"We can't go out and pretend that we feel the same way we felt when we were 23 years old about playing fucking Godzilla riffs." — Billy Corgan
The Smashing Pumpkins: Happier times.

InsiderOne - The Drama You've Been Craving

Monday Dec. 11, 2000

The End Of The Smashing Pumpkins

A great band plays its last show.

By Michael Goldberg

On the night of Saturday, Dec. 2, 2000, the Smashing Pumpkins played their last show. Did anyone care?

Bandleader Billy Corgan had announced that it was over for the mega Chicago rock band last May. Even then, on the few occasions the Pumpkins came up in conversation, people seemed happy that Corgan wouldn't be "whining" anymore.

I wish things were different.

The Pumpkins made the music they wanted to make and sold 22 million-plus albums in the process. Their music literally impacted millions of people. Why did they go out with such a whimper?

The Pumpkins were one of the great rock bands of the '90s. In the beginning, they fused a punk attitude with a love of '70s rock. Released in 1991, the same year Nirvana's Nevermind hit the streets, their amazing debut, Gish, earned the group tremendous buzz. Two years later, Siamese Dream, produced by Nevermind producer Butch Vig, broke it wide open for them. Hits such as "Cherub Rock" and "Disarm" helped sell millions of CDs, and the Pumpkins became one of America's biggest rock bands. Corgan and the original band — D'Arcy, the beautiful femme fatale; James Iha, the handsome monster-riff guitarist; and Jimmy Chamberlin, the troubled powerhouse of a drummer — wanted the same thing some of the greatest rockers before them wanted: to change the world, and to do it on their own terms. "I either want to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world or I'd rather be Alex Chilton," Corgan once told Neil Straus of the New York Times.

The sprawling two-CD set Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, released in 1995, made them even more popular, delivering a huge hit with the incredible "1979."

There was something about Billy Corgan. He was the geek, the weirdo, the outcast, the alienated loner. He was a sensitive soul; kids everywhere connected with his unique voice, poetic lyrics and extreme vulnerability.

After Mellon Collie Corgan was restless. First he considered releasing a solo album, then changed his mind. "I think we're in a very rare position in that we've had a sustained kind of success," Corgan told me in 1998, during one of several interviews I did with the band over the years in their Chicago studio. "And I think the Beatles, the Who, all our great bands ..... Can you imagine the Who? 'I hope I die before I get old ...' I can't imagine what the interviews were like when they were 30, you know? 'Well, now you're getting old. How does it feel?' Do you know what I mean? I think everybody has to turn some sort of corner at some point.

"Whether we want to or not," he continued, "we're turning a corner, both based on our maturity, the things that have happened to us, to the musical choices we've made, and just the way things are headed. Grunge rock, alt rock, whatever, is basically a passé thing. I'm not gonna be out there hamboning up something that I don't believe in anymore. I believed in it when I believed in it, and I still love it. But we can't go out and pretend that we feel the same way we felt when we were 23 years old about playing fucking Godzilla riffs. It's not the same thing. You have to play music [about which you have conviction] and if you don't have conviction, that's it."

Blue Skies Bring Tears

Captivated by electronic music, Billy Corgan took a hard left turn, abandoning the big guitars for a radical makeover on 1998's Adore.That album, which is what his proposed solo project evolved into, mixed a quieter, textured sound with electronics. Prior to Adore's release, Corgan hoped the new sound would bring the band a much larger audience.

"I'm not talking to teen-agers anymore," he said. "I'm talking to everybody now. The whole world, you know. My parameters are much wider. It's a wider dialogue. I'm talking to people who are older than me and younger than me, and our generation as well." Not only did the whole world not want to hear it, some of their core audience felt the same. The rejection hurt Corgan, enough that he decided to close up shop, even before the release of MACHINA/the machines of God, the Pumpkins' final major-label studio album.

"There's nothing wrong inside the band," Corgan said on L.A. radio station KROQ-FM in May, explaining the breakup. "But the way the culture is and stuff, it's hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys."

This Is The End

It is inevitable that bands fall out of fashion. Pop music — and when a band sells millions of albums, they are are making pop music — is about new audiences getting excited about bands they can feel are their own. Seven years after Siamese Dream, the Pumpkins are a lot of kids' older siblings' band. Their rock band is Limp Bizkit or Godsmack.

You can only be "one of the biggest rock stars in the world" for so long. For Corgan, time was running out. Better to burn out than fade away, Neil Young once wrote.

At the backstage party after the band's final show at Chicago's Metro, SonicNet's Gil Kaufman observed a fan go up to Corgan and ask him about the Pumpkins. "I'm not in the Smashing Pumpkins anymore," Corgan said. "I'm just Billy."

It may be hard being "just Billy," but if he gets through it, I think we'll see even greater things from Billy Corgan. I think he'll produce some amazing records, and I think he's going to make some very interesting music in the future, either as a solo artist or as part of some new combo. Maybe it's time for him to enter his "Alex Chilton" period.

On the night of Saturday, Dec. 2, 2000, the Smashing Pumpkins played their last show. Did anyone care?

I sure did.

In The Game

PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island): With a bracing, droning rock-guitar jangle, Harvey sings: "Look out ahead/ I see danger come/ I wanna pistol/ I wanna gun/ I'm scared baby/ I wanna run/ This world's crazy/ Give me the gun." Like Bob Dylan circa Blonde on Blonde, Elvis Costello circa This Year's Model, and Patti Smith, who some people seem to think she sounds like on this album, Harvey sings with certainty about her internal life and the world around her. It's hard to keep from quoting lyrics when writing about this album, because they're so good. But flat on the screen, the words don't convey Harvey's vocal nuances in a line like "And he's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ He's the best thing/ A beautiful feeling." The way she almost whispers a word, and then lets minimal guitar notes fill the air — just a little longer than you might expect. Or sings "And when I watch you move," and then just holds that last word. This is one of the best albums of the year.

Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

© 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.