Sunday, February 05, 2006

Great (Pumpkin) Expectations

There isn't anyone I can think of -- other than perhaps Bono -- that constantly makes me cringe, yet simultaneously commands my attention and admiration like Billy Corgan. Even to those who only pay scant attention, but especially to longtime observers like myself, the Great Pumpkin is obviously an emotional train wreck. To really get a sense of his embarrassing need to be beloved and admired you'd have to read interviews or hear some of his stage patter, but this is a man who published (non-sensical if ya ask me) Bible-length serialized internet prose about the hidden meaning behind the Smashing Pumpkins' last official album (Machina: The Machines of God), who shares the "rock stars who unnecessarily feel the need to publish books of poetry" category with Jewel and who undermined the release of his first solo album by on the same day taking out full-page newspaper ads stating his desire to resurrect the Pumpkins (despite, at that time, seemingly not having discussed it with any of the other members). By the way, his solo album, which wasn't good, but not that bad, tanked. It sold just 67,000 copies. By comparison, the talentless Rob Thomas sold 4 times that many copies of his debut solo album in the first week alone.

Certainly, Billy's got some problems. But in my opinion, he's also the most talented rock 'n roll musician Chicago has ever produced. Despite moments of wincing, I truly loved the Pumpkins and even Zwan; all told, in his various incarnations, I have seen Billy Corgan live about 18 times, second only to Bruce Springsteen. And despite the Pumpkins' success, casual observers never even realized quite how gifted and prodigious a songwriter Billy was. He would put out albums, even double albums, and still have 40 album-quality B-sides besides.

After Gallaghering the Smashing Pumpkins in 2000, supposedly because of differences with bandmates -- but in my estimation, at least partly because Billy's ego couldn't handle the band's shrunken popularity. Though masked a bit in their hometown of Chicago, nationally the Pumpkins had gone from selling out basketball arenas in 1996 to playing, and often not filling, 2,000 seat venues. Plus, Machina sold poorly and their record company didn't even want to release a follow-up, prompting Billy to release Machina II (also with some great songs) for free on the Internet -- Billy Corgan now wants to put the Pumpkins back together. Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was Billy's closest friend in the band and a co-member of Zwan, is supposedly back in the fold, but there has yet to be any word of interest from guitarist James Iha or bassist D'Arcy Wretzky, the latter having actually quit the band prior to 2000.

So where do I stand on this? I can't deny how much the Pumpkins' songs -- and particular Billy's guitar playing, and yes, pun intended -- strike a chord, and it would be great to hear them again, let alone new tunes in the Pumpkins style. But part of me feels kind of queasy about it all. And there are even purists who would say that without Iha and D'Arcy, it's not really the Pumpkins. But who are they kidding; if Pete and Roger can still be The Who, Billy and Jimmy (who's one of the best drummers you'll ever hear) can be the Pumpkins.

And so, artistic purity be damned when personal enjoyment is at stake, I've decided to be Pumped. The train wreck will assuredly continue, and often be disturbing to watch, but Billy's still in his 30's and has proven time and again he can create great music. I don't care if the Pumpkins can't sell out Soldier Field anymore; I'd be happy to see them play the Metro forever. If Billy can live with that, and not act too stupid, strike up the band. I'm in.

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