We have been busy transcribing a lengthy interview of Billy Corgan with Jennifer Weigel. We have released transcriptions regarding Donald Trump and Corgan’s views on social media and humanity’s future. These transcriptions so far have been based off of video recordings from a 9 part series released by Big Media Productions on YouTube, but we also found access to the entire two hour interview, with audience participation. Unfortunately, the audio quality of the full interview is poor and some sentences are just invariably lost to audible gargle. Here, we found a bit of Corgan speaking about the possibility of a full band reunion with James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky, Chamberlin included.
JW: “Do you think it’s time for a reunion, with the originals?”
BC: “Are you really asking me this question?”
JW: “I think it makes personally…but everyone wants to know that for some reason. I know that’s so not who we are now. I guess the question would be, would it make sense to sit down and have tea with either of them [Iha or Wretzky]? Because you spent so much time together, would you like to know who they are now?”
BC: “I know who they are…and they know who I am. When you spend that amount of time with somebody, of course they matured…I think the only way to answer every one of these questions is…I have no interest in doing anything that’s inorganic. I have people in my band now that I talk to…and they don’t want to talk to me and I don’t want to talk to them. If they try were lying on the side of the road, I would stop my car and bring them to the hospital, but we don’t send Christmas cards to each other. There’s no relationship. And so when you’re talking about the natural human instinct to find forgiveness and heal a relationship, I think that never ends. That’s a human thing, it has nothing to do with the band or people creating memories. The business of it all, I find quite gross…I think people rarely get out of those things [original reunions] what they think they’re gonna get. Because when a relationship breaks, and I would take it back more to something you’ve experienced in your family life or your romantic life, whatever, when a relationship breaks there are times it’s not gonna get any better. It’s what it was for what it was, underneath a particular set of circumstances…[inaudible]…There’s no temptation there for me. Strickly on my part I think it’s like, “Would I like to find peace?” Absolutely, of course. But beyond all the other stuff…I can’t even imagine that being able to watch.
Corgan also spoke on various aspects of the band’s past and his relationships to the music industry and audiences:
BC: “I didn’t get into this business I got into…to scream in an empty alleyway. I didn’t design this world [music industry], someone else designed it for me. They gave me a number and said, ‘Okay, now go stand over there.’ Now my natural, Eastern European gypsy spirit wants to kick everyone in the head in response, but it’s not an effective strategy anymore.”
BC: “Like when people would see us back in the day, they wouldn’t understand the combatant nature of the band or my verbal tirades and stuff like that. They didn’t understand it was performance art. We were purposefully pressing buttons being in a generation where they had it all figured out. When you try to engage someone with a different point of view, someone who assumes you align with them socially…and the minute they realize you’re not on their team or determine you’re not in their tribe, how quickly they turn. Generation X in particular led an incredible betrayal of values. The sellout, which was the word at the time, really is…the word of the generation. There has been far more selling out than buying in.”
Corgan has come a long way with this. Since the dissolution of the original lineup, there has been little talk between ex-bandmates outside of Chamberlin. But here, he shows a desire to make peace with them, which doesn’t equal a reunion. It means closure with people who were once part of his life and band, which is something a lot more important than a “reunion.” People will inevitably continue to criticize Corgan for anything he says. But the fact of the matter is, Corgan, Iha and Wretzky are human, not machines who play music for drooling middle aged people. Healing takes time. Respect that.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Melvoin
“Music can be the most wonderful thing in the world, it personally has inspired me to make great changes in my life and my way of thinking, but it is only music. Remember that those who ‘make it’ are not above you in any way. Don’t give credence to anyone person’s opinion than your very own, including my own and certainly don’t give more credenceto one person’s opinion because he or she has sold more records than another. Many people have asked me how far I want the band to go, and I always say as far and to as many people as it can because that means people are doing the thing that means the most to us, and that is listening to the music.”
– William “Billy” Corgan, “A Newsletter From The Smashing Pumpkins to Their Fans”, 1993
This is a very, very long article. It brings up certain events that aren’t pleasant to remember and at the same time, incredible art. As a disclaimer, people grow up. People make mistakes growing up.
If you like what you read, view a much shorter retrospective on Machinahere.
Prelude to Sadness
Well into their tour in promotion for their sophomore album Siamese Dream, the Smashing Pumpkins were traveling across the Gulf of Mexico’s edge early April 1994, commuting between tour dates from Alabama to Mississippi. After sleeping in a motel room that reeked of “of mildew” and only “just big enough for that same sought after bed”, Corgan begins to recalls an important date. This day would arguably become the most pivotal date in alternative rock’s history. That April 8th, 1994, the news was broke to the world that Kurt Cobain was dead and an entry from the Confessions of Billy Corgan gives insight into Corgan’s initial reaction:
“The phone rings way too early, jarring me out of a sweet, humid sleep…the window is open and the sun pours in as the ocean air sweeps through the room…it looks like a beautiful day…”Did you hear the news? He’s gone and killed himself”…my first twilight thought is that it can’t be true, because even I have been reported dead two separate times in the last year (driving down the road, my father had recently heard a report that I was dead, so it must be a rumor or a bad joke)…the TV. in the room is one of those standard pieces of shit where you need a remote to turn it on, cause they hardwire the front controls off so you can’t jack the channels around to get the movies for free…I flip on CNN with the sound off, figuring if there’s any truth to it that they would have it…there is nothing on at this moment except a general news report, so it must just be a mistake…then I start to think that maybe they won’t care at all and that this might not be the source for information…about 20 seconds in they flash his picture…the talking head is talking away, and my stomach drops about 1,000 feet…I mumble to whoever is on the line for a minute or so, but I don’t remember what I said…they remind me that they are very glad I am still here…I put down the phone, and all is really quiet now…his picture is still up on the screen, frozen…it is one of those rare moments in life where the entire world seems to be stopped, waiting for the next breath…my mind races around to “where is she? I hope she is alright”…I sit on the edge of the bed and just stare at the screen…I cannot believe my eyes, it is just all so sad…I don’t pray, but I do now…I pull myself down to the floor, my back pressed up against the bed, the TV. screen just a foot away from my eyes…I say a prayer for his soul, thanking him for all the good he has done…I pray a lot for his child, who is now without a father…and I start to cry and I don’t stop until there are no more tears to cry…”
The death of Kurt Cobain signaled a significant loss – for his family, for his friends, and for the world. But the end of Cobain’s life and career brought on what might be known as “the death of guitar.” Since Nirvana’s demise, guitar derivative music has never been held as high as it had been during its glory days through the late ’50s up until Cobain’s death in 1994. The death of guitar was neither a good or bad thing – but it set the course of music in a different direction. Guitar driven bands were not exactly forced to change per se but with a reasonable artistic consideration in mind, many bands looked to different means to convey music or at least re-invent and re-structure how they would play guitar. This process had already begun with the electronic movements from the late 70’s through the 80’s, though these movements stayed closely aligned with rock or R&B movements until the ’90s began to approach. The Smashing Pumpkins became one of the first “rock bands” to acknowledge guitar’s death and the course of where music might go. Instead of doing away with it entirely though, Corgan and his former band mates took the initiative to re-invent the role of guitar and influence of rock in their band. As James Iha towards the end of 1996 in Guitar World, “Seeing the way rock music has changed over the last couple of years, it seems kind of dull to be playing guitars…The future is in electronic music. It really seems boring just to play rock music.”
The band, circa 1994. Left to right: Jimmy Chamberlin, D’arcy Wretzky, William “Billy” Corgan and James Iha
A grueling 13 month tour for Siamese Dream was followed by hitting the studio soon afterwards for pre-production and writing. A big element of the album’s direction came out of a shift of producers – long time producer Butch Vig was replaced by electronic producer Flood, who engineered and/or produced several albums by U2, New Order and Nick Cave. In a 1995 interview with Guitar World, Corgan stated that, “I think we’d become so close with Butch that it started to work to our disadvantage. You get to the point where you don’t even say anything, ’cause you know all the body language. So the communication starts to diminish. We’d worked with Butch from the time we did our Sub Pop single [Tristessa, December 1990]. So it wasn’t really a decision about him as a producer. I just felt we had to force the situation, sonically, and take ourselves out of normal Pumpkin recording mode. I didn’t want to repeat past Pumpkin work.” Flood’s collaborator, engineer/producer Alan Moulder was also brought into the mix. The grass is always greener on the other side as they say, and the band was looking to see how far they could push their horizon.
The 666 Tapes – an obscure documentary produced by MTV during the initial recording sessions for the album.
Writing for most of the album’s material formally began in March of 1995, though it has been noted by Corgan that the single “Thirty-Three” was the first song written for the album, shortly after the tour for Siamese Dream was finished around late 1994. Ironically, it became the last single released for the album’s promotion. Thirty-Three is one of the more poignant songs on the album, very soft spoken vocals playing off of deep yet light guitar tones and ethereal keys in the background. Towards the end of the original Smashing Pumpkins’ tenure in 2000, the band played the song during a VH1 Storytellers performance and Corgan spoke about its background and context:
“This song embodies the spirit of that time – I’d just gotten married, I’d just moved into a new house, the band was achieving the kind of success that people only dream of, and I was really hopeful with the idea that I was eventually, that someday and it looked like it was going to happen actually have a happy life. Didn’t quite work out that way. But I don’t think that’s what I want to emphasize about this particular song. Hope is the key component in life, because one must have hope to do anything in this world… I had a friend read my tarot cards, and the person said that, ‘when you’re 33 years old (this is when I was 27), your life is going to completely change.’ So as I sit here today at 33 years old, my life is going to completely change at 33 [In 2000, The Pumpkins announced their last tour when Corgan was 33].”
Thirty-Three performed at VH1 Storytellers, 2000
No sooner than he had covered Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, the line “Even children get older/And I’m getting older too” rang true for Corgan. He was finally growing up, “I know I can’t be late, supper’s waiting on the table”. But with the price of growing up comes leaving behind many things, like the identities of your past and the friends who helped form it:
“And for a moment I lose myself Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world I’ve journeyed here and there and back again But in the same old haunts I still find my friends Mysteries not ready to reveal
Sympathies I’m ready to return”
It is the sweetest lament. “The graceful swans of never”, the lovely people you leave behind as you grow up. “Thirty-Three” encompasses many of the album’s themes, including all the victories, remorse, and aspirations in the summation of one’s life. These issues have by no means been solved with simple step-by-step solutions for Corgan and the result of a lifetime of frustrations became a beautiful double album. When asked about the double album’s ambitiousness by Addicted to Noise in 1995, Corgan stated, “The first reaction that people have is it’s such a preposterous ’70s kind of thing to do, why would you do that in 1995? That’s exactly the point. It kind of knocks people upside the head to at least reexamine their perception of what an album is. Things like that.” In the same interview he also conceded “a lot” was riding on the album’s success, which would determine if the band would fade out of the public spotlight or reach success unparalleled in their career before. Virgin Records had felt at first that the whole double record concept was a career suicide and a project too large and early for the Pumpkins.
Corgan on stage during the Mellon Collie tour, pre-tonsure
Initial rehearsal through much of the early recording and production process happened at the aptly named Pumpkinland, their rehearsal studio, beginning around November of 1994. Earlier sessions took place at “Sadlands” (Corgan’s home) during the fall of 1994. Demos for the November 1994 sessions were kept at D’arcy’s house for some time and were stolen by her sister’s boyfriend and sold online during the album’s recording and production. Music for the video release Vieuphoria was likely produced and/or written at James Iha’s house, Bugg Studios (named after his dog); around the same time where it is speculated the band may have jammed on new material there as well. Much of lighter instrumental music featured in the video acts as a slight foreshadow and nod to the softer parts of the forthcoming album.
Although Corgan wrote the vast bulk of material on the album, it was a far collaborative process according to most sources. James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin and D’arcy Wretzky’s separate contributions to the music Corgan wrote out had the album sound wholly different than their previous records. The introduction of keyboards, piano and strings also had the record stand out from the rest of the discography beforehand. Gish and Siamese Dream, were generally very guitar driven. With Mellon Collie, the “death of guitar” brought out another side of music for the Pumpkins to write with, though the album has incredible guitar feature. What Rolling Stone had to say gave me a very “a-ha” moment – “Accused of not being punk enough, Corgan showed on ‘Mellon Collie’ what punk might be if Steven Spielberg got hold of it.” And it’s true in a sense – the album is well orchestrated in the same vein of which Spielberg has made so many countless great and iconic films. Strings are involved on the album of course, but the album’s orchestration is in the sense of being well-crafted and delicately put together in an intense period of artistic creativity and is in debatable contest as the peak of the Pumpkins. In the closing from the earlier mentioned Addicted to Noise interview, the difference between intuitive and “well-crafted” song writing was explained by Corgan:
“Neil Young, for example, writes so intuitively that it almost comes through him. It’s there. He doesn’t even know while he’s writing what it’s about and later, he may see something. But it sounds to me like you work a little differently.
Corgan: No, I work both ways. I’m a very multi-brain person. I don’t know if it’s my Piscean nature but I sit in a lot of different chairs. For example, a song like “Disarm” was completely intuitive. There’s nothing conscious about that song. It, like, wrote itself. “Today” was an intuitive song. There’s other songs where I really have to spend time to make it all glue together.
Where it’s more crafting.
Corgan: Oh, “Tonight, Tonight” was probably a more crafted song. You’re looking for something specific. You know what you’re trying to say but you’ve got to find the right words to say it with the right sentiments. It’s obviously a well-crafted song. That took time to put all the pieces together. Stuff like that. I move back and forth.”
The formal recording process took place from March to August of 1995 at the Chicago Recording Company. It was overdubbed and mixed at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles. At this point, the band was working harder than a full time 9 to 5 job. Oftentimes, production was divided between teams of people, like Flood and Corgan, Moulder, D’arcy and James, etc. in an effort to get the tracks done. They had to reach the deadline as the year’s end drew nearer, and this could mean spending 10 to 20 hours in the studio in a single day. Another factor to keep in mind was that determining the track listing was a large trial and error process. Approximately 50 songs were recorded during these sessions and 28 were used for most editions of the album. The original vinyl pressing, however, included 30 tracks in 6 sides featuring two additional tracks, “Tonite Reprise” and “Infinite Sadness.” There was much material written or at least jammed on before the formal recording process from both Iha and Corgan. They wanted a double album, a concept they had thrown around for awhile, but 50+ tracks constitutes a triple, if not quadruple, album. By that point there had been plenty of Pumpkins’ material shelved, as documented by first numerous bootlegs and now the official album re-issues. Instead of shelving the material entirely, many of these songs became b-sides to Mellon Collie‘s singles: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “1979”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Zero” and “Thirty-Three”. Each of these singles were released throughout 1995-1996 with 4 to 5 b-sides from the album outtakes and including tracks recorded after the album at Bugg Studios, “The Bells” for example. These singles/EPs were given a life of their own and compiled into a box set released in 1996 known as The Aeroplane Flies High, named after a b-side from the “Thirty-Three” single: “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right).” But that is another story for another time. The guitars they played on the album were also tuned a half step down to D# to achieve the lower and perhaps emotional tone they were looking for.
Radio Plays My Favorite Song
The singles for Mellon Collie have an interesting history behind them and it all could have gone a very different direction in terms of artistic focus. The dates used in this section refer to US release dates. Originally, “Jellybelly” was going to be released as the first single. Corgan reasoned that, “‘Bullet’ was the absolute obvious choice…which is kind of why I didn’t want it to be the first single. You know, in Pumpkinland, we don’t really like to do the obvious thing. I felt really close to Jellybelly, because it sounds to me like a classic Pumpkins song from a third album. It sounds to me like the manifestation of everything we’ve ever done on a third album, whereas Cherub Rock sounded to me like a second album single.”
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
In the end, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was chosen as the first single. Depending on whom you ask, it is the most well known Pumpkins song to date. “The world is a vampire” became a battle cry heard throughout every lonely teenage bedroom of the world since October 24th, 1995 and even still in 2015. Towards of the album’s release, Corgan when asked about the song’s title reveals its origins in a radio interview with Rock 103.5 Chicago, “Freud had this concept that each of us has a psychic bullet, that if it can be removed we can be psychically healed.” Religion, angst, betrayal or whatever else. It is easier to simply listen to the raw emotional performance than trying to decipher what it means. If you can’t understand it, it’s not worth asking about. Corgan also covered the song’s subject matter after being asked what it meant in the 1995 Addicted to Noise interview, “I don’t really explain the specific things because I think if it’s not apparent, I’m not doing my job. To explain it further is to demystify it and to take away from the power of what it is. It’s taken me awhile to come to this conclusion, but the music is its own interpretive force and everyone’s going to apply their own experiences to the interpretation of it. Me explaining it demystifies it, narrows the ability for people to enjoy it and then becomes the click phrase by which everyone says, ‘Well, okay, with that song ‘Bullet,’ you were trying to say such and such.'” James Iha, in an interview with Paul Berstein, commented on the guitar work and more minimal production (in Pumpkins terms) of the album when the instrumentation of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was addressed:
“I think Flood helped the band…to not repeat the way we recorded before. In comparison, the last record was a lot more produced, there’s less of a live feel – I mean, it’s really good, just more produced I suppose. The thing about the new record is that on a lot of songs we went for more of a live feel. Like on “Bullet”…it’s a lot more stripped down than how we would’ve approached it before. I mean, there’s a lot of guitars on there, but, they weren’t done just for the sake of it, like we can overdub twenty-four guitars or whatever. It’s just two rhythm guitars.
At some point there are one or two other guitars that come in…there’s a lot of drop in sort of stuff. In the second verse there’s this wah-wah sort of thing. It was just this mistake I made on the guitar and we ended up sampling it. We degraded the sound with distortion and I ended up playing it on the keyboard in time with the music. So there’s neat things like that on the record. There’s more space to do stuff like that because there isn’t 24 rhythm guitars.
A lot of that is because we used a lot of Marshall amplifier distortion. It’s a cleaner sound, but more powerful. It has a lot more “throw” to the sound. The fuzz pedals sound so washy, you can’t tell what you’re playing. You could just be fucking off and it would sound good. I think that’s what a lot of bands do now. The Big Muff distortion pedals are like the DX-7 keyboard of the 90’s – everybody uses it. It’s like Nirvana, clean during the verse, step on it for the chorus. I mean, Nirvana were awesome, totally amazing rock band, but everyone’s just stealing their formula. It’s kinda lame.”
“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was released as a single the same day as the album’s release, October 24th, 1995. It peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Top 100 and captured number 1 on the Canadian RPM Alternative charts, staying at number 1 from November 6th through the 27th of 1995. The single was released with a James Iha composition, “…Said Sadly” and 5 cover songs from the discographies of Blondie, The Cure, Alice Cooper, Missing Persons and the Cars. The music video was directly by Samuel Bayer, who also directed Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” iconic music video.
MTV News on the set of the music video for “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
The next single, released the following year on January 23rd, 1996, was the song that crossed the Pumpkins’ exposure beyond the world of alternative rock. Utilizing the advent of this “death of guitar”, “1979” became the first song of the direction the Pumpkins were to follow for the albums Adore and both Machina albums, using drum machines and samples against the swirly guitar tracks for an electronic atmosphere. “1979” reached number twelve on the Billboards, and became the highest charting single from the band ever since and has become a staple of rock, and sometimes pop, radio. An excellent example of storytelling, it is not directly a personal song. As Corgan addressed during the commentary for the ‘1979’ music video on the Greatest Hits Video Collection, “Teenage angst, the idealized version. Almost the sort of ‘teenagehood’ I never had, that I wished I had,” was supposed to be the driving theme behind the music video, the so-called “emptiness of youth” that everyone comes to idealize with age. Corgan’s youth was not exactly as carefree as the song’s lyrics are, as he had to take care of his two younger brothers as they moved from home to home. He, however, like many others found his solace in music. The music video, centered on hooligan antics of suburban teenagers, featured cameos from Iha and Wretzky. The original tapes for the music video were left on the roof of a car and lost, so the video had to be re-shot. The b-sides were a mixed bunch, the ones written by Corgan like “Ugly” and “Set the Ray to Jerry” were harder, darker rock, but the two Iha compositions, “The Boy” and “Believe”, were much lighter in nature.
To understand the true nature of the next single, it’s best to watch this:
Clips featuring the Smashing Pumpkins from the Simpsons’ episode “Homerpalooza”
“Zero” was released as a single on April 23rd, 1996. This song was very influential in the iconography of the band, with the advent of the “Zero” t-shirt which became a pop culture staple associated with this part of the ’90s. The shirt, in different forms, is still often found at Smashing Pumpkins’ merchandise booths on tours today. Short and more direct, its lyrics are approachable and yet unattainable. The Zero EP is the longest in length of any of the single EPs from the album, ending with the 23 minute track “Pistachio Medley”, a collection of about 50+ riffs collected over the years from the Pumpkins’ history. The music video for “Zero” was directed by Billy Corgan’s girlfriend at the time, Yelena Yemchuk (he had separated from his wife). The video featured the band and touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin. In studying the song, I found a similarity in the refrain and lines from the Heart Sutra, a classic text from Mahayana and Zen Buddhism in which the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, or Kuan Yin, expounds on the nature of emptiness, rebirth and attachment. Let us compare:
“Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty just like me”
“Listen Sariputra, this Body itself is Emptiness and Emptiness itself is this Body This Body is not other than Emptiness and Emptiness is not other than this Body The same is true of Feelings,Perceptions, Mental Formations, and Consciousness”
– “The Heart Sutra, aka the Insight That Brings Us to the Other Shore” (Translation by Thich Nhat Hanh, found here)
Both songs reflect on ’emptiness’, but both might have at least slightly different definitions of the word. Śūnyatā is the Sanskrit word which is normally translated into emptiness, but alternative translations that can help understand the Buddhist view of emptiness would be openness or voidness. It is related to the concept of impermanence, that nothing is permanent. Emptiness is the true and impermanent nature of things, as in a state without any kind of established personal views, prejudices or attachments which might treat a mood, like anger or depression as a permanent state of mind which we won’t come out of, like our minds might convince us at times. In English, emptiness is perceived negatively, often a synonym for sad or depressed. But in Buddhism, there is a certain richness in emptiness, when outside of the suffering innate in holding particular views or attachments which would get in the way in any kind of insight. Indeed, “There’s no connection to myself.” Corgan confesses, and Buddhism could point to that the concept of “me” is entirely a construct of the impermanent ego. It doesn’t help that Corgan shares a haircut with nearly every Buddhist monk and nun on the planet. Corgan, like Flea and Kurt Cobain, would study Buddhism later in life. We are one and all, but I digress.
There are certain music videos which go to live a life of their own. The music video for “Tonight, Tonight” would be considered one of those. Already a song alive and kicking with a full string section from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the video topped it off with a tribute to turn-of-the-century film and particularly the French silent film A Trip to the Moon. It stars SpongeBob SquarePants stars Tom Kenny and Jill Talley, who play the voices of SpongeBob and Karen respectively. It took three days to film and extensive preparation beforehand, as director James Cameron had rented out the vast majority of turn-of-the-century props to use for his blockbuster film Titanic. As a result, much of the props and costumes were made and not rented. The video’s eccentric cinematography would end up serving the band well, after it won six awards at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1996. These awards included Video of the Year, Best Direction, Best Special Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and the Breakthrough Video award. Additionally, it won a Grammy in 1997 for Best Short Form Music Video. It is continuously held as one of the great music videos of all time and “Tonight, Tonight” becomes of the most uplifting and inspiring songs on the album, instilling the conviction to believe in yourself.
Originally, the band had an entirely different idea. So for the wonderful music video for “Tonight, Tonight”, we have the Red Hot Chili Peppers to thank. The music video for their 1995 single, “Aeroplane”, had showcased the idea the Pumpkins wanted to portray: a Bubsy Berkeley inspired music video, with “people diving into champagne glasses” according to Corgan. Berkeley was a noted choreographer and director in the 20th century, known for incorporating complex geometry into his choreographer. See below to understand any of that last sentence:
A scene from Berkeley’s Footlight Parade
Muzzle and Thirty-Three
There were two contenders for the fifth single, which would become the last one from the album. “Muzzle” and “Thirty-Three” were debated between the band and Virgin Records. “Muzzle” was released as a promotional single in August of 1996 in the wake of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s departure and fared much better in the charts than did “Thirty-Three” when it was released as the official fifth single on November 11th, 1996. Regarding the single dispute and the chart performance of “Thirty-Three”, Corgan states that, “Virgin Records tried, and failed, to get me to use an edited version of ‘Thirty-Three’. Which is why they said it failed in marketplace: ‘too long.'” The music video for “Thirty-Three” was co-directed by Corgan and Yemchuk and was unlike the rest of the batch of music videos from the album. The video was slow and whimsical, influenced by vintage and amateur photography of the earlier 20th century, as well as Alice in Wonderland and Americana aesthetics. The cinematography for the music video is not unlike much of the subject matter of Corgan’s new blog, People and Their Cars, which focuses on vintage Americana photography. Both the video and the photographs posted of the website reflect a similar appearance in age, though the photographs are vintage and the music video was filmed in 1996. Sometimes, it is easy to see where Corgan draws his influence from and other times he throws you a curveball. One of the songs from the single’s EP, “The Last Song”, features a guitar solo by Corgan’s father William Corgan Sr., who is also a musician.
I’ve journeyed here and there and back again But in the same old haunts I still find my friends Mysteries not ready to reveal Sympathies I’m ready to return I’ll make the effort, love can last forever Graceful swans of never topple to the earth Tomorrow’s just an excuse
James Iha looking very sad
Such a cinematic double album only deserves great artwork to stand by with it. Corgan drove the idea for the album’s aesthetic and the themes and ideas the art should encompass, but it was designed, drawn and painted by John Craig, a Pittsburgh collage artist influenced by the Dada and Surrealist movements in art. The famous album cover after going through several different ideas, like photographing the band in Victorian clothes, was decided to be a collage of elements from Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s The Souvenir and Renaissance master Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria. In 2012, Craig was interviewed by NPR about his art he made for the project, and he spoke to lengths about the album cover’s evolution and outcome:
“With the Greuze, there was something very dreamy or ecstatic about her expression that certainly wasn’t in the Raphael painting. And then the flow and color of the Raphael dress, just the way it’s rippling and almost traveling. I guess it’s those primary colors too. That’s what happens — you don’t know if it’s going to work, but you put the body on the star and the head on the body and you just know it’s right somehow. Though I look at it now and see some tweaks I would do.”
The Souvenir (Fidelity) by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1787-1789
Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Raphael, 1507
The semblance of artwork hundreds of years apart grew to be representative of the album as a whole. The intersection of classical music, all kinds of rock and electronica proved in time to be as timeless as the art the album begot. Craig had illustrated several children’s books in the past and gave the art the quaint and nostalgic feeling that could only be translated through the music of Mellon Collie. He received many faxes from Corgan of some very rough sketches and he transformed them into the lovely and intricate art the album is known for.
Additional artwork done for the album by John Craig
After the album’s release, the band decided to hold off from touring for a little bit to let fans “digest” the material. To be fair, a double album is a lot to digest. Aside from television appearances, such as Saturday Night Live, there was no touring for the album in 1995. The world tour began with two nights January 2nd and 3rd, 1996 in Toronto, Canada at the Phoenix. This massive tour lasted a long and stressful fourteen months. They took on the world like never before. In retrospect, it became the band’s most successful tour – at a price, a horrible price.
According to tour manager Tim Lougee, Corgan was insistent that if anyone caught doing drugs was “going to be sent home, no questions asked.” Jimmy Chamberlin since the Siamese Dream era had struggled very hard with drug and alcohol abuse, notably with heroin. For a period of time between the Siamese Dream sessions and the Mellon Collie tour, he experienced a period of abstinence from heroin. His sponsor during the Siamese Dream sessions was Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Navarro helped Chamberlin get clean. During The Mellon Collie tour, Jimmy Chamberlin’s father passed away and was a factor in his continued use of drugs as a method of coping with the grief. The passing of Chamberlin’s father postponed the Australian and New Zealand tour dates. For the first seven months of the tour, James Iha recounted that, “there were obvious signs [of using] and generally we would try to give him second chances.”
For the tour, the Pumpkins had picked up a touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin. He was the brother of Wendy Melvoin, one half of the duo heavily associated with Prince, Wendy & Lisa. Before joining the Pumpkins on tour, he became the drummer for the Dickies and recorded drums for their 1995 Idjit Savant. Both Wendy and Jonathan all came from a family of musicians, the children of jazz pianist Michael Melvoin whose work is noted with John Lennon, the Jackson 5, Tom Waits, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and the music direction of the television series Patridge Family. He also had served as the president of NARAS, whose MusiCares program has made strides in treating substance abuse amongst musicians.
Melvoin as he appeared in the music video for “Zero”
Melvoin came into the band after the Pumpkins put out an ad for a keyboardist Chamberlin remembers, “We basically put an ad in the paper for a keyboard player about eight months ago. We got about a thousand tapes. We didn’t listen to any of them. He showed up, he could play, and we hired him.” Like Chamberlain, Melvoin shared a past of substance abuse. February 29th in Bangkok, Thailand, both Chamberlin and Melvoin were using and according to Corgan, “Jonathan was fine, but Jimmy was definitely out of it.” Given a second chance, the band plus Melvoin continued touring. Later into the year, another incident occurred on May 2nd in Lisbon, Portugal when both Chamberlin and Melvoin were found outside of a hotel, passed out and unconscious. They were rushed into the emergency room and successfully revived. At this point, Melvoin was fired but was kept to finish the European leg, but still went on to the next American leg of the tour.
A couple days later at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, a 17-year old fan, Bernadette O’Brien, was crushed in a mosh pit during “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and died a day later from internal injuries. The following date in Belfast was canceled in respect of O’Brien’s memory. Four other people were injured at the Dublin show. Things were getting progressively grim and grimmer.
Melvoin on stage with the Pumpkins circa 1996, at Top of the Tops
Chamberlin and Melvoin stayed in the same hotel room at the Manhattan Regency on the evening of July 11th, 1996 while the rest of the band stayed in another hotel. This of course spells bad news, but the other problem is that Chamberlin was also trying to avoid a stalker that had a history of harassment towards him. Chamberlin wanted to be in an environment away from the rest of the band to remain hidden. Kill two birds with one stone? Either way, the events of this night would change the course of the band’s history, interworkings and music forever. Around 4am, Tim Lougee gets a call from Chamberlin “crying and freaking out” saying that Jonathan was dead. He tried to revive Melvoin to no avail. A separate 9/11 call instructed Chamberlin to place Melvoin’s head under the shower until paramedics could arrive. By the time they arrived, Melvoin was pronounced dead at the scene. Toxicology reports concluded that he had died from an overdose of heroin and alcohol. The specific type of street heroin, called Red Rum, was native to the drug trade of south east Manhattan. The news spiked the demand for Red Rum in the area, tragically. In reflection, Wendy Melvoin said about her brother in Rolling Stone:
“The only thing I can speculate 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.”
Cupid De Locke featuring Melvoin at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C., 1/6/1996
Naturally, Chamberlin was fired and a slew of tour dates had to be canceled or re-scheduled. He faced a court date on August 13th for misdemeanor charges of heroin possession. He was sentenced to a rehab facility program and stayed in the program until December of 1996. Chamberlin had no previous criminal record. Years later in an interview with Modern Drummer, Chamberlin discussed the question on why he felt his relapse happened:
“I don’t know…stress? Whatever happens. We’re a lot older now, and I kinda look at it like that. When your unreality becomes your reality, it’s hard to put a gauge on it, and that’s what happened. At the time, we were arguably the biggest band in the world. You achieve this rock star status and start believing your own bullshit. You start thinking you’re indestructible. But there’s a lot of stress and responsibility that goes along with that, and you may not want it. At some point you begin having this love-hate relationship with your career, and then it all becomes about escapism. Some people deal with it one way and some deal with it another way. A lot of times people deal with it the wrong way. That’s what happened.”
Sarah’s Maclachian’s hit “Angel” was written about Jonathan Melvoin and his death. Additionally, Wendy & Lisa wrote the song “Jonathan” for their self-released album in 1999. Lastly, even Prince contributed a song to Melvoin’s legacy, “The Love We Make”, from his album after his departure from Warner Brothers, Emancipation. I think the saddest part of the whole story is that his story has so seemingly slipped from history. He is the only person to have worked with both Prince and the Smashing Pumpkins, two artists/bands with some of the largest discographies, released or otherwise, in the whole history of music. He was described as a musician who could “play any instrument”, and contributed to the Prince albums Around the World In a Day and Parade. None of the Smashing Pumpkins were invited to Melvoin’s funeral.
Sarah Maclachlin’s hit single “Angel”, written in the wake of Jonathan’s death
A song equally as beautiful as “Angel”, written by Wendy Melvoin. It is clear she loved her brother very much.
July 17th, 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins sans Chamberlin issued a press statement:
“Today we are very sorry to tell our friends and fans that we have decided to sever our relationship with our friend and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. This may come as a shock to some and to others perhaps not, but to us it’s devastating. For nine years we’ve battled with Jimmy’s struggles with the insidious disease of drug and alcohol addiction and it’s nearly destroyed everything we are and stand for. So we have decided to carry on without him and wish him the best we have to offer.”
For certain legs of the tour, Filter opened up for the Pumpkins. Their partnership led to their drummer, Matt Walker, being chosen as their drummer to finish the tour with them during the subsequent auditions after Chamberlin’s termination. He would also play certain tracks on the next album, Adore. On keyboards the natural choice was Dennis Flemion from the Frogs, a band that was very close friends with the Pumpkins. The line up of Corgan, Iha, Wretzky, Walker and Flemion took on what was left of the tour from August 1996 until February 1997. For the most part, the rest of the tour went smoothly. The first show with the new line up was at the Pumpkins’ home venue the Cabaret Metro on August 23rd. The proceeds went to the “Christmas for Kids” charity. The tour ended in New Orleans on February 5th, 1997. During the 14 month tour, the band played shows in nearly every state in America, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Soon after the tour ended, the trio of Corgan, Iha and Wretzky would begin to lay down demos for Adore and release a song for the Batman Forever soundtrack, “The End is the Beginning is the End.” At least two attempts by MTV to stage an Unplugged Smashing Pumpkins show never came to fruit during the tour, but it is worth noting.
Best Stage Banter From the Tour
January 12th, 1996 at the Academy of Music, NYC (2nd Night):
Wretzky: Thank you for the flowers. Iha: We like flowers. Corgan: Flowers are good. Iha: Flowers grow. Corgan: Trees are bad. Flowers are good. Iha: Trees are bad. Flowers are good. Corgan: People are good? Iha: People are sometimes good. Corgan: People are good, yes, people are good, yes. Iha: People are dualistic, good and evil. Corgan: People are good. Iha: People are good. Corgan: Gods are great. Iha: Gods are crazy. Corgan: Like to play another song from the 20s. Iha: This goes all the way back, about three years ago. Corgan: It seems so fucking old, doesn’t it?
April 28th, 1996 at the Trocadiere in Nantes, France
Corgan: Thank you. Bonsoir, bonsoir mis amis. Uh, uh, uh…je world is je vampire?
Corgan: We’d like to thank our opening band Filter for rocking your asses off. Like to play another song from our album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite fad.
July 3rd, 1996 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio
*In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (tease)* Iha: Billy C on the guitar’s got that blues. Corgan: We’ve got that wack-ass Chicago blues! Iha: You know what I’m saying. Ow! Ow! Damn! Damn that shit’s hot, come on. Hot! If I can’t see you tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next week we can get it on. Alright, alright, I’m sorry, I’ll just stop talking.
July 10th, 1996 at the USAir Arena in Landover, Maryland (Melvoin’s last show)
Corgan: So, how is everybody? Iha: Are you spaced out? Are you spaced out? Are you still with us? Well, let’s get on board the space rocket.
November 27th, 1996 at the Gulfcoast Coliseum in Biloxi, Mississippi
Corgan: Thank you very much. Is everyone havin’ a good time? Was anyone here when we played in uh, 1994? [On the date Cobain was announced dead 4/8/94] Hello again. As you can see, we are now the happy pumpkins, not the sad ones.
[picks five dancers from the audience to dance during “1979”]
Corgan: Ok, dancers…Mister Iha has some instructions, please pay attention to the rules. Iha: Ok, we have two rules for our dancers, two rules. Corgan: I think we should have three rules. Iha: Three rules, I’ll make up one. Um…don’t eat red meat, go to college, and become me. Um, two rules for our dancers, do not touch us, and do not touch our shit. Corgan: Now there’s a third rule, I got a third rule. Iha: Yes, what is the third rule? Corgan: If you’re gonna dance on stage, you have to pretend you’re having a good time. Iha: Yes, yes…alright, and for those of you who cannot dance with us onstage, I encourage you to dance on stage with us, but do it in your mind, yes. Any people who’ve got this disease will know what I’m talking about.
January 6th, 1997 at the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington
Corgan: How is everyone? As you know we’ve gotten progressively wimpier as we’ve gotten older. And this is our wimpy anthem, it’s called Thirty-three.
February 5th, 1997 at the Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana
Corgan: So that was from our fourth album called Siamese Squid, came out in 1984.
Contrary to what the radio may have you believe, there is more to life than singles. While earlier the memorable singles of the album and some b-sides were addressed, there is a far bigger wealth in the album tracks. The primary inspiration for the organization and structure for the double album was Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Beatles’ self-titled White Album. However, capping out at 121 minutes, it beats both The Wall and the White Album in length, where were 83 and 93 minutes respectively. All in all, it took almost one entire year to write, record, produce and overdub the entire record from the fall of 1994 until August of 1995. A band can change a lot in a year and with a deep variety of music from the sessions, it sometimes hard to believe it only took one year to make, instead of a lifetime.
The Smashing Pumpkins, circa 1996
The opening piano track, one of the earliest songs written for Mellon Collie, acts as an instrumental prologue or chorus. Chorus not as in a “verse, chorus, verse” kind of chorus, but a chorus. In ancient Greece, the chorus was a consistent staple of Greek plays, acted out by one anonymous and collective group of actors who would candidly perform outside of the play’s main stage and world. This could mean dancing, narrating, singing or commenting on the play’s progress or plot. The more obvious comparison comes straight from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (which played as a stark influence on album track “Cupid de Locke”) from the play’s genesis with the prologue:
PROLOGUE Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whole misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, And the continuance of their parents’ rage, Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
If you listen closely to the title track, you can hear the whispers of the album. All the stories and myths, poetry and prose, and bittersweet melody it contains. The first and second discs have about the same dynamic between loud and soft songs. This dynamic is most exemplary between the songs “Stumbleine” and “X.Y.U.” Half-innocent and half-conscious, “Stumbleine” flows a children’s lullaby across an acoustic guitar that almost sounds too shy to speak up. “Nobody nowhere understands anything/about me and all my dreams/lost at sea”, the “misspent youth” of everyone invested in their journeys like losing their virginity the way they always wanted to, the dragon’s chase for the next high and how these dreams intersect like a five car pileup. The pledge to the listener is the refrain, “I’ll be your stumbeline/I’ll be your super queen” the ideal other half all people, but especially teenagers before the young adult disillusionment sets in, seek their heart out for. In the most poignant way, this song captures that moment alone in your room, walking down the street at night, in the corner of a party, as a teenager. But it is a moment stuck in time, a time that cannot last. The proceeding death rock ballad, “X.Y.U.” is not as sentimental. It is both confessional and unapologetic, a devotion and a curse. The speaker brings up his insecurities and troubles growing up to the forefront and how it affects how he loves and what he might expect with love. Of course with anything, expectations from habit energies rarely or truly satisfy a person’s needs:
“I hurt where I can’t feel, I feel where I can’t hurt I know where I can’t know, I bleed for me and mine ka-boom, a rat-tat-tat, and some good ole bliss cause I’m a sister, and I’m a motherfuck I am made of shamrocks, I am made of stern stuff I am never enough, I am the forgotten child and I said I wanna fill you up, I wanna break you, I wanna give you up from one another, no one should ever come in between us, between us and our love”
“I am made of shamrocks” can be seen as less figurative and more literal, as Corgan is not only half Irish but born on Saint Patrick’s Day, commonly associated with Ireland and its history. The interpersonal dichotomy of love and hate, passion and rage, but isn’t it all the same? But nothing is more haunting than hearing all of instrumentation slow down and quiet, and into the silence Corgan proclaims:
“AND IN THE EYES OF THE JACKAL I SAY KAAAAAAAAH-BOOM!”
Anubis, the weigher of hearts, the embalmer, the balance and the jackal. Corgan blows up straight to the face of all notions of the perceived order of how life of how is meant to be, and clearly not everything works with the hope you intend. There is no balance here, as the song rocks back and forth like the “hell on earth” as it is shouted in the very last verse before an incredible sensory overload breakdown at the outro.
These themes of growing up and the short-comings of “happily ever after” are very prevalent, and the album both seems to celebrate them and tear them down. One of my favorite tracks, “Galapagos”, presents one of the more direct messages on the album:
“Carve out your heart for keeps in an old oak tree and hold me for goodbyes-and whispered lullabies and tell me I am still the man I’m supposed to be I won’t deny the pain I won’t deny the change and should I fall from grace here with you will you leave me too?”
The iconic sweet image of two kids carving a heart with their names inside on a tree. Whispering sweet nothings in a lover’s ear. We want it all, but can we still have it and be the “man I’m supposed to be”? Do the idealizations of romance have real bearings in life, at least once we grow up? “Should I fall from grace here with you?” This is the opportunity to grow and mature, but what is the cost? “Galapagos” indeed, the archipelago where Darwin started his research which would debunk creationism, humanity’s idealistic sense of genealogical innocence. If “Muzzle” could have been a single, “Here is No Why” definitely could have been as well. The song also speaks to lengths on the dichotomy of growing up through jaded teenagehood:
“Lost inside the dreams, of teen machines the useless drags, the empty days the lonely towers of long mistakes to forgotten faces and faded loves sitting still was never enough and if you’re giving in, then you’re giving up cause in your sad machines you’ll forever stay burning up in speed lost inside the dreams, of teen machines”
No matter how much someone will try to grow up, to throw out their yearbooks, to get a new haircut, to “re-define them,” the vast bulk of people are not even trying to move past the traumas and mistakes of their youth, lost inside the dreams of teen machines. In “Tales of a Scorched Earth,” the couplet “Why do the same old things keep on happening?/Because beyond my hopes there are no feelings” when applied to the subjectiveness of certain people’s experiences highlight how people cling to what they want for themselves, what they’ve always wanted, but put the “feelings” acquired in the pursuit in their back of conscious, neglecting themselves in order to keep on pushing. It won’t matter how they continue to treat people or themselves, they’ll keep asking: “Why do the same old things keep on happening?” Machines are devoid of feelings, and what are teenagers raised to be like? While there are universal values instilled into people like “you sow what you reap” or the concept of karma, no matter how people are raised there is few practical examples given to live these values out and the values end up being taken for granted. In this way, without a real human application, these concepts are drilled into people like transferring data to data. Most people have to experience to live these things, but there is no guarantee that anyone is going to be considerate, nice or even decent to the people surround them all the time. There is a plethora of abuse from all facets of human relationships, friend to friend, parent to child, child to parent, lover to lover, that leaves scars in hearts and a burden on the shoulders. It is written off, excused, “justified,” or otherwise the vicious cycle goes on and so does the suffering from generation to generation.
Having to study their album and its history intensely the last two weeks, I’ve began to develop a new appreciation for certain songs I had not paid much attention to, especially on the second disc. “Lily (My One and Only)” has turned into one of my very favorites by the Pumpkins in general. With a bit of a honky-tonk piano and a teaspoon of glittering fairy synths over a folksy-country rhythm, it stands out from even the other softer songs on the album like “Stumbeline” or Iha’s “Take Me Down”. Without listening to the lyrics, it would be just perceived as another sentimental love song. Yet the lyrics appear to be written from a perspective of a voyeur playing peeping tom outside of a girl’s window, obsessed with his thoughts of what he believes to be consummate and requited love. He is still head over heels even after the “officer is knocking at my door,” the police are “dragging’ me away,” and he swears he saw “her wave and say goodbye.” Or good riddance. Indeed, one point or another I’m sure all of the Pumpkins experienced some kind of bizarre stalker, especially Corgan. For us dedicated fans, we might be sometimes too “voyeuristic” ourselves. But it’s all in the name of love, right? Right. It’s not like I frequent Madame Zuzu’s or anything… (I live in California, so the answer is no)
“Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, which was featured on the recent End Times tour with Jimmy Chamberlin back on drums, becomes the most produced track of the album in terms of separate backing guitar tracks. It is estimated that 70 tracks comprise the song, an ode to the guitar production of Siamese Dream, which featured several, several guitar overdubs over the various tracks released on the album. The song begins with a short piano intro reminiscent of the title track, but from there it becomes a song very much of its own. “I believe in never/I believe in all the way/but belief is not to notice, believe is just some faith/and faith can’t help you to escape,” furthers the acknowledgement of this attachment to ideals of love. It is the most beautiful set of things to surround yourself with, but “faith can’t help you to escape.” There is more to life than Valentine’s Day’s cards. This kind of love can’t save you, but it can enhance your life. This love also seemed to be very circumstantial and easily can fall to the winds of change in a very radical way. The refrain “love is suicide” from “Bodies” comes to mind. When not dealt with appropriately, to get caught up in passion becomes the risk of losing yourself and who are. When these subdued traits come to head, “Bodies” paints us the portrait of alienation in love:
“You can’t help deny forever the tragedies reside in you the secret sights hide in you the lonely nights divide you in two all my blisters now revealed in the darkness of my dreams in the spaces in between us”
It is just that: that love alone can’t save us completely. Because there are so many unintentional shortcomings and unforeseen events that could just pull the rug from underneath our feet, so to speak. One wrong word or foolish mistake is all it can take for even the strongest of love to dissipate. It is most logical to refer to only one song here, “Love”, to help us out so more. The appropriately named track expounds on these concepts drawn out of here from “Bodies”, “I can’t help what you see/I can’t help but to be/For what I needed to need/she’ll make it/Love, it’s who you know.” Our problems are our own. They can’t be our girlfriend’s problems, no matter how badly we want for either someone else to deal with them or to go away. Unfortunately, a lot of people will live their entire lives with this delusion. Because everyone has their own problems to deal with, as the speaker concedes of “my mistakes of cowardice.” Love, it’s who you know. How a person defines love is largely reflective of who they know, the people have been engaged themselves enough in a person’s life to make an impact, positive or negative. People internalize it, “teen machines” become re-wired, and then reactions are given according to a personal code of almost DNA strength that takes strong effort and mindfulness to break. Ah, melancholy and how infinite it is.
“My life has been empty, my life has been untrue and does she really know, who I really am? does she really know me at last dead eyes, are you just like me?”
– “By Starlight”
Farewell and Goodnight
“Goodnight, to every little hour that you sleep tight may it hold you through the winter of a long night and keep you from the loneliness of yourself heart strung is your heart frayed and empty cause it’s hard luck, when no one understands your love it’s unsung, and i say goodnight, my love, to every hour in every day goodnight, always, to all that’s in your heart goodnight, may your dreams be so happy and your head lite with the wishes of a sandman and a night light be careful not to let the bedbugs sleep tight nestled in your covers the sun shines but i don’t a silver rain will wash away and you can tell, it’s just as well goodnight, my love, to every hour in every day goodnight, always to all that’s pure that’s in your heart”
The dark night of the soul, where the soul is tried and crucified by trial through spiritual crisis. This album takes the soul out on a dark night through itself, challenging everything frank and for granted about ourselves and the people in our lives. The lyrics of “Tonight, Tonight” brings us what he need for our journey. “The impossible is possible tonight” and from there we are plunged into the melancholy which is unveiled through the infinite sadness: the things about the human experience that seemingly always have been, like: deceit, betrayal, emptiness, hate, despair but these things are juxtaposed with ecstasy, union, fulfillment, love, absolute beauty and God. The crisis here is how to deal with the fact that love can’t always manifest exactly to the image we have about it in our heads. Sometimes, there are no castles or touching sunsets. Sometimes, love is simply revealed unto you in a way that is most unexpected , outside of your fantasy and what is a better surprise? To find out these things are beyond anything you’ve come to imagine. As “Jellybelly” entails:
“You’re nowhere to see there’s nothing left to do there’s nothing left to feel doesn’t matter what you want, so to make yourself feel better you make it so you’ll never give in to your forevers and live for always and forever, forever, you’re forever to be forever, forever, you’re forever to me”
It doesn’t matter what you want. Once this dark night purges you of everything silly love songs and your insecurities tell you to believe, “we’ll crucify the insincere tonight.” The Pumpkins at one point rested their entire career on Mellon Collie‘s potential and what a great horse to bet on. Through strenuous and music-defying work, spending whole days at a time in a studio, the world became blessed with an album that on many levels spoke in more detail on attachment, love, unfairness, self-pity and the anxiety of human consciousness than some holy books. Talk about a “concept album”, this is a life album. The blend of personal experience and universal expression makes it incredibly accessible to anyone who might question themselves or anything else. What a blessing this was to go through the album so carefully, because in reading all these lyrics I discovered an untold story that foreshadows the existence and experience of so many people. It is fairy tale, it is a silent movie, it is the obscure book left next to the Canterbury Tales in a dusty library and an album that really changed the course of rock forever by no longer confining itself to what rock is “supposed” to be like, in the same way the album established new perspectives on love. The consideration that love may not be static or not “unto death do we part”, because we live and die in every moment that we free ourselves from attachment. I once had the chance to ask Corgan on the subject of depression and how to deal with it and he told me: “Realizing that whatever you are experiencing is not real, and only in your mind.” It’s something I’ve found myself turning to a lot. Once we de-attach ourselves from things we cannot attain or no longer can, we are free to do anything. The album neither glorifies or disdains sadness, but accounts as the one thing it is: infinite. Anyone could tell you anything about how to deal with depression, sadness or any kind of feeling, but your feelings are not your own. “The more you change, the less you feel.” The experience of growing up, like no longer expecting gifts at Christmas or other things is the dark night of the soul which brings fruition to the line “believe in me as I believe in you.” Believing in fairy tales like the “love” we idealize does not allow us to believe in ourselves. What do we really need?
I realize I spoke at large lengths about this album and ultimately these are my own interpretations no matter how much I researched. Like the opening quote says, “Don’t give credence to anyone person’s opinion than your very own.” I don’t want anyone to just read this article and take my word. Listen to the album, buy the album, worship the album, burn the album (try not to) or whatever. See how it applies to your life. But for me personally, the Smashing Pumpkins have given me such a great richness that driven me to the most immaculate moments and have been with me at my absolute lowest, spiritually, mentally, physically or otherwise. For me, Mellon Collie started my love affair with this band and supported me during a part of my life I didn’t think I could make it through. It gave me the opportunity to bond with the most beautiful people I’ve come to know in my life, and even myself! This double album has consolidated so many of those “indescribable moments of your life tonight” experiences. Nothing more I could say can compare to living through this album and the insight it can give you, though be warned it may not always be pleasant.
While some today are promoting February 28th as the 15th anniversary of Machina I as today, that is actually not the case. In a typical weird Pumpkins move, Machina I was actually released on February 29th, 2000.
This is as close as we’ll get.
The Machina albums (both I & II), according to Corgan, are both in the works for a remastered and complete release, with the original intended track listing to be restored. The two track listings contain about 40 songs, and several commercially unreleased demos exist from this era, and a few, I’m sure, Corgan has kept to himself for an occasion like this. It may end up being the largest reissue of Smashing Pumpkins music.
Traveling from the giddy dream pop-psychedelica of Gish all the way down to the deep, dark and tragic folk-electronica of Adore, you can hear the band really mature and ripen their sound as their discography progressed. During this evolution, they accepted the somber lessons they accumulated through a turbulent and crazy decade of internal drama, mental health crises, drug abuse and even the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, brother of Wendy Melvoin of Prince and the Revolution and Wendy & Lisa fame, which resulted in the firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin from 1996 to 1999.
The Smashing Pumpkins cycled through several guest drummers like Matt Cameron (Soundgarden) and Joey Waronker (Beck) from the latter part of 1996 to 1999, but worked most extensively with Filter’s Matt Walker, who helped them finish the rest of the Mellon Collie tourdates, with Dennis Flemion (The Frogs) on keyboard. All 3 drummers contributed to 1998’s Adore, but the album relied more on drum machines and loops than anything. Corgan had a vision for the album to create a sound combining influences of electronica and folk rock, to create a sound both “ancient” and “futuristic.” At the end of 1996, guitarist James Iha claimed in an interview regarding the future of the band’s music that “the future is in electronic music. It really seems boring just to play rock music.”
In 1999, the band brought Chamberlin back as their full time drummer and embarked on a short American ‘Arising’ tour, playing older hits, deep cuts and new material. After The Arising Tour, long-time bassist D’arcy Wretzky left the band, though by that time most of the Machina album had been recorded. Remaining bass parts were filled in by Corgan and Iha, and Melissa auf Der Maur of Hole joined the Pumpkins on bass for their (at the time) final tour.
Machina/The Machines of God upholds a mesh of influences, but is connected through a concept of a band falling apart. Although almost at any point of the Pumpkins’ career their latest album could have been the last, there is a distinct feeling of “The End” when one listens to these recordings.
This feeling is not completely melancholy either, the Pumpkins knew that things were falling apart fast and were doing their best to keep things together and give their fans one last great effort. The break up’s inevitably became especially apparent after Wretzky left. In later years, Corgan would lament on her departure from the band, “To this day I miss D’arcy’s sense of integrity, but it’s not like the integrity of the indie world, she had a certain kind of musical taste, I think is the best way to put it, that I still respect. A real good keen sense of bullshit, and was very principled in that regard.” Wretzky was arrested for crack cocaine possession later in 1999.
The Machina albums, instead of departing from Adore’s styling all together, combine its sonic landscape with a cybermetal sound to create a greater soft-loud dynamic. The Machina albums may have some of the greatest examples of the soft-loud switch-off dynamic in the realm of alternative rock music. The album opens with the insatiable catchy deep metal riffs of “The Everlasting Gaze” (complete with mid-song rant) which abruptly ends to the beginning of the mysterious and ominous “Raindrops + Sunshowers”, a Corgan eulogy to the lack of communication between him and everyone around him. As the lyrics are penned: “Rain falls on everyone /The same old rain/ And I’m just trying to /Walk with you /Between the raindrops /I send my echo out /To get your love without /Obscured reflections of /My love”.
This pattern is repeated virtually in uniform throughout the album’s tracklisting. Additionally, the Machina albums, especially the second, has a distinct influence of shoegaze and 80’s post-punk that had been downplayed in the band’s sound the last few years before the Machina albums. The earliest Smashing Pumpkins demos are riddled with direct influence from the Cure, My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division. The Machina albums brought all of their influences, past and present (and future), into a full circle concept.
3 singles were released from the album, “The Everlasting Gaze,” “Stand Inside Your Love,” and “Try, Try, Try”, along with the promo single “I of the Mourning”. The first two singles fared pretty well, with “Stand Inside Your Love” even making it to #2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock tracks. The album’s promotional campaign was heavily laced with mythos. The album artwork by Russian artist Vasily Kafanov was covered in drawings and etchings in the style of Renaissance alchemy, decorated with esoteric and astrological symbols. An online gallery of them is displayed here, on Kafanov’s website. Oftentimes many forget that the Machina albums were meant to be a concept double album. The album was full of concepts, many of which still go unraveled and ignored today.
“Plates VII & IX – So empowered, the Lovers negate the blinding brilliance of Love” [Diptych]
One of the main concepts, exemplified in the track “Glass and the Ghost Children,” is a fictionalized version of the band. A rock star, Zero (Corgan), is spoken to by the voice of God and renames himself Glass, and his band, the Machines of God. So this, in a way, is the first self-titled album by Glass and the Machines of God, and the last album by the Smashing Pumpkins, until Corgan and Chamberlin’s reunion. A small collection of animated episodes was created in the series’ promotion featuring the story behind Glass and the Machines of God, in the vein of the cyberpunk shows that existed during the late ’90s like Batman Beyond. The 3 known episodes can be seen here:
Smashing Pumpkins fans are one part blessed, and one part cursed to love a band with such a diverse sound and strange sense of artistry that makes them a band set apart from virtually all of their contemporaries. The Pumpkins were the first band to venture into a realm that crossed the borders between electronica and rock, treating each influence as an equal. Meanwhile, the budding contemporary electronic and EDM movements were beginning to overrun rock on all fronts, from Britpop to the very few remaining acts from the late ’80s and early ’90s alternative scene, both by and large who refused to conform to any standard of electronica. In the history books they are usually regarded as a “grunge” or “alternative” rock band, but in truth the Pumpkins really emerged in their first incarnation as a new wave/shoegaze band, and closed as a new wave/shoegaze band in their last original incarnation.
Contract disputes, the rehabilitation and exudation of band members, the media’s perception of Corgan, an array of diverse musical influence, the magic of alchemy, and the first honest plea of ceasefire between electronica and rock create this wholesomely weird album. Today, there are those who yearn for the Smashing Pumpkins of the past, and this album, taking in the diversity of influences, is the most comprehensive image of the old Smashing Pumpkins. I anxiously await the reissue of this neglected album (along with MACHINA II), so the world can finally see the album for what it is: the last stand of the classic Smashing Pumpkins that fans knew and loved in the 90’s.