photo & text by nacrowe
as ive written about before, its been such a colossal bummer watching SMASHING PUMPKINS frontman BILLY CORGAN degenerate in real time over the past decade from a generational talent, cultural force and ALTERNATIVE ROCK elder statesman into a PATHETIC salivating JOE ROGAN and ALEX JONES BOOTLICKER as well as a REACTIONARY, FAR-RIGHT MAGA QUISLING. it really is PANIFUL because his music meant so much to me and so many other people, especially what is arguably considered his greatest achievement, the imaginative and expansive double-album MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (VIRGIN, 1995).
i first heard this album through a new classmate of mine shortly after my move to NIGERIA in 6th grade in late 1995. i remember initially being totally enraptured by the SWIRLING, MAJESTIC fuzzed-out bliss of tracks like "THRU THE EYES OF RUBY," "JELLYBELLY," "TALES OF A SCORCHED EARTH," "WHERE BOYS FEAR TO TREAD," "BODIES" and "AN ODE TO NO ONE." jesus those songs still hold up. CORGAN definitely had a knack for taking a song with intense dynamics and then just pushing it another level or two to the point where the listener is just begging to be left off the rollercoaster. that being said, there are also several melodic mid-tempo songs like "ZERO," "LOVE," "HERE IS NO WHY" and "BULLET WITH BUTTERFLY WINGS" that showcase an almost NEW WAVE level of PLAYFUL tempo dynamics and integration of IDIOSYNCRATIC sonic textures. i believe CORGAN is a genius at creating a compelling sense of atmosphere and texture on the canvas of those less frantic, mid-tempo songs.
but where CORGAN vary much shines is in his ballad songwriting. MELLON COLLIE plays with this idea of MEMORY and NOSTALGIA and a geography that is both real and imagined. i almost think of this album as a place one visits from time to time and becomes reacquainted again with the furniture and the tactile placement of all the decorations. sonically it just has a TRANSFORMATIVE sense of PRESENCE that is unique unto itself and none more so than on ballads like "THIRTY-THREE," "CUPID DE LOCKE," "1979," "TONIGHT, TONIGHT," "PORCELINA OF THE VAST OCEANS" and my personal favorite "BY STARLIGHT." an ex-girlfriend of mine who passed away from OVARIAN CANCER in her 20s when i was in college was obsessed with the later, in fact it was integrated into her personal e-mail address at the time. i know CORGAN has had conflict and much trepidation regarding his voice, much like JIMI HENDRIX, JOHN LENNON and JAMES HETFIELD before him, but in his ballads his unique vocal affectations pays dividends in how it conveys a naked sense of emotional VULNERABILITY and even HOPE.
and i always felt strongly that this sense of VULNERABILITY in his vocals and his song-craft was his calling card as a musician, vocalist and ultimately a songwriter. the idea that those qualities for which i lionized him have metastasized into such a SPITEFUL, SELF-AGGRANDIZING, SOLIPSISTIC, FALSELY-AGGRIEVED MAN-CHILD is beyond DISORIENTATING and DISAPPOINTING. its SAD. i very much wish now he would just go away instead of trying to recapture the past with his current cash-in version of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS.
MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS is a landmark release by a great band, but like past achievements by ERIC CLAPTON or VAN MORRISON, i tend to look elsewhere these days out of sheer disappointment into the person CORGAN became.
photo & text by nacrowe
when i moved to NIGERIA in 1996 there were dubbed tapes passing around amongst my middle school peers of this band with a funny i hadnt heard of before called THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. those two albums were MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (VIRGIN, 1995) and its immediate predecessor SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993). my first impression of the band honestly was that voice. frontman and main songwriter BILLY CORGAN has a distinctive whine that is both his limitation and his identifying signature. to me its interesting how so much of his persona as an awkward genius is derived from that voice.
with 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK there lots of nontraditional front-people who broadened what was culturally acceptable. my thoughts immediately go towards that of PERRY FARRELL (JANE'S ADDICTION / PORNO FOR PYROS), RIVERS CUOMO (WEEZER), TRENT REZNOR (NINE INCH NAILS) and COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) who are all singularly identifiable and effectively one of one. but when i think of CORGAN the figure i am presented with is that of a gangly yet supremely talented midwesterner who is always seemingly slightly outside the mainstream looking in. his band is a neo-PSYCHEDELIC, fuzzed-out POWER POP band with PROG ROCK tendencies as if KING CRIMSON and THE RASPBERRIES had a lanky, colic child and dumped it somewhere outside CHICAGO in the late 60s.
tracks such as "TODAY," "ROCKET," "MAYONAISE," "CHERUB ROCK," "QUIET" and "DISARM" showcase a broad songwriting and musicianship range matched by few of their peers. they also present CORGAN as a disaffected figure who stands outside society, the most perfect encapsulation of GENERATION X dissatisfaction this side of fellow peer KURT COBAIN. during this period it seemed that these projected feelings of PERSONAL ISOLATION and SOCIAL DISCONTENT were directed at those elements of society that sought to restrict youth culture, i.e. the CHRISTIAN RIGHT and REPUBLICANS. this is why in the age of TRUMP it is so disappointing and just disorientating that CORGAN came out to support those neo-FASCIST elements of the ALT-RIGHT. its as if we as an audience had misread his music and creative output for most of our lives. we mistook his intentions and mistakenly took him as being someone with like-minded values. i was wrong.
i am a proponent of separating that ART from the ARTIST but with CORGAN that is extremely difficult due to how much his music affected me as a teenager. i looked up to him in no small part by how great SIAMESE DREAM was and what it represented to me as a teen and now i feel a deep sense of betrayal at his actions. which makes it difficult to listen to his music in general and i have to say, ive largely avoided it in recent years. i find it better to just stick with NIRVANA, PAVEMENT as well as most of the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK and INDIE ROCK bands of the same era and beyond since at least with those i have a sense of security in knowing that they would never support an autocrat like TRUMP.
there's something to be said about musicians interview musicians. there is a telepathy and a common wavelength at work that transcends superficial aspects like genre and style. it probably comes from a rooted common experience and mentality of persistence that comes with "making it" in a band setting. IT'S ELECTRIC! (APPLE MUSIC) was a in-person, pre-pandemic podcast where METALLICA drummer LARS ULRICH interviewed peers like JERRY CANTRELL (ALICE IN CHAINS), NOEL GALLAGHER (OASIS), JAMES MURPHY (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM), MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN (TOOL/A PERFECT CIRCLE), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), LES CLAYPOOL (PRIMUS), GREG PUCIATO & BEN WEINMAN (THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS/NIRVANA), JOAN JETT, JACK WHITE (THE WHITE STRIPES) and TOM MORELLO (RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE) among many others.
whats interesting is that ULRICH, despite his notorious reputation for talking (and talking and talking), within the confines of these interviews he is mostly listening. in fact, i'd argue he is an incredible astute interlocutor that gently guides his subjects through insightful productive conversations. most teachers know that the longer you speak the less impact each word has on your students. i was really taken when recently rewatching these interviews to see just how gifted an interviewer ULRICH was and how engaged his follow-up questions were. you didnt get the sense that he had a list he wanted to get through, rather in an almost HOWARD STERN-like manner allow the subject free reign to drive the conversation as he gently steers it. to pull this off you must be a really good listener, which in popular culture i think ULRICH never gets credit for. makes sense though, given the fact that he is often a key composer within METALLICA who often deals with arrangements, a practice whereby you need to listen with intention to surmise the best presentation of musical ideas for maximum impact.
i hope he gets back to this podcast post-pandemic, because it felt like he was really on a roll with it. and it seemed like he was genuinely in his element and having fun. selfishly i just found the conversations compelling and insightful, more so than the vast majority of ROCK AND ROLL interviews you find online.
i think people are aware enough of the innovative and controversial shenanigans that have taken place on the HOWARD STERN SHOW over the years. it is pretty amazing that he is being finally recognized in his late career for his singular interviewing skills, i'd even argue that his shows now are among the best of his career. just wish he'd stay off those lame network talent shows.
regardless i think often overlooked as well are the number of amazing music performances that have taken place on his radio show, mostly of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK, METAL and CLASSIC ROCK variety including the likes of CHRIS CORNELL, JOHN FOGERTY (CREEDANCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL), FIONA APPLE, DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA/FOO FIGHTERS), BILLY CORGAN (THE SMASHING PUMPKINS), ROB ZOMBIE (WHITE ZOMBIE), DAVID BOWIE, PERRY FARRELL (PORNO FOR PYROS / JANE'S ADDICTION)
definitely check some of these out and see what i mean.
this is pretty cool.
the MUSEUM OF POP CULTURE in SEATTLE recently did their annual fundraiser for local music education and community engagement initiatives by celebrating the work of regional favorite sons ALICE IN CHAINS. aside from their performance at the event, there were also performances both on-site and via video submissions by various peers and artists, many of the METAL and ALTERNATIVE ROCK persuasion.
while i am pretty on the fence about music-related museums in general (in my mind movements are only truly dead once you can visit an exhibit), these performances by the likes of MARK LANEGAN of SCREAMING TREES, MASTODON, HEART, FISHBONE, KORN, SOUNDGARDEN, TAD DOYLE of TAD, KRIST NOVOSELIC of NIRVANA, DAVE NAVARRO of JANE'S ADDICTION, COREY TAYLOR of SLIPKNOT, METALLICA, BILLY CORGAN of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, TAYLOR HAWKINS of the FOO FIGHTERS are amazing and serve of evidence of the cultural impact ALICE IN CHAINS had on their peers and the next generation of musicians.
makes me miss LAYNE STALEY and MIKE STARR all the more deeply. not to mention their fallen peers in CHRIS CORNELL and KURT COBAIN. rest in peace brothers.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE a special episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist dedicated to the music production career of BUTCH VIG, from his career recording DIY releases from obscure 80s midwestern HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands at his own SMART STUDIOS to his commercial breakthrough with 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons NIRVANA, SMASHING PUMPKINS and GARBAGE and beyond.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo by nacrowe
with the impending second bankruptcy of GUITAR CENTER likely to be finalized at the close of this month, it seemed as good a time as ever to look back at the live performance series GUITAR CENTER SESSIONS that they co-produced with DIRECT TV that took advantage of their iconic flagship HOLLYWOOD location.
it feels like the end of an era with their impending doom, but sadly they never took advantage of the internet and basically ceded that ground to competitors like SWEETWATER. it is mind-bogging that COVID knocked them out give that this lockdown period we've been living through has sold more guitars and instruments then any other period in history. just think about that.
oh well, at least we have these performances until they inevitably get taken down.
THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.
art by nacrowe
man back in the day i worshiped this dude.
or at least i projected my insecurities as a young adult on him. as a lanky white dude of average appearance i loved the self-made gusto in which he created a whole interior world unto the lyrics and soundscapes of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. his music was lush and inventive, often exploring textures and feels throughout his songs that almost served as little operatic suites. i can definitely see the SHOEGAZE, 70s PROG ROCK and METAL influences years later, but he definitely made them his own.
what i didn't foresee was how poorly the actual person dated past his prime. now i just see a sad old narcissist that's more of a cultural vampire than any breed of visionary as he once was back in the 90s. to tell you the truth, his support of DONALD TRUMP and conspiracy theories surrounding OBAMA has made me reevaluate everything about this dude.
in old interviews BILLY CORGAN would often opine about the then-current state of rock music and his place within it, often posturing his latest release as not being properly appreciated by an elite music press that didn't share his mid-western sensibilities. except this was all complete bullshit. CORGAN to this day positions himself as an outsider because it relieves him of taking responsibility for his actions, like bad career choices (cough, cough, ZWAN) and treating his fellow musicians horribly.
i love the fact that the fawning press that once celebrated his accomplishments (ROLLING STONE, SPIN, NME, etc.) are now all largely legacy publications or essentially rendered irrelevant in a new media environment ripe with blogs and websites (PITCHFORK, CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND, STEREOGUM, etc.) that question his place in the pantheon of 90s alt rock luminaries. these new gatekeepers are more in line aesthetically with bands like PAVEMENT than the THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. and CORGAN is pissed painting himself predictably as the victim.
its crazy because i still love listening to GISH and SIAMESE DREAM from time to time, but the dude is just such a disappointment. its a real bummer because he was one of the most gifted songwriters of his era, capable of creating lilting delicate ballads and blazing neo-SABBATH riffage on the same album side.
too bad he is a shitty, self-involved narcissistic bully that preys on his bandmates and paints himself a victim of circumstance, opportunity, geography, timing, waah waaah waaaaah waaaaaaaaaaah.
i think it just goes to show that you really have to separate the art from the artist at times and for me, CORGAN is the poster boy of that. i have accepted that the same person that wrote "1979", "Stand Inside Your Love", "By Starlight", "Mayonaise" "Perfect" and "Rhinoceros" is the same fellow that repeatedly goes on INFOWARS.