Exactly twenty years ago today, on May 23, 2000, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan announced that his band, after 11 eventful years together, would break up at the end of the year (2000). At the time it sent shock waves through alternative rock music circles. In truth, many fans were amazed they lasted as long as they did. Problems in the band first began in 1996, when touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died from a drug overdose. Pumpkin’s drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was arrested and subsequently kicked out of the band for possession of heroin in connection with Melvoin’s death. Chamberlain was later reinstated in 1998 but soon after D’arcy Wretzky quit the band allegedly over Corgan’s despotic control over the band. Later Corgan would allege that she was fired because she was a drug addict who refused to get help.
But at the end of the day, The Smashing Pumpkins seemed like they were cursed to fail anyway with cracks appearing in their solidarity. What I remember most about their best work is that it was ultimately a Corgan project. It was a blessing and a curse in which Corgan’s alleged self-importance overwhelmed the band’s interpersonal relationships. Though at the time, Corgan didn’t quite see it that way, laying blame at the feet of the Britney Spears of the world, who were dominating the charts at the dawn of the new millennium. “There’s nothing wrong inside the band,” Billy Corgan said on Los Angeles radio station in May 2000. “But the way the culture is and stuff, it’s hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys.”
Looking back now it’s fair to say The Smashing Pumpkins definitely put up a good fight for over a decade, often running against expectations and trends with its conceptual art rock. It’s kind of poetic now looking back, when I listen to their song Bullet With Butterfly Wings. It reminds me of all the chaos and regret of the past, not mine, but the [Smashing] Pumpkins.
Apart from maybe Corgan’s ode to youth in 1979, Bullet With Butterfly Wings is arguably their most famous song from the album Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness (1995). It’s both weird and adventurous with its arrangements, as Corgan blurts out lyrics like “The world is a vampire / Sent to drain” and “Jesus was an only son / Tell me I’m the chosen one” But quite possibly the lyrics that he screeches out in the chorus “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage,” are the song’s best moments. In short, it’s a real banger with Chamberlain holding the song together brilliantly with some great tribal drumming that even the four horsemen of the apocalypse would be proud of.