Smashing Pumpkins: From 1979 and Beyond

Alt-Rock band, The Smashing Pumpkins were formed in 1988 in Chicago by front man, Billy Corgan, along with D’Arcy Wretzky (bass), James Iha (guitar), and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums). While the lineup has changed over the years, the current one is Corgan, Chamberlin, Iha and guitarist Jeff Schroeder.

Disavowing the punk rock roots of many of their alt-rock contemporaries, they have a diverse, densely layered, and guitar-heavy sound, containing elements of gothic rock, heavy metal, dream pop, psychedelic rock, and progressive rock. Some have called their songs “ethereal” and “other-worldly” in nature. I would simply call them unique.

Corgan is the group’s primary songwriter; his cathartic lyrics have shaped the band’s albums and songs, which have been described as “anguished, bruised reports from Billy Corgan’s nightmare-land” on more than one occasion. Indeed, a lot of them have a somnolent, almost dream-like quality.

After releasing their first album to mixed reviews, and limited success, the burgeoning grunge movement had the band poised for major commercial success. However, Corgan didn’t like being lumped in with grunge, protesting, “We’ve graduated now from ‘the next Jane’s Addiction’ to ‘the next Nirvana’, now we’re ‘the next Pearl Jam’?”

They relocated to Georgia, and recorded the Siamese Dream album, in an attempt to cut Chamberlain off from his drug contacts. Meanwhile, Corgan fought severe depression, and Chamberlin quickly managed to find new connections and was often absent without any contact for days at a time. In all, it took over four months to complete the record, which sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. alone.

The band toured relentlessly in support of the album, while Corgan feverishly wrote new songs. During 1995, Corgan wrote about 56 songs, and the band went into the studio to record the album that would become their piece de resistance, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double-album of 28 songs, intended to hang together conceptually as a symbol of the cycle of life and death. The album spawned the hits Thirty-three, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979, Zero, and Tonight, Tonight. It also garnered 7 Grammy nominations, but only won for Best Hard Rock Performance. With considerable video rotation on MTV, major industry awards, and Corgan’s trademark “Zero” shirts selling in many malls, the Pumpkins were considered one of the most popular bands of the time. Of the “Tonight, Tonight” video, Corgan later remarked, “I don’t think we’ve ever had people react like this … it just seemed to touch a nerve.”

The band has not been without its struggles. In 1996, Chamberlain was arrested for drug possession after a night of heavy binging resulted in him overdosing, and their keyboard player, Jonathan Melvoin dying from an overdose. The band promptly fired him as a result, making this statement: “For nine years we have battled with Jimmy’s struggles with the insidious disease of drug and alcohol addiction. It has nearly destroyed everything we are and stand for. … We wish him the best we have to offer.”

They have also repeatedly struggled internally as well, with perfectionist Corgan being called a “tyrant” by some, when it came to the music. “The direction of the band is dominated by lead guitarist, lead vocalist, keyboardist, bassist and principal songwriter Billy Corgan.” Journalist Greg Kot wrote, “The music of the Smashing Pumpkins would not be what it is without his ambition and vision, and his famously fractured relationships with his family, friends, and band members.”

The band has continued to struggle, breaking up, reforming with new members, even bringing back a newly sober Chamberlain, and breaking up again in repetitive fashion.

Their current status is recording new material, with the current lineup of Corgan, Chamberlin, Iha and Schroeder. Many of Corgan’s lyrics for the Pumpkins are cathartic expressions of emotion, full of personal musings and strong indictments of himself and those close to him.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]