“My SP Life” is my own personal story about how the Smashing Pumpkins went from an unknown artist I heard on the radio as a 10 year old to part of my daily life
PART 1, PART 2, PART 3 PART 4 PART 5 PART 6 PART 7
PART 1: Rocking with my Air Guitar
In the summer of ‘91, my sisters and I were cleaning the backyard and we had brought out a radio to listen to as we worked. Between the 5 of us, we each got to choose a station for 10 minutes. I clearly recall turning to the local alternative rock station which I had only just started listening to a few weeks earlier. A song came on whose lyrics I couldn’t make out but which sounded like a very calm melody with a slow drum beat in the background. Suddenly these louder guitars started playing, and this crazy guitar solo was playing, and I was thinking to myself, “What is this?! It rocks!” At the tender age of 10, I had my first impression of a band which I would later be fanatic about. I heard the song again months later, and mid-way through the song, I recorded it onto a tape, missing the first few minutes of it. I still wasn’t familiar with the name of the band who played the song, and I rarely to never heard the song again on the radio.
A year later I heard the song Drown and I didn’t know at the time that this was the same band whose song I had taped off the radio so long ago. The unique sound of the guitars always made me smile, but once again, this guitar solo on a song made me think, “What is this?! Who is this?! It rocks!”
It wasn’t until ‘94 that I finally knew the name of the band: Smashing Pumpkins. I hadn’t been listening to rock music much as my school friends’ interest in music was mostly hip hop. In ‘94 I had heard some kids that I hardly knew talk about a music video with a guy in an ice cream truck. I had no idea what they were talking about as my family didn’t have cable TV. These kids said that it was the best video “ever” for some song called “Today.” So as an impressionable youth, I started to listen to the alternative rock station again and heard Today and Disarm played back to back on a “block party” weekend where the radio station played 3 songs in a row of the same band. I later taped Today, with its memorable riff and powerful guitar tones, and listened to it over and over again.
It wouldn’t be until September of 1995 that I heard these same kids who were talking about the “Today” video mention the amazement of the Smashing Pumpkins recording a double album and how the band misspelled Melancholy. It was at that moment that I knew something special was going to happen when their new album came out. I remember listening to the radio and the excitement around the time of its release with an upcoming live concert broadcast that was going happen. The DJ came on the radio saying that they just got the new Smashing Pumpkins album and they were going play some of it. They played “Tonight, Tonight,” “Jellybelly,” “Zero,” and then “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” It was so amazing to me at the young age of 14, rocking my air guitar as Bullet was playing. They continued by playing more songs off of Mellon Collie and my mind was made up: I wanted this album!
I listened to the now famous broadcast of the ‘95 Riviera show: how they started with the same songs I had rocked out to just a few days earlier and then the sudden power failure during Zero. That night I told my mom that I wanted the new Smashing Pumpkins record for Christmas (even though I knew it was months away).
On Christmas day 1995, I was opening presents and found 2 small gifts wrapped – one larger than the other. I opened the smaller one first and saw this red cassette box with 2 smiling little girls on it. I didn’t know what it was, but I saw the title, “Smashing Pumpkins * Siamese Dream.” At this time I had no idea what was possibly on it. The larger package I opened up and recognized right away! It was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on cassette. I must have jumped 2 feet in the air with excitement by the arrival of this gift. I opened up the Mellon Collie cassette and looked at all the art, amazed with the kitty cats that were being married and the bunnies playing baseball. Then I saw the band’s picture for the first time: Billy Corgan standing there with his dark hair combed back, D’arcy holding a carrot as if it had some magical power, Jimmy looking like he was about to fall over, and James, well, looking like James. I would later go upstairs and open up this new — unknown to me at the time — cassette of Siamese Dream. I put on side A and these familiar drums started playing. Once again I grabbed my trusty air guitar and rocked out! The album I had never heard of ended up being one of my favorite albums of all time. I later listened to all of Mellon Collie and rocked out so much and also enjoyed “To Forgive” as it brought me back down. I even remember fast forwarding through “Tales of a Scorched Earth,” finding it too heavy for my liking, and acting super silly as I heard “We Only Come Out at Night.”>
As the Mellon Collie era started, my excitement for the Smashing Pumpkins’ music grew. I was enjoying both Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie almost daily. I listened to the two cassettes so much that the song titles on the cassettes had worn down to gray residue. I would only turn on the radio once in a while for the purpose of trying to win stuff or for other music I liked by artists like Oasis, Presidents of the United States, Foo Fighters, Bush, and even Alanis Morissette. But still, none of these artist would stir up the excitement in me that the Pumpkins had.
I was surprised one Sunday in May of 1996. While watching the Simpsons, I saw this cartoon band playing the Smashing Pumpkins song ZERO. I immediately recognized James from the picture in the Mellon Collie booklet but was surprised that my favorite band was on the Simpsons! As the shot moved away from the band to seeing Homer Simpson walking away from the stage, I said, either out loud or in my head, “Go back! Go back! I want to see them!”
With the internet still a few years away from being available to me, and still no cable TV or music magazines coming to my home, my knowledge of what the Smashing Pumpkins were doing was limited. It wasn’t until the early summer of ‘96 that I heard on the radio that the Smashing Pumpkins were coming to the Bay Area and were playing at the Cow Palace in Daly City – a location I had only known for RV Sales from TV commercials. I didn’t know exactly where Daly City was but I knew it had to be close. I had told my friend Jeremy about wanting to go and he said he wanted to go too, so he got his ticket and I talked my mother into getting me a ticket as well. I remember the day we went to the Wherehouse Music store, and as we walked in, seeing so many copies of Mellon Collie prominently on display. There were also copies of a weird-looking green album below it. We went up to the lady employee with my mother and my $25 cash ready to buy my first Smashing Pumpkins concert ticket. It was that day that I first learned of what I later referred to as the evil surcharge. Not having enough money, my mother paid the surcharge and I had my first Smashing Pumpkins ticket for August 17th 1996, which seemed like such a long time away.
It was then on a July evening that my mom came to my room and said “Jonathan, someone in your Pumpkin band died!”
“WHAT!” I yelled as I rushed to my mother’s room where she had Entertainment Tonight on (or something like that) and they showed this hotel room that the Pumpkins were staying in. I found out that a touring keyboardist, whom I had never heard of, had died of a drug overdose. My parents started to question whether I should ever see such a band. It wasn’t until a few days later that I learned about the firing of Jimmy Chamberlin and this put my parents at ease.
The local radio station announced that the Smashing Pumpkins show would be moved to December. August felt like a long time away, but now December made me think it was never going happen. I hid my ticket away and just waited.
During that time, I had heard about a Smashing Pumpkins box set coming out that was only going be available on CD. Luckily for me, earlier that year my parents had bought me a personal CD player, so I added to my Christmas list, “Smashing Pumpkins box set”.
On December 14th the day had come. My friend and I arrived a half an hour before doors opened and found a large line. When they let us in to this huge building, I passed by the merch table that seemed to have loads of Smashing Pumpkins memorabilia. As my friend and I walked in and sat down on the cold cement waiting for the opening band of “Garbage,” we talked to the other attendees and we all talked about how long we all had waited but were excited that Garbage was opening.
When Garbage took stage, the fans took to their feet. As Garbage played “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” the ground beneath my feet shook like a mini earthquake with the bass flying through my body and the movement of the crowd swaying side to side.
For my memories of that night, I will quote from my own personal journal which I wrote in faithfully as a teen and still do regularly as an adult:
“Last night Garbage played for 43 minutes! They played the songs “Queer,” “#1 Crush,” “Only Happy When it Rains,” and 5 other songs, and one was brand new. Also the singer was hecka fine. She was wearing a 2 piece dress and had short red hair. Two members of the band were very old looking. I couldn’t see the drummer… When the bands weren’t out on stage a big paper ball fight broke out. At about 9:30 ish the Pumpkins came on. Billy was bald and wearing a zero t-shirt and silver pants. James Iha was in a black leather suit. D’arcy had some black outfit on. Also the drummer looked odd but I didn’t even get a good look. The first song was ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ then ‘Tonight, Tonight’ with a cool screen with a cool video playing in the background. After that, ‘Where Boys Fear to Tread’, then ‘Zero’, then ‘Cherub Rock’, ‘By Starlight’, ‘Here is no Why’, ‘Rocket’, ‘An Ode to No One’. Then a long version of ‘Porcelina’. I felt awful (from all the weed smoke around us) so my friend & I got seats during Porcelina. After we sat they played ‘Drown’, (TAFH), ‘33’, (Disarm), Then they stopped for a few minutes and all of sudden you heard ‘welcome to the only kind of circus in the world..’ followed by ‘BWBW’, ‘Muzzle’ and a long version of “Thru the Eyes of Ruby’.”
I left the show thinking, “What a crazy show…”
You can listen to this show here
Sometime after seeing the Smashing Pumpkins for the first time my parents bought our 1st computer and the internet enter my parents’ home. I had no idea how much this new product would change the way I would interact with my favorite band.
It was 1997 and I was choosing my AOL “screen name”. It was between MonteLDS or MonteSP at the time. I had thought to myself, well I might not always be a Smashing Pumpkin fan but I will always be LDS. Little did I know that I would also always be a Smashing Pumpkin fan.
When I first looked up “Smashing Pumpkins” on Alta Vista, I was directed to a site called Smashing-Pumpkins.net. This site apparently was ran by a fan in the UK and for the first time I became award of all the singles that the Smashing Pumpkins had released and promotional items. They were all there with beautiful art work and all sorts of information. I dived into all the information it had on the band, learning about the Siamese Dream boxset for the first time and about promotional items such as “Live in Chicago”, “Muzzel” & “Drown”. Along with commercial bootlegs. This site would latter lead me to mp3s of the Viper Room show where Billy Corgan would first premier a number of new songs for the Smashing Pumpkins next album Adore.
But the biggest thing it brought me to was something called “alt.music.smash-pumpkins”. It was full of fans who were talking about the band and giving away copies of bootlegs on tapes. I found a lot of interesting topics and I learned just how rude online Smashing Pumpkins fans were. But what I mostly took away from it was the news about the band and what they were up to.
When Adore was released I remember going to the record store, and searching for the album on June 2 1998. Somehow I ended up in the singles section and finding the “Ava Adore” single as well. I bought both and took them home. I recall my first listen to it like it was yesterday. I removed the wrapping on the car ride home and looked at all the artwork of broken down buildings and a deeply in thought Billy Corgan. Reading the poem on the back titled 17.
When I got home I went upstairs to my room placed the Adore CD into my portable Sony CD player and pressed play. I listen intensely as the CD started to load to hear a kind of hissing then this very simple guitar and Billy’s voice sounding like he was playing in a small empty room. I sat on the floor stunned at the beauty of the song. I could hear very light piano played in the background with a shallow drum beat. As Billy sung with D’arcy the words “You make me real” I felt such serenity and peace. Then when the banjo came in and I was in complete awe. The song was so powerful and warm that as the last lines were sung a tear fell from my eyes. As I heard what sounded like a shooting star to end the song I immediately pressed the back button to listen to the song again. The rest of the album was just so different than what I had heard from Mellon Collie and The Areoplane box set.
A few weeks later I would have the chance to see the Smashing Pumpkins for the 2nd time with the same friend whom I had seen the Smashing Pumpkins with for first time. We had bought tickets late and had to sit way up high in assigned seats. I was surprised to see the whole floor was also assigned seating for “an evening with the Smashing Pumpkins”. As the show started with To Sheila, it was so amazing what they did for the song for the live atmosphere. The show was awesome with my favorite live version of Bullet with Butterfly Wings. During the tour the Smashing Pumpkins were donating all the proceeds of the show to charity and in honor of this charity the city of San Francisco had a representative give the key to the city to the Pumpkins and declared June 30th 1998 Smashing Pumpkin day and Billy saying while holding the key “you know what this mean, we now have keys to all your houses”. I remember leaving the show thinking about how much I enjoyed this show even more than the 1st show and how I couldn’t wait to see them again!
With the new information I had found on the internet about Smashing Pumpkins, I would discovered a world of collecting that I never knew about. When I had seen the Smashing Pumpkins in 1996 & 1998, I hadn’t bought anything from the merchandise tables. But in 1998 I bought my first “collectable” items. A friend told me at school one day that in the Used section at a local record store, they had seen a single for Crestfallen. I wasn’t sure what it could possibly have been, so after school I headed on over to the record store and there it was. A Crestfallen Promo for $4.50. I examined the artwork which looked similar to the Adore art work and font. Also that day, I picked up a copy of the USA version of Perfect as well as an import of Perfect that contained a “perfecto mix.”
When I got home, I contacted the Smashing-Pumpkins.net webmaster but got no reply, so I then emailed the Netphoria.org webmaster and offered them the scans of Crestfallen.
My interest in this rare find would later turn me on to looking for other Smashing Pumpkins items I had never had before. I bought copies of Gish and Pisces Iscariot for the first time. I went on to collect a large amount of Smashing Pumpkins items bought from eBay or from stores if I knew I didn’t already have them. Along with posters, shirts, DVDs, collecting bootleg audio and obtaining pre-Gish music, my collection at the time contained very valuable items that I later regretted selling, such as the Daphne Descends promo, Muzzel Promo, and Mellon Collie 3LP. But I would keep things such as my Crestfallen Promo, To Sheila promo and my 1994 Earphoria promo.
In early 1999, rumors that Jimmy Chamberlin might return to the Smashing Pumpkins were swirling around the internet. I had no idea what Jimmy would bring to a live concert as I had missed my chance to see the original line up due to his firing. In April 1999 the Smashing Pumpkins would start there “Arising Tour” with the original line up.
Online the Smashing Pumpkins published the first 3 songs with the band together for the first time in Detroit, Michigan. I clearly recall watching online the set starting with I Am One, and the screaming crowd, as Jimmy Chamberlin returned to drums, followed by Zero and a new darker version of Pug. The first Adore song to have a touch of Jimmy Chamberlin on drums. I would also never forget seeing D’arcy wearing this large white hat with her new big red lips. As well as seeing a short haired and blonde Jimmy Chamberlin.Along with all the digital pictures that the Smashing Pumpkins new official website would post.
At the time I was too young to travel to see these shows. But the power the band was playing in these 3 videos really excited me for a future tour. A day or two later I would hear a bootleg copy of the show and find some of the new material a bit confusing. I never had heard songs played live by the band before a studio release, so I was unable to process the songs. But I found, The Imploding Voicei and Dross to be really cool. And my excitement to see the band as the original line up grew! It would later come light that D’arcy had left the band in September. I was shocked and bewildered.
A few days later I would learn that the Smashing Pumpkins were going to be playing locally on October 30th and 31st at the Bridge School Benefit. I attended the 31st show alone only planning on staying for the Smashing Pumpkins set. I wasn’t sure what to expect at a show that I knew they would only play for 25 mins or so. I found a spot on the grass and saw a handful of other Smashing Pumpkins fans about my age that I talked and befriended. This acoustic set was so pleasant and the surprise appearance of Jimmy Chamberlin was very interesting. I recall hearing “Age of Innocence” and thinking how cool it was. When the set ended the fans I had met said they were going to do some “Pumpkin hunting”. At the time I thought that was strange. Little did I know how I would do this myself in the future. Having never met any of the band members before I chose to stick around on the grass. I stayed for a little while then took off during the Green Day set.
Later that year I would learn the title of the new album Machina/And the machines of God. The title would originally kind of rub me the wrong way. Also D’arcy replacement was announced by someone named Melissa Auf der Maur. Someone I had never heard of but that the online community would seem to know for sure.
The online world gave me a glimpse of the Smashing Pumpkins drama that I would otherwise never known, but nothing could prepare me for what the year 2000 would hold. Although, with the end of the world coming with Y2K it should of came as no surprise that My SP Life might be coming to a sudden end
With the release of Machina just around the corner the Smashing Pumpkins plan to play a couple of small clubs for a tour called “Resume the Pose”. A lot these shows were announced the day before ticket sales and all tickets were sold at the small venues only. I was luckily listening to the radio at 10am in the morning when they announcement that the Smashing Pumpkins would be playing at a small night club called The Edge in Palo Alto, about 40 minutes from my house. Tickets were limited to 2 a person and would go on sale the next day at 10am. I originally wasn’t sure if I wanted to go but a friend online had said, ‘how likely is it that you will ever get to see them at a tiny club?’. And another online friend said ‘I bet people are ling up right now’. So I called up my buddy Jeremy and asked him if he would take me across the bay to the venue. Like a good friend he came on by and took me out there. We were both only 19 years old and He thought it was crazy that I would stand in line for over 20 hours to get tickets for a concert. But I saw it as an adventure.
When I arrived, I found a very small handful of people there in line. I was kind of nervous but sat down and started to wait. That night I would meet so many different fans and talk to everyone who showed up that night. Counting how many people were in line and never getting a wink of sleep. I had the chance to talk to so many fans who had seen so many more Smashing Pumpkins show.
The following week I would show up around 9am, I had dressed up in my ZERO shirt and silver pants for the concert. Finding two other fans already in line they told me it had just been announced that day the Smashing Pumpkins would be at the local tower records store this afternoon signing posters. I however had grown such love for being in line from the week before I chose to stay in line. I had still never met the band before and hand no sense of what I might be missing. So I stayed in line and saved peoples spots in line as they would go to the record store in hopes to get something signed.
These good people who I met in line were so kind that they did something really touching. Even as I type this it chocks me up a bit. The fans who went had gotten back in line a 2nd time for my behalf to get the band to sign a poster for me. They told Billy how I was such a big fan that I wouldn’t even leave the line. There kindness and care will always remain with me.
They also came back with a 7 track promo CD they had gotten and someone had a boom box that we listen to it on. Hearing The Everlasting Gaze, I Am One, Disarm, Starla, Bullet w/ Butterfly Wings, Medallia of the Gray Skies and then we heard for the first time, the song Waiting. We were all stun by its beauty. For myself I was in gulfed by the song.
When the doors open we all squeezed inside this tiny venue. Before the band took stage it was unreal but fans chanted my names for a few seconds. And then chanted for the band to come on stage. And then the band came out. Here I was dead center in front of my favorite artist in a tiny club. As the 1st song starts the crowd pushes me forward into the rail and the rock and roll party is on its way!
This show would end up being the most memorable nights seeing the Smashing Pumpkins play. And how fitting that the club was called The Edge, as soon My SP Life would be pushed off that edge and into a free fall. You can listen to the show here
After having seen the Smashing Pumpkins at such an intimate show on the 6th of February I was shocked when learning only a few days later (26th of February) that the Smashing Pumpkins would return to San Francisco on March 6th to do a signing at the Virgin Megastore, like they had done at the record store the day of the Edge show.
A fan that I had known online meet up on the morning of the 6th at the local BART train station to ride into San Francisco together to wait in line around 6 in the morning. I had brought a some silly gifts for the band members; a Superman jacket for Melisa, an Alf doll for James, a colorful cat in the hat for Jimmy, and a VHS tape for Billy that contained a music video my friend and I had made for our communication class the year before to the song Crestfallen. I had brought a long a Superman bust for the band to sign as they were my super heroes in music.
When we arrived, I recognized the kind people who had meet from the Edge show just a month ago. The signing wouldn’t be till much later that day, but I didn’t want to miss the chance to meet the band. As I waited in line my mind wander about how much time we would get to talk to the band, but my excitement just to meet some of my personal musical hero’s was just too exciting. Some of the fans in the line said the Smashing Pumpkins wanted to play a short hour show in conjunction with the signing as they had done with other record store signings but it didn’t work out.
As the security let us in the girl who I had come with on BART started to cry (perhaps tears of joy). We traveled up to the top floor of the Virgin Megastore and there they were sitting at a long table with a Machina era poster behind them. I was only a few fans behind the 1st person in line when the line started to move. The 1st person was Melisa. I handed her the jacket and told her thank you so much for the great show the month before. She was so gentle and friendly and signed my superman and wrote a large “A” on the top of his head. Next would be James, I handed him the Alf doll he looked at it confessed and said ‘you want me to sign this?” I told him, that it was for him he gave me an awkward thanks and went to sign the Superman. Jimmy gave me an enthusiastic hello, as I gave him the cat in the hat, hat he put it right on. It was the most uplifting thing after the little bit of awkwardness with James. I will never forget that moment with Jimmy. When it came to Billy, he was having an interview with the local radio station, my first thought was ‘how rude that the radio station would butt in when they were there for fans’. But I almost immediately understood that there time was limited and this is still a job. I didn’t want to interrupt the interview so I handed Billy the Superman Bust expecting him to sign his name on the S as there wasn’t much room left, but he turned it around and signed the back of his neck. I then placed the tape down in front of him and quickly said, that my friend and I made this video. He smiled politely and then I followed the line down the stairs and out the door. I left the store kind of unsure of what just happen.
The Smashing Pumpkins would later return to Berkley on May 24th the day after the Billy announced on KROQ that the band was calling it quit. I started to feel lost and the Machina mystery wasn’t helping as it was hard to understand at the time. Before the Berkeley show the nice people who I knew from the Edge show were on the side of the road when I showed up. I came over just in time when Billy would come out quickly and say hello to them. He was asked why the band was calling it a day where he said it was just the right time. I bravely asked him about (what I now know to be a kind of pointless gift) the VHS tape and if he ever saw it or if it just landed in a pile of a bunch of random stuff. To which he said “ likely in the pile”.
This would be my last Smashing Pumpkins that I would ever see James at and I left it with a lot of enjoyment and sadness. As the year would come to the end the Smashing Pumpkins would play the “last show” at the metro. I would just stay home as they would play their last song. And on Dec 3rd 2000 as the guitars went silent. I would think this was the end of My SP Life until they would rise again like a phoenix in 2007.