I realised the exact moment I went off The Smashing Pumpkins – it was midway through an interminable encore at their 1996 show in Wellington. Now, this was also when the band was at its biggest – in my mind anyway. I had loved the first couple of albums, they were a huge part of my world as I finished high school and moved on to university. I’d even played in a band that had learned almost all of Siamese Dream. And then the covers band I was in at university played three or four of the songs (Today, Spaceboy, Disarm – sometimes 1979) at every gig we played.
I was excited to be seeing the Pumpkins even though its double album, Mellon Collie, was the first real clue that this group had toppled on over into indulgence. But the best stuff on Mellon Collie was still part of the magic at the time.
Billy Corgan’s horrific stage demeanour – coupled with the terrible playing he seemed to hope was some sort of cosmic improvising – was the end for me. He went from (nearly) hero to (absolute) zero that night.
I can still play Adore now and then – an album that arrived after I walked out of that particular Pumpkins show, but that’s the anomaly. Anything else from this band I have no real interest in – I’ve done those early albums to death. And I can’t see much hope in any resurrection.
Corgan continues to make music – he keeps using the Pumpkins name (since he, ultimately is the band/brand) but it’s been diminishing returns since Adore. I’ve even seen a version of the Smashing Pumpkins play again – a work commitment, I attended as reviewer rather than as a fan – and it was fairly dire once again.
The frustrating part is that there were glimmers – even at that second time seeing Corgan and the then-version of The Smashing Pumpkins.
But it’s so easy to pick holes – that horrible yelling voice, the self-importance, the narcissism writ large across riff-songs that don’t stand up.
I can trace the crumbling of that all back to that one moment though. That show in 1996. Maybe you’re a lot sharper than me for never being a fan of the music, but I was a believer up until I saw Corgan all but implode on stage that night. He was snarky and rude and took pot shots at other musicians (I remember a mocking of The Breeders – including a pisstake rip through the riff of Cannonball) and was hostile towards the crowd.
It all culminated in a horrible jerk-off moment during an encore that wouldn’t die.
I never took the band – or Corgan – seriously again. Sure, sure, you might never ever have taken the band seriously but this is about identifying the moment when a musical act you did love went from hero to zero in your book.
Can you remember a time when with one poor performance or underwhelming album (or song) you saw the light, moved on – wondered why you had ever been caught up in a moment with a particular band or solo artist?
The most fun I can have now with The Smashing Pumpkins is imagining Billy Corgan in Havelock North.