The Smashing Pumpkins: A Rebel’s Rant | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Smashing Pumpkins

A Rebel’s Rant

Sep 04, 2013 Web Exclusive
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“I think music has done a very poor job of getting the attention of a fifteen-year-old, which was the job of Elvis, and the job of The Beatles, and the job of The Cure,” says The Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan, speaking at a recent press conference at OFF Festival in Katowice, Poland.

It’s a divisive statement, one designed to raise eyebrows.

“If music doesn’t meet the demand to get that attention,” he continues defensively, “Well, fuck music basically.”

Having formed The Smashing Pumpkins in the late 1980s, a time when it was possible to capture music fans’ attention en masse, Corgan is, perhaps, one of the few musicians working today qualified to make such a blanket statement. The fruits of his band’s popularity are easy enough to cite. See: a chart toping spot with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, their 1995 album that contained such youthful anthems as “1979,” “Tonight Tonight” and “Thirty Three.” One could also mention a string of other indelible milestones including two Grammys (for tracks “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “The End Is The Beginning Is The End”) among them, netted before the band called it a day for the first time at the end of 2000.

In 2006, after a series of other projects and solo albums, Corgan revitalized The Smashing Pumpkins, swapping out founding members James Iha, D'arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin with new recruits, Jeff Schroeder, Mike Byrne, and Nicole Fiorentino. An album, Zeitgeist, was following by a string of live dates. The band experimented with releasing a single at a time, before ultimately returning to the full-length format for Oceania in 2012.

In all, the journey seems like the CV a fearless visionary. Not so, says Corgan. The remaining original Smashing Pumpkins member confesses that his move back to the spotlight with the return of his band wasn’t without a sense of hesitancy.

“When I came back with The Pumpkins in 2006, I was very naïve, even after all those years to think I could pick back up where I left off,” he admits. “Smashing Pumpkins is an artistic band and we’re going to keep on an artistic path. The music industry and the expectations of the audience had changed so much, that a band like mine is now supposed to be a greatest hits band. If you’re in the music business for so many years, now you’re a greatest hits band…My enthusiasm was diminished pretty quickly, because I realized ‘Oh my God, I’ve stepped back into a world that I didn’t really want to be in when I was twenty-two.’”

Corgan punctuates the statement with a rueful laugh, admitting that he’s been coaxed into a zero-sum game. Making a living in music, he assesses, has become a matter of playing, not to fans, but rather to taste making media outlets.  

“They’re not saying, ‘be an artist,’ or ‘he’s a poor artist,’” he notes, recalling the negative tone of many live reviews. “They’re saying, ‘You were an artist before. You made this music being an artist. But now we don’t want you to be an artist. Now be an entertainer.’ I was never an entertainer, I was never entertaining. I wasn’t meant to be entertaining…I had to reclaim Smashing Pumpkins for myself, but in context to the world that exists, not the one in my head. Because the one in my head didn’t matter. No one cared for the one in my head anymore.”

For Corgan, the world in his head is a place where the music scene is defined by the boundaries it pushes—not the number of units sold. He cites the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bob Marley as an example of true artistic radicalism, before boldly adding himself to that list.

“If you take me out of the equation, you tell me who the true radicals are right now,” Corgan says. “If I never existed, like It’s a Wonderful Life, who are the radicals in music right now? Who? See what I’m saying? I’m not saying it’s me. I’m not necessarily meant to be that kind of radical. But when I’m being a radical, when I’m treated like I’m somehow being difficult, I didn’t get into rock n roll to be like, ‘Hey, this is awesome!’”

Corgan not only bristles against the seemingly generic sonic tone of the current indie scene  (“it sounds like they’re all Apple commercials,” he moans, declining to name specific bands) but that—in his option—the idea of music as a vehicle for meaning has almost been completely lost. To find songs with a messages, he asserts, one has to travel back to the mid 1990s, when bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and (of course) The Smashing Pumpkins were dominating the cultural landscape. 

“When an artist comes on and goes ‘tap tap tap,’” he says, mimicking touching a microphone, “‘Hey, people are dying. People are dying in drone strikes, children are being murdered for no reason, chemicals, chem trails, what’s in the water?’ [Fans] go, ‘Oh, I don’t want to hear this! You’re breaking my dream! You’re too mean!’”

Corgan jokes about getting out his razor blades when describing the past, but it’s clear that he’s longing for a change. Although firmly dedicated to the newest incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins, he admits that while shaking up expectations may still be his purview, it’s not longer solely his responsibility.

“The one thing I can take solace in is any time in musical history, when something becomes the same the same the same, the young people listening now are going just as I did, ‘Fuck that!’…So whatever seems ubiquitous right now will be destroyed by the next generation. It will have nothing to do with me.”

(www.smashingpumpkins.com)



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