Perfect Sound Forever

SMASHING PUMPKINS

Infinitely Melancholy
Their Decline and Fall and Teased Reunion by Pete Crigler
(June 2016)


The summer of 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Jonathan Melvoin. He was best known as being the brother of Susannah and Wendy Melvoin, who both had worked with Prince. He had also been a drummer for the long-running punk band The Dickies but most recently had been employed as a touring keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins. Between the fallout of his passing from a heroin overdose and the band relieving drummer Jimmy Chamberlin of his duties amongst other things, this begat the beginning of the end for the Pumpkins' popularity.

Up until this point, the Pumpkins had been riding high. They scored a series of hits including "Disarm" and "Today," songs that are modern rock staples to this day. In the fall of 1995, the band released their magnum opus, the sprawling double disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a record cited as their high point. Singles such as "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "1979" and the classic "Tonight, Tonight" helped the album sell over eight million copies. The band commenced touring right away and drafted in Jonathan Melvoin to help out on keyboards.

Melvoin had long been overshadowed by his sisters; Susannah was a member of The Family, a Prince offshoot who had originally done "Nothing Compares 2 U" while other sister Wendy was a member of The Revolution, helping Prince scale the heights of superstardom. She had started Wendy & Lisa with her partner Lisa Coleman and over the course of a bunch of records had carved their own path to which Jonathan had contributed drums to a number of tracks. Playing around with various musicians, he ended up joining California punks The Dickies in the early ‘90's as their newest drummer. Playing America with The Dickies for a number of years, he had ingratiated himself with the rest of the band. Finally hitting the studio in 1994, The Dickies released Idjit Savant, which contained a couple of songs with a Melvoin co-write.

By the time the album was released Melvoin had departed the band and was looking for his next gig. The Pumpkins, meanwhile were looking for a keyboardist to join them on the road supporting Mellon Collie. Auditions were held and Melvoin was selected. By this time, the Pumpkins' popularity was at an all-time high. The tour sold out across the country and the band felt they could do no wrong.

Around this time, the band had begun privately dealing with Jimmy Chamberlin's debilitating heroin addiction. The band had sent him to rehab once or twice by this time and Chamberlin seemed to be doing better. Unfortunately, sometime during the course of the tour, Chamberlin had become hooked again and in the process hooked Melvoin up as well. During a spring European tour, the band had to deal with the two junkies and a couple of overdoses between the pair. It has become known since then that the band considered dumping the pair but thought otherwise. Ultimately, it became too much for everybody.

On July 11, 1996, the band were in New York City, getting ready to play a couple of shows at Madison Square Garden. A couple of days beforehand, Chamberlin and Melvoin went out to score some dope. Coming back to their hotel room, they both shot up. Unfortunately, it was too much or too strong and they both passed out. Chamberlin awoke and discovered Melvoin wasn't moving or breathing. Calling 911, he attempted to revive Melvoin by sticking him in the bathtub and trying CPR. When the paramedics arrived, they pronounced Melvoin DOA and the police arrested Chamberlin for possession of heroin.

Then the shit hit the fan. With their keyboardist dead and their drummer arrested, the other three went into warp speed. Within hours of the incident, Chamberlin was fired and the shows were postponed. The band went back to Chicago to gather themselves and figure out what the hell they were going to do next. During this downtime, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy were prepping the launch of their record label, Scratchie Records. To be distributed by Mercury/Polygram, the two and some associates had gone on a signing frenzy and signed some friends like Chainsaw Kittens and The Frogs as well as some new bands like Fondly, Phoenix Thunderstone and fulflej, out of Virginia.

Tyson Meade of Chainsaw Kittens on getting signed to Scratchie: "When we left Atlantic, we started looking for a label (Mammoth let us out of our contract because they actually really cared about us which is very unusual in the music industry). I was friends with Billy and so we had toured with the Pumpkins at one point and I became friends with the rest of the band. D'arcy took me under her wing and became a really great friend. We talked all the time on the phone. When we left Atlantic, I called her to ask her advice. She told me she and James had thought about signing a label but the Kittens are the only band they would want to sign. They then started Scratchie and signed us."

By the end of the summer, the Pumpkins had found new recruits, including Matt Walker of Filter on drums and Dennis Flemion of the Frogs agreed to help out on keyboards. With the band seemingly intact once again, they hit the road and tried to pick up the pieces. They also ended up filming the video for the sixth and last single off Mellon Collie, "Thirty-Three" as a trio. Around this time, they also released the five CD box set The Aeroplane Flies High, a collection of all the B-sides and live tracks from the Mellon Collie era.

The box sold well but it seemed a bit egocentric and unnecessary. Then in January of 1997, the tour for Mellon Collie finally wrapped up. By this time, Corgan had recorded a new song under the Pumpkins name called "Eye" for inclusion on the Lost Highway movie soundtrack. The song was very electronic based and while it was a modest hit, it set the tone for the next album, though no one knew it at the time.

The band then took the next couple of months off to recuperate from the months of touring. Nothing else was heard from the band asides from new releases coming from Scratchie Records. Then in the summer, the band released two new songs for the soundtrack to Batman & Robin. The main song, "The End is The Beginning is The End," was a very trippy song and was a big hit and ended up winning them another Grammy. But it hasn't been the type of song that everyone goes back and listens to again and again like, say "Zero."

Then in the spring of 1998, it was announced the band would release their fourth studio album, Adore. The album was preceded by the release of the single "Ava Adore." Now talk about a buzzkill of a single. Very electronically oriented and dark beyond belief, it threw most fans, including myself for a loop. It ended up becoming a minor hit but wasn't very well received by the majority of fans. Then in June, the album was released and though it sold well, it debuted at number two behind Master P (of all people). The album ended up going platinum but after the release of one more single, all promotion for the record ceased.

During this time, Sarah McLachlan released the single "Angel" off of her multi-platinum disc Surfacing. McLachlan has stated in interviews that the song was written in the aftermath of Melvoin's death and this tragedy had served as a catalyst for the song. It ended up becoming one of her biggest hits and one of the most well-known songs of the late ‘90's. Melvoin's sister Wendy and Lisa also dedicated a song to Jonathan on their 1998 release Girl Bros. Melvoin's legacy ended up being wider reaching than he ever would have conceived.

During this time, Melvoin's widow filed a lawsuit against the Pumpkins, claiming they had been responsible for his death. Leaving her as a widow with a very small child looked like an uphill battle the band wouldn't win, so they ended up settling the suit and everyone agreed to stay quiet about the terms. With that chapter finished and seemingly behind them, the Pumpkins plowed ahead with their future.

By early 1999, it was reported that Chamberlin had been invited back into the band after proving that he was finally clean and sober. With the original lineup back together, they got to work on a new record. By this time, it was being speculated and gossiped that Corgan had been turning into a real (or bigger) prima donna and that there were other issues going on within the band. Everyone was still shocked however, when in September of '99, it was reported on MTV that D'Arcy was leaving the band. No one really knew the reason why but it would be speculated that there were some personal issues going on.

Needing a new bassist, they ended up taking Melissa Auf Der Maur from Hole and commenced making videos for the fifth record, Machina: The Machines of God. The singles released were the ballad "Stand Inside Your Love" with a really awful video that turned a lot of people off and did not become a hit and then there was "The Everlasting Gaze," which was more of a traditional rock track that ended up becoming the album's biggest hit and a track that still holds up today. When Machina was released in February of 2000, it landed with a resounding thud. Debuting at number seven and selling less than a million copies, it was a certified bust before the band ended up hitting the road.

The band toured successfully but that summer, Corgan announced on Q101, the Chicago alternative station, that the band was breaking up and their last show would be that December. People were stunned at the turn of events but looking back at it now it's not that surprising. With declining record sales, tons of inner-band turmoil and Corgan feeling the need to do something else, it was probably time for the band to go away. They went on a final round of touring, soaking in the last bit of relevance from their fans and gave their final show in Chicago in December. At the show they gave away copies of Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music which was supposed to be the official follow-up to Machina and released that summer but Virgin Records said no go and the official release was shelved. At the end of the show, Corgan tearfully thanked his bandmates and after the encore, that was the supposed end of the Pumpkins. But of course, in alternative rock, nothing stays final forever.

By this time, Scratchie Records was in disarray and neither Iha nor D'arcy had anything to do with the day-to-day operations. The label had lost its distribution deal with Polygram when none of the label's releases sold at all. Several members of the staff had decided to reorganize the label and in 1999, the label was rebranded as 4 Alarm Records, taking Chainsaw Kittens and the Frogs with them. But that only lasted for about a year before the label was placed on ice once again.

After the Pumpkins called it quits, Corgan stayed silent for a while. The only activity was the release of a greatest hits record in the fall of 2001 alongside the release of a DVD/VHS compilation of all the band's music videos. After that, nothing…

Over the next half dozen years, Corgan attempted a new band called Zwan, that ended in one of the most epic and dramatic breakups in rock history. Then he made a solo record that no one, except one of my friends, bought. When that flopped, he realized he wasn't going to have a career much longer if he didn't do something drastic. So in 2007, he announced he was reactivating the Pumpkins with Chamberlin back on drums. The fact that Iha and D'Arcy were so far removed from his mind really bothered a lot of hardcore fans. The fact that he replaced them with similar looking musicians was even weirder. The record they released, Zeitgeist, ended up going gold but wound up in bargain bins in due time. Then Corgan lost his fucking mind once and for all (or so it seemed). After Chamberlin left, he continued the band and the name, recruiting an eighteen year old rookie to replace him and announced a heady new series of music to be entitled Teargarden by Kaleidoscope or some horseshit like that. The record belly-flopped as did his full-length follow-up, 2012's Oceania.

By this time, Iha had joined A Perfect Circle, started the band Tinted Windows with Taylor Hanson, Bun E. from Cheap Trick and Adam from Fountains of Wayne, so he was still active but D'Arcy had become a massive drug addict and seemed like she was cast off as a useless rock ‘n roll junkie. The Pumpkins' 2014 record wasn't completely bad but it only had nine songs and debuted at a miserable 34 on the charts, the lowest peak for a Pumpkins album since the debut. Still, the bad continued touring and in the fall of 2015 announced a tour for 2016 with special guest Liz Phair. They also announced Chamberlin was joining them back on drums. But more importantly, in March of 2016, James Iha joined the band on stage in L.A., his first time sharing the stage with the Pumpkins since December of 2000. Fan reaction was overly enthusiastic and hopes for more shows were buoyed. All these good vibes continued when D'Arcy reemerged for an odd interview in April of 2016, where she stated that she still works on music and that she occasionally keeps in touch with Iha. A couple days later, Corgan wished D'Arcy a happy birthday on Facebook and even teased the possibility of a reunion in the same Facebook post. . It seems as though getting older and having children has mellowed these guys out.

I believe it is fair to say at this juncture in time that the Pumpkins' legacy lays in tatters. They haven't had anything comparable to a giant hit in years, each record consistently sells less and less and more often than not, they can be found playing half-filled clubs and theaters while the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam can still fill arenas and stadiums.

It was clear that after all the hype and hoopla surrounding Mellon Collie and the subsequent tragedy of Melvoin's death had subsided that the band retreated and as a result, their popularity started slipping as the music became less powerful and more electronically based and less interesting. That still holds true to this day where the Pumpkins' overall discography is not held in as high regard as bands they came up with. Maybe one day Corgan can rip his head out of his ass and make something of himself again. Until that time comes, we'll always have the old stuff to remind us of the good times.


Also see our review of Smashing Pumpkins' Pisces Iscariot


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