived with my grandmother, then I went to live with my father and his new wife. My father was a musician so he was gone all the time, so she was in essence my mother. I consider her my mother, still. And around the time I was nine they split up for good and I stayed with her. So I grew up living an hour away from both my natural parents, but I didn't grow up living with them. That has had a lot of really harsh effects on my life-things that I've only figured out recently."

A group that was once outcast by their local scene is now on the top of the charts, and, says Corgan, "We've become extremely jaded as a band, and I think it's really sad. We've lost perspective about how lucky we are and how wonderful a position we're in. We tried to make (Smashing Pumpkins) big, and then it happened, and it got bigger than we thought it would be."

Corgan says he wanted Siamese Dream to be "loud and quiet and abusive and beautiful." While it seems that he met his goal, and won over audiences in the process, he also says he nearly fell victim to the demands of outside forces.

"Smashing Pumpkins has never been a band about hit songs," he stresses, "but suddenly in the wake of all these alternatives acts selling millions of records, all of the sudden it was expected we would become that. And so it was a really strange position to be in.

"You feel it from everywhere. You have friends telling you,'Well you're better than that band.' And the record company is telling you, 'We know we can count on you.' It's not an evil plot on anybody's part. You're standing on the side of the stage thinking 'God, I wish I was out there.' and suddenly someone shoves you out there. When I started a band, I realized that in order to achieve anything of power, you had to go above and beyond the call of a normal rock band. Walking on stage, plugging in and playing loud was not going to do it."

Corgan says he's not looking to be a role model, but he does have opinions and speaks them freely. "You kind of look around and think, Where can I carve my place in the world? Because there's no value system to hold on to, you get the message that you're better off being a cheat and a liar. To me, the newest generation of bands is not a reaction against something, but a reaction because there is nothing. It's like there's so much apathy and people are frustrated and we don't even know why."

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