Yesterday, Billy Corgan posted a 2,407 word message on his blog, essentially defending a) all the not-so-great music he’s released since Adore, and b) his decision to continue releasing music as Smashing Pumpkins despite being the only remaining member.
My knee-jerk reaction, of course, is that this is just a man who no longer has the drive and hunger that he did in his twenties- he puts out one album under a brand new masthead, and when it doesn’t sell like Siamese Dream, he points fingers, gives excuses, and ultimately gives up. Personally, I feel that Corgan’s decision to operate under the name Smashing Pumpkins is a cheap, cowardly move. I admit, I have absolutely no right to judge. I’m just a random music fan that I don’t expect anyone to give a shit about. But personally, I’d like to see Corgan stick it out- start something new, independent of the past, and build that into something great.
I don’t know why I feel that way about Corgan as Smashing Pumpkins, but differently about Axl Rose as Guns N’ Roses. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Axl never once considered any other option. When Zwan appeared, I wanted to see where it went. Same with Corgan’s solo album. I don’t feel like either were given a real chance, and so slapping a saddle on the old cash cow disappoints me.
But let’s check out Billy’s side of the story:
“One small detail that I think was beneficial to the band in the early years was we practiced a lot.”
I’m hoping that some sarcasm was involved here… But either way, he’s basically saying that he hasn’t worked like he used to, in a long time. Which I find almost… painful.
“Through all that playing you would easily come into contact with the emotional value of whether or not a song ‘worked’, so to speak. Add to that another 20-30 hours per week at home writing music and lyrics, and you can see I was very immersed in that process of checking my ideas between head, home, heart, and practice.”
Now we know why the Smashing Pumpkins were so great. And forgive me for stating the obvious, but it had nothing to do with the name, and everything to do with the commitment.
Corgan does his best to answer the question of why he’s continuing as Smashing Pumpkins, but it really comes off as a big excuse rather than an explanation.
What jumps out at me is his revelation that the “Smashing Pumpkins community” is active and interested. Which, of course, they are. And I get that some artists are greatly influenced by the interest (or lack thereof) of their fans. But it will always disappoint me when an artist makes decisions based on factors external to what is in their soul. Corgan seems convinced that Smashing Pumpkins is his destiny right now, but I can’t shake the feeling that if there was an equally large community gathered around, salivating for a new Zwan album, he wouldn’t need to be a Pumpkin anymore.
Corgan vocally disagrees with this naysayer though: “The fan is NOT responsible in any way, shape, or form for my happiness or the my ability to do my job.”
And he insists that he’s looking forward: “It is really important for me to re-state first and foremost that the band will remain now and forever about making new music.” I imagine emphasis on the word new. “This is where most of our energy over here belongs. That doesn’t say or mean to say anything negative about the past. In fact my posture on it is consistent with the original band vision, which was to always push forward.”
We’ll all probably bicker about all of this through armageddon- is Corgan a sellout? Is he crazy? Is he full of shit? And the answer probably lies somewhere in the vicinity of maybe. He is a musician after all. But fortunately, Corgan’s massive missive does make it to one compelling, exciting point, besides the loose promise of two other bands and new solo material.
Corgan says of 44 planned songs, “I don’t think I’m going to make albums in the old-fashioned way, meaning 12-15 songs… in one small package. My desire at this point would be to release one song at a time, over a period of 2-3 years, with it all adding up to a box set/album of sorts…”
Now this is interesting. Some pundits have theorized that the album is dead. In a recent open letter, Bob Lefsetz recently proclaimed: “You’ve got to stop making albums,” later elaborating: “A true fan wants more and more music by his favorite artist. But he doesn’t want it dropped like a bomb all on one day, he wants it released spread out over time. It’s like a relationship is collapsed to a week, with not only kissing and intercourse, but babies and divorce all at the same time. Whereas real life is an endless stream of small moments. Musicians should realize this, understand it’s a changed world.”
I’ve been hearing statements like this from Lefsetz and others for awhile now, and I’ve always been extremely skeptical. But I’m excited to hear that an artist as statured as Billy Corgan will be putting the theory to a real-world test. I want to know if I’m wrong or not. In this endeavor, we fully support Corgan- it’s bold and brave. Major labels don’t take chances like these anymore; only artists care enough about new ideas to stick their necks out for them. Whether Corgan succeeds or fails, the music industry will benefit, learn, and grow.
And so for that, we applaud the crazy son of a bitch. And I personally look forward to his new bands and solo albums… even more than I do to Nu-Smashing Pumpkins.