Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mr. Corgan and Mr. Smith

When I was about 14 years old, in the summer before my Freshman year in high school, my buddy Andy and I did what most young teenagers do who are searching for coolness and identity—we would sneak periodically into Andy’s older brother Joe’s room in hopes that some of his esteemed coolness would seep into us. Joe had just graduated from high school and the first thing that you noticed when you went into his room was that he was a fan of what was then called “new wave” music. There were posters from floor to ceiling. These posters featured all of the late 80’s prominent gloom rockers. Depeche Mode and The Smith’s Morrissey were featured prominently as were other, more minor characters. One group, however, outshined them all—both by total number of posters and by the distinct look of the individuals presented within. I speak, of course, of Robert Smith and his band the Cure. Here was a guy who managed, by appearance alone, to be both terrifying and beautiful. His music was also exactly that.

So we braved the tapes. The first songs I remember listening to by the Cure were those off their very first album (“why not start at the beginning?” we thought). “Boys Don’t Cry” was (though we hadn’t the experience then to describe it this way) was the epitome of post punk. In it you could hear elements of the Ramones and the Clash but it had something else too. I remember loving the title single off the album, and being perplexed by the song “Killing an Arab.” After listening for most of the summer, and becoming familiar with their library (especially their most current release at the time “Wish”) what ended up sealing the deal for me in becoming the mega-fan that I have become was the guitar. That same summer I took a special interest in learning how to play. The Cure’s songs were just simple enough that with some effort I could learn how to play almost any song by them that I wanted. This coupled with the formation of my first band “Only Anything” which consisted at the time of 3 other hard core Cure fans became the bedrock for what has now become a 10+ year following. They are my very favorite band, the one rock group that I would choose if forced to listen to only one band for the rest of my life on that proverbial deserted island. This might also have to do with the fact that their arsenal of tunes has to be in the 200s.

Anyway, a few years later I had become a poster child for early 90s rock and roll. By first hand experience I was a certified expert in what for others like me was the natural flow of music progression. Listening to the Cure made listening to other dynamically gloomy music something that wasn’t only natural but inevitable. Among other bands that I began gobbling was a Chicago based group called the Smashing Pumpkins. Almost immediately, Billy Corgan’s foursome became #2 on my list. Just like the Cure, the Pumpkins appealed to me on a variety of levels and languages. Like Smith, Corgan wrote songs that seemed to speak to that adolescent spirit that was in bloom within me. Both the Cure and the Pumpkins seemed to get the formula right, but did so without seeming to be trying to do so like other bands of the time that I loved to hate like Candlebox and Dishwalla. My first concert was a Lollapalooza stop in Phoenix. The Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys headlined—I seemed to be the only one there who gone to see the Pumpkins exclusively. Billy’s guitar playing blew me away and I had a new idol.

So, Siamese Dream literally became a soundtrack to my life. It introduced me to heavy music, and taught me how that dynamic could be moving without seeming overwrought like other metal bands seemed to me. When Mellon Collie came out it was like a gift of 26 more songs written just for me about my life. That same year The Cure released Wild Mood Swings, an album who’s songs my wife and I think back on as the songs of our courtship and early love.
So that was a long introduction to my intent on writing this little piece about my two favorite bands of all time. The real reason I wanted to write is that now, ten years later, the Cure is still going strong and the Pumpkins have broken up. Recently, Billy Corgan announced his intentions to reform his band. He said that he wants his songs back as if they have somehow, mysteriously left him behind. This announcement has been met with speculation and disbelief as in the last 5 years or so, he has severely alienated his former band mates, citing James Iha as the reason that the Pumpkins broke up in the first place and pegging D’Arcy as a raving addict. So what is Robert’s secret to success? Why has his band been around for almost 30 years and the Pumpkins broke up to the dismay of their leader after only 12?

Fans might say that it is because Billy is such a head case, but I would submit that Robert does and says things that are just as cold. Just a few months ago, without warning he fired two 12+ year members of his band (Roger O’Donnell and Perry Bamonte). According to their web sites, Roger and Perry still have no idea why Robert pushed them out.

I think that Robert realizes something that Billy might not. Robert Smith realizes that he is the Cure. It doesn’t matter who else is in the band with him as long as they can play or be taught to play the band’s catalog. Its Robert’s unique voice and guitar playing that make the Cure what they are. It could be argued that Simon Gallup, the bands bassist is also necessary to the sound—and I will give you that, but also say that he has been the only constant member of the band besides Robert for most of the band’s long history. In much the same way the Pumpkin’s drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, is a necessary requisite for that classic Pumpkin sound. He too has been the only constant member of the band and he and Billy continue to be chummy and amicable.

I think Billy claims nobility saying that the Smashing Pumpkins can only be Billy, James, D’Arcy and Jimmy, but he has broken his own rule on numerous occasions replacing the drummer or bassist when breakdowns and addictions forced him to. So why not just reform the band with different members? The fans will miss the old members—I for one love James Iha—but we will embrace the replacements just as we have with the Cure. All we really want to hear is Geek U.S.A and Soma played live again.
So I can’t help but wonder what will happen here. With the less-than-successful release of his first solo album, Billy doesn’t seem to be creating any buzz or longing for his future plans with the general public. It is just me and the good, loyal Pumpkin fan base that will continue waiting and wondering about the return of Captain Zero.

1 comment:

  1. Michael Mortensen7:53 PM

    Hey Jon,

    Finally read this, good points.

    "It is just me and the good, loyal Pumpkin fan base that will continue waiting and wondering about the return of Captain Zero."

    Amen to that. I agree with the Smashing Pumpkins (SP) being mostly just Corgan. I think he could get by with new band mates, with the exception of Chamberlin. If you listen to the SP' music, the two things I notice (other than the guitars) is Corgan's unique nasely and snarling voice and Chamberlin's intense jazz-influenced drumming. Since Corgan can write music on guitars and keys, he only really needs Chamberlin to have the 'sound' of SP. I for one, would support a reincarnation of SP, as long as they don't make another 'Machina'...