The Smashing Pumpkins

Throughout their seven-year career, Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins have gained a reputation as perhaps rock's most dysfunctional band -- a group whose cohesion on more than a few occasions had been so tenuous that at any moment it appeared the group would split among a flurry of recriminations and accusations.So one really had to wonder about the future of the Smashing Pumpkins when just two months ago the band members faced perhaps their biggest crisis.On July 12, the Pumpkins were set to play a two-night stand at New York's Madison Square Garden -- two high-profile shows on a triumphant tour behind the band's groundbreaking epic double CD, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. At 5 a.m. that morning, bandleader Billy Corgan received a phone call.The keyboardist hired for the tour, Johnny Melvoin, had been found dead from a overdose of a mixture of heroin and alcohol. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who allegedly had been using drugs with Melvoin, had been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance.For Chamberlin, it was the latest setback in a long-running battle with heroin addiction -- a problem the band thought he had overcome well before the Mellon Collie sessions.Immediately, the group's tour was put on hold. Five days later Chamberlin was fired. Fans were left to wonder once again about the future of Corgan and his bandmates, bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha.But instead of being a crippling blow to the Pumpkins, the events of July 12 seem to have added a level of cohesion to the band, which is now touring with drummer Matt Walker of Filter and keyboardist Dennis Fleming."After everything that happened with Jimmy and all that stuff, things are just even better now," D'Arcy said in an interview from New York City. "They've just been getting better and better, and I think we're all learning to understand each other, especially after what happened with Jimmy, which is not taking things for granted anymore. We're not just saying, oh, we're not going to take this for granted anymore. We just all were really badly scared. We just appreciate it on a very deep, unconscious level, and I didn't even really know it until we did go back out on tour again. I mean, we never really used to hang out together that much. Now we've been spending a lot of time together and the shows have been really enjoyable. I've actually been enjoying being on tour, which is not taking it for granted, I think. We're really trying to take advantage of this situation because something like that scares you and you realize that it could be gone in a second. And we've all put the band first. Obviously Jimmy wasn't doing that. That's why he's not with us anymore. But to just have something hit you like that and realize this could be over any second, anything could happen at any time, you should just really enjoy it while it's here."It was sort of a different chemistry in the band before with Jimmy in the band," D'Arcy (her last name is Wretsky) noted. "It was kind of like Billy and Jimmy and myself and James. But now it's just brought me and James and Billy really much closer together...Everything's just so much better. It's really surprising to me. Our band has always been like definitely worth doing, but always very incredibly intense, very heavy, just almost unbearable sometimes, just the pressures. It's not like that anymore. I never thought it could be this way. I never thought it could be like, fun. It was always just like the most important thing in my life, but I would never have called it fun before. But now we're really, we really feel lucky. We feel like we've gotten a second chance, sort of, to like enjoy the fruits of our labor basically. It was almost all completely ruined."Indeed the Smashing Pumpkins have endured plenty of difficulties and trials over a seven-year history. Formed in 1989, the band made an immediate impact with their 1991 debut, Gish, which sold 300,00 copies. The second Pumpkins' CD, Siamese Dream, became the breakthrough, selling more than two million copies. Now Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has turned the group into high-profile superstars. Nearly a year after its release, the multi-platinum CD continues to generate radio singles.But almost as soon as the Smashing Pumpkins formed, tensions were as big a story as the band's music. The group survived a broken romance (Iha and D'Arcy split on the Gish tour). Chamberlin was frequently battling drugs, a problem he claimed to have overcome by the time of the Siamese Dream tour. Corgan suffered a nervous breakdown prior to the Siamese Dream sessions and also was going through major difficulties with his girlfriend (the two have since married) at the time.Then there's the subject of the working roles in the band. Corgan has widely been viewed as tyrannical in his control of the group's creative processes. Many articles indicated that during the "Siamese Dream" sessions Corgan played virtually all the bass and guitar -- leaving Iha and D'Arcy largely uninvolved. D'Arcy in the interview, however, said this situation was exaggerated.But the tensions between the band members -- especially during the Siamese Dream sessions -- were very real."I think everyone in the band, it had always been sort of a daily sort of ritual to weigh, to say to yourself is the good of this outweighing the bad, seriously every single day it was like that for many years," D'Arcy said. "And then 'Siamese Dream,' during that time, especially during the recording, because we went to Atlanta to record it and it was like being in a prison camp or something, it was absolutely horrible. We had no friends and no family down there and no kind of support system at all. We were just completely cut off and in the studio for like 14 hours a day every day. It was just not a smart thing to do. It was a really unhealthy thing to do. Just all these things welled up, these things that had been festering just kind of came to a head then."But following the Siamese Dream sessions, relations in the band began improving, to the point that the band had generated enough material to justify making the Mellon Collie project into a double CD. The finished product is clearly the band's finest hour yet. A sprawling set is one of the more diverse records in recent memory -- with gentle ballads like "Thirty-Three" and "Take Me Down," sweeping rockers like "Thru The Eyes Of Ruby" and "Tonight, Tonight" to brittle, stormy rockers like "Jellybelly" and "Zero."So what's the secret to the Smashing Pumpkins success? Plenty of observers have speculated that the much publicized tension within the band, in fact, has been a key contributor to the Pumpkins' creativity.D'Arcy, however, doesn't buy into that theory -- especially in today's new-found era of harmony within the band."I don't believe that at all. I think there's so much more that we could have accomplished if we had all been like functional all the time and able to communicate with each other better," she said. "Look, we have this vast and incredible amount of material. I think that there would be so much more if those pressures had not been there. I think we would have been like well oiled machine. I don't believe that at all. I don't think any of us believes that, the suffering artist thing."

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