Friday, September 17, 2010

An Open Letter to Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpins

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Dear Billy,

Your music was the voice of my adolescence. The riff to "Rocket" was the way I felt in the morning. The 17 tracks of ebowed acoustic guitar in "Soma" were the sound of my "inner anguish." The banshee wail of a guitar solo in "Zero" was everything I wanted to say to the family that didn't understand me. But when I finally mastered the riff for "Cherub Rock" and felt like a real guitarist for the first time, I was just copying you. I wanted to know what went on in your mind to conceive such terrifying cacophony with such clear luscious melody. I wanted to pick your brain. When you played at The Virgin Records Megastore in 2000, I was 60 yards away, selling guitars at Sam Ash Music Supply. Bands dropped by all the time, so I hoped you might need a pack of strings while you were there. Had I known it was your last show, I would have quit my job for the performance.

That was why I went to your show at Knitting Factory last night, even though I was well aware it could destroy whatever treasured memories Michael Bay's Transformers had left untouched. And now ... I'm left with a slightly different series of questions.

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Questions like why call the band The Smashing Pumpkins with an "s" when there is only one of you left? Did you intentionally choose new band members who look like the old ones? Your new bass player is every bit the dark-eyed, tight-lipped, fashion-waif that D'arcy was. Your new guitar player is a skinny Asian rocking the Gibson to your Fender. Your new child prodigy's snare drum sounds exactly the same as Jimmy's and that was a little creepy to me. And they all looked to be the age that The Smashing Pumpkins must have been when they originally formed. It's especially weird because with your new facial hair, you're starting to look a bit like Soda Popinski, the Russian guy from Mike Tyson's Punch Out. The lineup definitely had that one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other vibe to it.

Why cling to the name of a band that isn't really a band anymore? Especially since at last night's show, "Pumpkins" material wasn't really highlighted. You mysteriously placed "Today" third in the list, opening with several songs I'd never heard. Then you went back to what must have been Deus Ex Machina-era material or other mystery songs. I'm not the kind of guy that only wants to hear "the hits," but if you're touring as The Smashing Pumpkins, not The Billy Corgan Experience, shouldn't there be more Pumpkins material? It was great to be in a crowd singing "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" back to you and "Tonight Tonight" has a real edge to it without the strings on the album. The psychedelia of your guitar was mesmerizing and your cover of Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick was pretty awesome and a great way to highlight the fantastic new drummer you discovered, but you didn't play "1979" or "Disarm" or "Mayonaise" or "Rhinocerous" ... Even that song from the Batman Forever soundtrack would have been sweet.

I'm also curious what possessed you to be such a dick, and ask the crowd, "Would you all shut up if I told you this song was about potatoes?" and add how you understand that we're "not used to seeing a good show." You may play guitar with the ferocity and inventiveness of Hendrix, but you perform with the energy of his corpse. Your big move last night was to slowly lumber from your mic-stand to your water bottle like a hunchbacked giant. But I guess I should have expected comments like that. Your ego is so legendary other bands write songs mocking it.

But I guess that's the thing about being a great artist. You don't have to explain yourself. You just put things out there and let others figure them out. That's probably what you meant when you told the crowd, "Boo all you want, it doesn't make a difference." You're wealthy, famous and talented enough to create and act however erratically you like (it certainly worked well enough for Prince). Still, considering your wealth and fame are built on our—the little people's—patronage, it would be nice not to be denigrated.

I doubt you'll ever read, let alone reply to this letter. That's all right. But if you ever do get around to writing back, the one thing I want to know more than anything else is still, how the hell do you make a guitar sound like that?

Love and kisses, bar chords and riffs,

Josh Gross

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