Smashing Pumpkins
United States
Music group
No Pumpkins biography starts outside of Billy Corgan. This one is no exception.

Son of an Illinois-bred blues-rock guitarist, Corgan went through a childhood that had few ups and many downs. From his parents divorcing at a young age to his very independent young life, Corgan found music as an escape for much of his pains, relying on the extraordinary guitar rock of the likes of Van Halen and Cheap Trick for comfort. Learning to play six-strings by himself, he formed a band in 1985 called The Marked (famously named for Corgan and band’s drummer having birthmarks on their hands). After a nine-month attempt at conquering the South, the band gained little success or notoriety: never making an official recording (though what recordings were available were later heavily sought-after by Corgan-philles).

After the band’s demise, Corgan went back to Illinois and was working at a used record store in Chicago. This is how he happened to meet James Iha, a graphics art student at Loyola University. The two became fast friends and started writing songs very quickly, using a drum machine for a backdrop to their minor two-guitar assaults. At one particular club show, Corgan met D’arcy Wretzky. Arguing over the artistic merits of The Dan Reed Network, they became quick friends, and soon D’arcy’s bass skills were added to the lineup. Making a small following under the name The Smashing Pumpkins, the group became friends with club-owner who housed Jane’s Addiction. They were to open for them one fateful night. On the advice of a friend, Corgan went to see a local jazz band downtown, which happened to contain drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Chamberlin, also an IL native, had apprenticed drumming under, of all people, Yanni’s drummer Charles Adams. He grew up playing a plethora of styles, including rock n’ roll, big band, jazz-fusion, and tribal rhythms. These all would come into play later.

After playing their first official gig with the original lineup October 5th at Chicago’s famous Metro, their following was big enough to start releasing singles. “I Am One” was released on the local Limited Potential record label. It sold out very quickly. The band switched labels to release “Tristessa” on the famous Sub Pop label. It also sold very well, and now was drawing the attraction of major labels. Virgin offered the deal most pleasing to the band, but they didn’t want to “sell out” right away. Their contracted was amended so that their first album would be released on a Virgin independent subsidiary (Caroline). Basically put, the strategy worked perfectly.
Produced by the then-unknown Butch Vig, the band scored a massive college radio hit with their debut album, Gish. A majestic mix of heavy metal with strong pop sentiments, the album was warmly embraced by all. Released in May of 1991, the album’s popularity slowly blossomed, riding on the singles “Siva” and “Rhinoceros” (which at #27 on the Modern Rock Chart). Gish peaked at #195 on the albums chart, and (eventually) went platinum.

Touring for Gish was a whole different matter. Opening for the likes of Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, their newfound popularity was leading to new tensions. D’arcy and Iha, who had been dating for some time, went through a very messy breakup; Chamberlin was addicted to drugs; and Corgan went headfirst into depression. When the band entered the studio with Vig to record a follow-up, the sessions progressed very sluggishly. Frustrated, Corgan found work to be his release for nearly all of his worries. He wrote dozens upon dozens of songs, and often (unaccredited, of course) played nearly all of the guitar and bass parts on the forthcoming record (which lead to the album’s delay several times).

Finally, on July 27th, 1993, the band came back with Siamese Dream. Critically hailed upon its release, the album was considered by many to be an alternative rock masterpiece. “Cherub Rock” was the lead single, and it did very well (peaking at #7 no the Modern Rock Chart; #23 for Mainstream Rock). While it sold well initially, it was the song “Today” that propelled it into the stratosphere. Aided by a clever color-filled video that became an MTV staple, the biting song (apparently written by Corgan in a more suicidal state of mind) became a minor anthem for many. Peaking at #4 on the Modern Rock, it grew to be the band’s calling card. Relentless touring no doubt aided their success. Further singles fared from decent (“Rocket” - MSR #28) to very well (“Disarm” - MR #8). The album’s popularity swelled, topping many critics’ end-of-the-year polls, peaking at #10 on the album’s chart, and going double-platinum.

The band’s status was large enough to make them headliners at Lollapalooza’s 1994 trek. Shortly thereafter, the band entered the studio again, this time with Alan Moulder and the band’s new frequent collaborator Flood. Fortunately, these sessions were nowhere near as troubling as those for Siamese Dream. Recording everything from heavy metal to string-laden orchestral pop, an astonishing 28 tracks were chosen for the release, no doubt to be a double-album … a rarity in modern rock. Christened Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Virgin began worrying, wondering if a double-album, much less one with such an absurd title, would do well at all. First single “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” silenced those fears: peaking at #2 on the Modern Rock survey, the album debuted, astonishingly, at #1. The band now had enough profile to tour stadiums, and did so with ease. Further singles yielded more success (the rest being: “1979” - an MTV staple that managed it’s way onto the pop charts up to #12 as well as charting on the Modern Rock, Mainstream Rock, Adult and even Dance surveys; “Tonight, Tonight” - MSR #1, Top 100 #36; “Muzzle” @ MR #8 and MSR #10; “Zero” - their first MR #1; and the blissful “Thirty-Three”, peaking at MR #2). The band’s inventive videos won great acclaim (“Tonight, Tonight” winning Video of the Year at MTV’s Video Music Awards) and their music did as well (climaxing with a Grammy Award win for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” [Best Hard Rock with Vocal Performance]).

Yet, at the peak of their popularity, their world came crashing down.

Just before sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden on July 12th, touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and Jimmy Chamberlin both overdosed on heroin. Melvoin died, and Chamberlin pulled through. The band, in response to the tragedy, temporarily cancelled their remaining tour dates. A decision was eventually made: Chamberlin had to go. Booked for criminal possession of a controlled substance, Chamberlin went into rehab. Matt Walker, former drummer for alt-rock band Filter, filled in for the remainder of the Pumpkins tour dates.

While Mellon Collie still rode high (becoming one of the biggest rock albums of all time selling 4-million copies and going eight-times platinum [each disc counts for certification … especially since you’re paying for both of them!]), but the band decided to take a break. They recorded two songs for the Batman & Robin soundtrack (“The End is the Beginning is the End” and “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning,” the former of which won the band their second Grammy [in the same category]), and Iha released his solo debut, Let It Come Down. After the brief break, leader Corgan, again, went into the studio with D’arcy and Iha to record again. Deciding not to replace Chamberlin, the band did what many alternative band were doing in the late-90’s: embracing electronica. The 16-track album, entitled Adore, was released June 2, 1998. Though the song “Ava Adore” was doing well on the charts (MR #3, Top 100 #42), the album was turned away by the critics who embraced them so lovingly before. These factors and others lead to Adore’s disappointing #2 debut on the albums chart, causing many heads to turn. The follow-up single, “Perfect” (the video for which was a clever update of the one for “1979”) did well (MR #3, Hot 100 #54), but that didn’t translate to anything near Mellon Collie’s extraordinary sales. Thusly, those were the only two singles from the LP (a far cry from the six for MCIS).

Soon thereafter, D’arcy left the band in frustration. A little before she left though, the group made amends with Chamberlin, who was re-invited into the drummers seat. In his spare time, Corgan contributed to various soundtracks (primarily Lost Highway, Stigmata, and Ransom).
D'arcy contributed to their next album [featuring once again as a band-member: Jimmy Chamberlin] MACHINA/the Machines of God, but was replaced with Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur for the Machina tours. Released February 29th of 2000, the album was met with the most hostile reviews the band had received to date. The album debuted at #3, a sign of the band’s waning popularity. While the album eventually reached platinum on the success of the singles “The Everlasting Gaze” (MR #4) and “Stand Inside Your Love” (MR #2) (Note: single “Try Try Try” didn’t even chart), but still was disappointing for all involved.

During an interview on radio station KROQ on May 23rd, 2000, Corgan announced the termination of the Smashing Pumpkins before the year was out. The announcement shocked many, and fans now scrambled to SP’s final stadium tours, thinking it might be their last (and it was). Wanting to record a “goodbye album” to fans, the group emerged with MACHINA II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music (recored during the MACHINA recording sessions) Virgin refused the album. Infuriated, Corgan created 25 copies of the whole album and three respective EP’s entirely on vinyl. Releasing it to only select friends, he ordered recipients to distribute it immediately. Thanks to the millennium-introduction of Napster, the album spread through the Internet, and rightfully so: it was free, and legal. Critics who downloaded it gave it (interestingly enough) rave reviews, some even calling it their best effort to date.

They made one final recording together (“Untitled”) as another fan “thank you,” finished out their tour dates, and then got ready for December 2nd, 2000 - the final Smashing Pumpkins show ever. Playing at their first-ever venue, Chicago’s Metro, packed with fans lucky enough to get tickets (some were put up on eBay and bought for over $300), the band went out in four hours, 37 songs (a thirty-minute jam of “Silverfuck” closing the show), and vowed never to play their songs again. All attendees received a special CD - the band’s first performance at the Metro, 12 years prior.

Since then, their legacy has grown immensely. Corgan formed Zwan (with Chamberlin in tow), a much happier band that did well (their debut Mart Star of the Sea debuted at #3), but eventually disbanded in 2003. Iha went to record another solo effort, but scrapped the sessions in order to join Tool side-project A Perfect Circle.
No one knows what will ever become of D’arcy’s acting career...

(Source: Evan Sawdey on
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