Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Here's a piece I wrote for the February issue of Plan B magazine.
"If All Goes Wrong" - Smashing Pumpkins Documentary and Concert DVD
"I want my band back. I want my dreams back" said Billy Corgan, on his decision to reform Smashing Pumpkins, and booked a nine night residency at a small venue in Asheville, North Carolina. "I don't know if he picked Asheville or Asheville picked him, because Billy's all about chance" gushes his personal assistant, and I almost spit a mouthful of rum at the screen. If Corgan is 'about' anything at all, it is contrivance; a meticulously planned career, micro-managed down to the finest detail and executed with despotic narcissism. Teutonic blonde on bass - nice, check. Japanese-looking dude -very cool, check. And in order to make records, Jimmy Chamberlain, one of the finest drummers of his era. Corgan recently stated that "97%" of the recordings were the work of him and Chamberlain, confirming what everyone already knew- that the other two were mainly there for show. Corgan's finest song, 'Rhinoceros', appeared on the debut album 'Gish', and such purity of emotion would never be heard again. 'Gish' was overshadowed by Nirvana's 'Nevermind', and there was no way Corgan was about to let that happen again. From 'Siamese Dream' onwards, Corgan's arguable songwriting skills were smothered by desperate egomania. And so in 2007, Corgan sits in his hotel room writing songs in a white dressing gown that makes him look like a lobotomised mental patient. Each night he plays yesterday's new song to the fans. In a scene so jaw-droppingly onanistic it is difficult to accurately describe, Corgan stands out on a balcony strumming his guitar, and a fan arrives with the gift of a plaster model of Corgan's head. Her friend died, and she found her body, and the only thing that pulled her through was the fact that Smashing Pumpkins were reforming. And then she made a replica of Corgan's head. And then she gave it to him. "It helped centre you, yeah, yeah" says Corgan, struggling to pay attention. Corgan meeting the fans -check. Back at the hotel, he writes a song about Nazi Germany, and bitches on about the pressure to play audience favourites, instead of putting them through a punishing three hour set of new material. "Why won't you play songs like 'Soma' anymore?". "Why do you ask?" Corgan spits back, recalling the natural grace with which he dismissed former bassist D'arcy Wretsky as a "mean-spirited drug addict" and blamed guitarist James Iha for the breakup of Smashing Pumpkins. Considering Jimmy Chamberlain's heroin addiction, sacking, rehabilitation and rejoining of the band, one might think Corgan would steer away from pathetic slurs regarding drug abuse. Never mind the fact that spending more than a few moments in the company of this man would have most normal people pulling their kitchen and bathroom to pieces for something to inject. Corgan then admits that he won't play 'Soma' or 'Mayonnaise' any more because they are songs he "identifies strongly with James". Basking in wealth and success, he cannot cope with the fact that Iha got a songwriting credit for some of the chord structures. "But I wrote the songs" he pleads. 'Zero', a single from the painfully constipated double album 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' contains a moment of truth. Propelled by an undeniably muscular guitar riff, Corgan sings "God is empty/just like me". Checkmate.