Doomsday Clock The Genius and Megalomania of Smashing Pumpkins

Doomsday Clock The Genius and Megalomania of <b>Smashing Pumpkins</b>
Say what you will about Billy Corgan, the man has one all-redeeming attribute: he is absolutely delightful to hate. Reading old interviews is a lot like flipping through a poetry journal from junior high, with one crucial difference: the man, who turned 40 this year, has never stopped taking himself seriously. Still, a Smashing Pumpkins obsession remains an important rite of passage for the blossoming music geek. And while most of us disavowed our ties to the band after our teen angst periods expired, the best of the Pumpkins’ catalogue has held up much better than that of Pearl Jam or, my God, Alice in Chains. Whether the band know it or not (or half the band, rather — D’Arcy Wretzky and James Iha have wisely distanced themselves from the Pumpkins’ new album and reunion tour), they belong exclusively to the ‘90s. However, they were better suited to the role of "favourite band” than any other mainstream act that decade produced. Billy — who has always genuinely believed his own nonsense — is nothing short of an icon; to those who are still fans, he’s a true poet, and to those who have since lazered off their SP-heart tattoos, he’s an object of sentimental affection as much as embarrassment. All roasting aside, the Smashing Pumpkins were a truly great band in their own right. Though Billy is unforgivably self-indulgent, he’s a thousand times more eloquent than most rock stars. He’s come out with so many perfect, visceral riffs that the clunkers can easily be overlooked. He may be a notorious asshole, but the band donated millions of dollars to charity over the course of their career. In addition, there’s something to be said for the Pumpkins’ steadfast refusal to vie for street-level credibility; while everyone else around him tried desperately to justify their "selling out,” Billy has always been honest about his love of attention, major label affiliations, and genuine preference for good-old polished guitar rock over sloppy, half-assed punk. Technically proficient, artistically ambitious, and literally worshipped by their fan base, the Smashing Pumpkins were inarguably the best thing to come out of the alternative rock era, even if we now know that that era was a crock of shit.

1967 to 1974
Billy Corgan, Jr. is born on March 17, 1967, in Elk Grove, a suburb of Chicago. His parents, Martha Lutz and Billy Corgan, Sr., were high school dropouts; they had met at a school dance where Billy Sr., a guitarist by profession, was performing. The couple marry after getting knocked up with Billy, but it doesn’t last; Martha delivers a second child, Ricky, two years later, and the couple split two years after that. Martha, who suffers from mental illness, is briefly institutionalized, while Billy Sr. temporarily takes off, placing Billy in the hands of family members; he shuffles through various households before settling with his grandparents. Billy Sr. marries Penny Andersen, a flight attendant, and together they scoop up little Billy, taking him to live with them (reportedly) in a trailer park.

1975 to 1984
When Billy is nine, Penny gives birth to Jesse, who suffers from myriad health problems including Tourette’s, mild cerebral palsy and a rare chromosomal disorder. Billy becomes a father figure to his half-brother, and this, combined with his gawky appearance (the "Corgan slouch”) and a strawberry birthmark covering his hand and arm, makes him a social outcast. Billy’s father is consistently irresponsible: he obviously favours Ricky, and he’s often on the road. His marriage to Penny does not last very long, and they split up when Billy is 11; Billy Sr. leaves his ex-wife to care for the three children, two of them exclusively his own. Money is tight in the Corgan household, largely due to Jesse’s medical bills. Billy and Martha do not get along, and in his early teens she forces him to see a psychiatrist due to a "persecution complex” that persists to this day. Despite troubles at home, Billy becomes a successful little leaguer. At 15 he quits abruptly because the other kids are becoming as good as he is and his parents can’t afford the $40 enrolment fee. The same summer he finds his vocation, after witnessing a friend struggling to play a Gibson Flying V; he hands his savings to his father, requesting a guitar, and teaches himself to play through unending practice. Billy attends Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, Illinois, making the honour role and acting as features editor for the school paper. Nonetheless, when graduation comes he decides to blow off college for music.

1985 to 1987
Billy forms the Marked with Ron Roesing and Dale Meiners, so-called because of the birthmarks shared by Billy and Ron. They find little success in Chicago, and decide that St. Petersburg, Florida might be a better fit. The band stick it out for a year, but Dale quits in late 1986. Afterwards, the Marked either break up or change their name to the Smashing Pumpkins in 1987. They return to Chicago and Billy moves back in with his dad, who inhabits a converted garage filled with junk and infested with vermin; Billy works in a record store and records his songs on a four-track. The same year he meets James Iha, a Graphic Arts student at Loyola, who has been playing in local bands between studies. "He hated me and wouldn’t play with me, and somehow I changed his mind,” Billy will tell Impact magazine in 1993. Iha finally comes around and joins the fledgling Pumpkins, recording a demo called "Nothing Ever Changes” with Billy and Ron.

Billy and James lose Ron somewhere long the way, and play their first show as a duo on July 9, 1988 in a Polish bar called Chicago 21. Billy plays bass, James plays guitar, and a drum track backs them; the show does not go over well. Later in the year, Billy goes out to see a band called the Dan Reed Network at Chicago’s Avalon venue. Outside the club, he works the Corgan charm on a pretty blonde audience member named D’Arcy Wretzky: "I went outside and heard this woman say, ‘Wasn’t that band great?’ I turned around and said, ‘You’re fucking out of your mind,’” he’ll tell Impact. Billy insists that the Dan Reed Network was put together by a record company, and the two get into an argument; Billy’s temper is assuaged when D’Arcy mentions that she plays bass, and he quickly gives her his telephone number, asking her to join his band. Though D’Arcy can barely hold her instrument, she and Billy hit it off and she’s welcomed into the fold. The band play their first gig as a trio at the Avalon on August 10. In the audience is Joe Shanahan, owner of the Cabaret Metro, and Jimmy Chamberlin, who thinks the band is terrible but admires Billy’s songwriting. Joe Shanahan invites the Pumpkins to open for Jane’s Addiction at his club on the condition that they get a live drummer. Billy and Jimmy meet through friends and though Jimmy is a jazz drummer with little experience in rock music, the band work it out and play the gig on October 5, 1988.

1989 to 1990
In 1989, they self-release two tapes and appear on a local compilation, Light Into Dark. In 1990, they release the "I Am One” seven-inch on Chicago label Limited Potential. They tour a little, making a stopover at D’Arcy’s dad’s house near Kalamazoo, where the band "ingest some chemicals” on the beach and Billy and Jimmy get kicked off of Mr. Wretzky’s tennis court for playing baseball with a tennis racket. Billy starts a side project called Starchildren to showcase material that doesn’t fit within the Pumpkins’ repertoire. By the end of the year, they release their second seven-inch, Tristessa, on Sub Pop, and sign to Virgin-associated label Caroline, with plans to release their debut in ‘91.

1991 to 1992 The Pumpkins record Gish with producer Butch Vig, in Madison, WI. The album, named after Billy’s grandmother’s favourite movie star Lillian, is released in May and sells better than expected, making the Billboard Hot 200 by September. The album gets good reviews, with Rolling Stone’s Chris Mundy calling it "meticulously calculated chaos,” and the band are inducted into the burgeoning mainstream grunge movement, thanks in part to their inclusion on the bestselling Singles soundtrack. Though the band owe much of their success to the country’s "alternative” fixation, they’re unashamed of their cock-and-yacht-rock backgrounds. "We never liked punk rock,” Billy says in an interview with Australian music show Rage. "We grew up on typical ‘70s radio in America which was Boston, Cheap Trick…” Their success gets them bumped up to Virgin later in the year, and the band are content to wear their cash cow status on their sleeves. James says that the band has "never really been anti-major label,” and Billy later tells Pulse magazine that "The only people who are ballyhooing [indie rock] are people who stand to gain from the continued kind of coolness attached to indie labels.” The band spring off on an 18-month tour with the world at their feet, but the coming year will prove to be hellish. The band’s 1992 Reading Festival appearance sums up the rest of their catastrophic tour: after performing poorly and having his stage inundated by crowd surfers, Corgan smashes his equipment, reportedly hitting the president of Virgin Records in the head. "We were so awful it was disgusting,” Billy will tell Select. Incessant touring turns Billy into a whiny, emotional wreck, gets Chamberlin addicted to alcohol and heroin (he does an unsuccessful stint in rehab upon returning to Chicago), and breaks up D’Arcy and James, who had been dating. Chris Fabian, Billy’s girlfriend of seven years, leaves him, and he loses his apartment (only to buy a huge house in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighbourhood the next year). Dreading a sophomore slump, Billy plunges into writer’s block. He feels "suicidal,” as he tells Select: "I went into this extreme self-loathing. I couldn’t write songs for a long time. I started to think who’d miss me if I died.” The rest of the band don’t take Billy’s anguish seriously: "He’s been talking about it for years. You get used to it,” D’Arcy says, on Billy’s suicidal tendencies. Billy returns to therapy, which helps: he finally comes up with a track, "Today,” and goes on to write 40 more for what will be Siamese Dream.

1993 to 1994
The band go to Atlanta to record their next album, and Jimmy assumes that the location was chosen for its warm climate, but really, they thought it would be harder for Jimmy to find drugs in the vicinity. They’re wrong: Jimmy often shows up stoned, and disappears for five days at one point. This is unfortunate, as Jimmy proves to be the only band member who isn’t disposable: according to the famous (and likely) rumour, Billy leaves James and D’Arcy out of the recording process, laying down all but the drums on his own. Siamese Dream, released July 27, 1993, proves to be the band’s breakthrough. It peaks at number ten on the Billboard charts two-and-a-half weeks after its release (by the time of its 1999 re-release, it has sold six million copies worldwide), and lands the band a headlining slot on Lollapalooza the following year, for a large chunk of change (a considerable offering was necessary to convince the band to replace planned headliners Nirvana, following Kurt Cobain’s suicide). In the summer of 1993, Billy and Chris reunite and tie the knot. Even though things are looking up, Billy threatens to break up the band if the record fails. Siamese Dream proves to be far more commercially viable than Gish; while not short on guitar jams, it features the radio-ready hits "Today,” "Disarm” (written about Billy’s childhood in order to make his parents feel bad, according to the Rage interview), and "Cherub Rock,” a condemnation of the indie rock market. As the band’s popularity continues to swell (they appear on Saturday Night Live debut on Oct. 30, 1993), the indie rock world returns fire: Pavement’s Steve Malkmus sasses them prominently in the song "Range Life,” and later tells writer James Hunter that he "despises” the Pumpkins’ "ideology.” In response to a Bill Wyman "1993 in Review” article in the Chicago Reader, Shellac’s Steve Albini writes: "Smashing Pumpkins are REO Speedwagon (stylistically appropriate for the current college party scene, but ultimately insignificant).” Billy Corgan responds admirably, telling Spin: "I’ve always said that I’m basically a careerist… but no one can say that we sold ourselves down the river.” He also finds a way to deflect back to his own genius: "I’m a really easy target because I wear my heart on my sleeve.” Pavement blames the Pumpkins for hoisting them off the 1994 Lollapalooza line-up, a claim that Billy dismisses as "100 percent false.” Whenever the Pumpkins are heckled on the Pavement-less Lollapalooza tour they respond by playing tracks that the audience doesn’t know. Billy lets Courtney Love use the Pumpkins’ stage time to play a solo set. Billy and Courtney have a complicated relationship; in a rare show of humility, he tells Select that she’s "one of the most talented people I’ve ever met… She’s capable of making stunning records, she’s more talented than me.” Billy acted as a platonic comfort to Courtney after Kurt’s death, despite her constant attempts to seduce him. According to Courtney, "I never had breakfast with him, I never woke up with him, I never saw him pee, I never had a burrito with him… I [had sex with] him, and I’d leave — that was that.” The Pumpkins return from Lollapalooza in September of 1994, and Billy immediately begins writing for their next album. Two achievements cap the year off nicely: they release Pisces Iscariot, a collection of B-sides and rarities, which reaches number four on the charts within three weeks and goes platinum in a month-and-a-half, and they’re named Spin’s Artist of the Year.

The band kick off the year by playing four charity shows at the Double Door in Chicago, with set lists comprised only of songs from their upcoming album. The shows are sold out, and press are barred from attending. Jim DeRogatis, who has been banished from all Smashing Pumpkins shows (and is allegedly referred to onstage as "that fat fuck from the Chicago Times”) for daring to criticize Siamese Dream, plunks down a lawn chair outside of the venue and writes a review for the paper anyhow. Billy Corgan is not pleased. Soon afterward, the band begins crushingly long recording sessions for their next album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, with Alan Moulder and Flood. Jimmy does well despite the tough hours, smoking "only” a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes a day and using fewer drugs. Around this period, Billy embarks on and kooky long path of spiritual enlightenment, reading Hindu texts and a Sanskrit Yoga book. In June 1995, the band take out an ad in the Chicago Reader announcing their search for a touring keyboardist. They receive hundreds of demos, but ultimately decide that they don’t want to have to listen to them all. ("It sounds like a nightmare to me,” James Iha tells Entertainment Weekly). They choose Jonathan Melvoin instead. The band has a record release party on October 23, opened by Billy’s heroes Cheap Trick. Mellon Collie is released the next day, to unprecedented success: it reaches number one on the Billboard charts in less than three weeks. Billy tells interviewers that Mellon Collie is the last rock record the band will make. Over the year, James and D’Arcy launch their own record label, Scratchie. In November, Billy shows up for a Saturday Night Live performance with his head shaved. He explains that he wanted to free himself from material constraints, but as evinced by Mellon Collie’s liner notes, he was simply going bald.

In May, the band appear on The Simpsons’ "Homerpalooza” episode. The band’s ensuing tour makes their 1992 outing look like a family road trip. Things start to get heavy in Bangkok, when Jimmy turns up on stage noticeably high. Billy threatens to fire him if he repeats the offence; in May, Jimmy and Jonathan Melvoin are found unconscious outside their hotel room and rushed to the hospital. Billy fires Jonathan, but he finishes the tour. On May 11, a 17-year-old girl named Bernadette O’Brien is pushed against a Dublin stage; the crushing is so severe that she suffers a heart attack. Billy had warned the audience to settle down, but to no avail; O’Brien dies the next day. The band express their condolences, cancel a show in Belfast, and "take a stand against moshing.” On July 12, Jonathan and Jimmy get high together in a hotel room, and Jonathan, after drinking too much with his heroin, suffers a fatal overdose. He dies before the paramedics arrive on the scene. The band is questioned by the police, but released the next day; Jimmy is charged with possession and dismissed from the band. He pleads guilty to disorderly conduct in October, and is told that his case will be thrown out if he completes rehab by December. The Pumpkins cancel a month and a half’s worth of tour dates, returning to the stage in August to play a Christmas is for Kids charity concert. The band is not invited to Melvoin’s funeral, and his widow later seeks reparations on account of their alleged negligence; they settle out of court. The band choose former Filter drummer Matt Walker as their touring drummer. Dennis Flemoin of the Frogs is their new keyboardist, and his brother, Jimmy (also of the Frogs), is a roadie, making occasional, sequined onstage appearances. In September, the band win seven awards at the MTV Video Music Awards for their "Tonight, Tonight” and "1979” videos. They celebrate with a small after-party, attended by a few lucky supermodels, among others. (James Iha is entering into his modeliser phase: he dates Amber Valletta and later, Karen Elson.) Billy and his wife Chris are living separately at this point, and Chris files for divorce in December, citing "irreconcilable differences.” The Pumpkins release the Aeroplane Flies High five-CD-single box set in late November, while Jimmy joins Sebastian Bach of Skid Row in the Last Hard Men, with Kelly Deal and Jonathan Flemoin. They record the song "School’s Out” for the Scream soundtrack.

Though the year opens with a slew of Grammy nominations, it turns out to be relatively uneventful, artistically. The band are sued for ten million dollars by their music publisher, Chrysalis, for a number of industry-related offences that only a lawyer could understand. Billy announces his divorce from Chris, as well as his new relationship with photographer Yelena Yemchuck. In April, they release the single "The End is the Beginning in the End” for the Batman & Robin soundtrack, and the video sees a turtlenecked, vampiric-looking Billy making the first of a series of terrible fashion statements. The band soon begins working on Adore, enlisting the help of producer Brad Wood and then sacking him for not understanding them enough. They work with Flood instead. Billy begins taking vocal lessons late in 1997, and his teacher badly criticises his technique. He’ll admit in a 1998 interview with Pulse that he’s "pretty unhappy with my voice right now… I’m not as technically proficient as I should be, and that really holds us back.” Late in the year, the Smashing Pumpkins are unfairly scandalised when it is brought to light that a 15-year-old boy, Sam Manzie, on trial for the molestation and murder of his 11-year-old neighbour, Edward P. Werner, had been "obsessed” with the band and ran an SP fan site. Regardless of the fact that the boy himself was a victim of sexual abuse, the press pointed the finger at the band. In November, it is announced that Matt Walker will be leaving the band, despite getting glowing reviews on tour. Their new album will feature a drum track programmed largely by Bonn Harris of Nitzer Ebb.

James gears up for his first solo release, Let it Come Down. Despite being an aspiring songwriter and a fan favourite, Iha’s own songs are rarely included on Smashing Pumpkins albums — he wrote just one of Mellon Collie’s 28 tracks, despite producing a dozen more during the album’s sessions. (Pisces included one of his songs as well.) Let it Come Down is a comparative flop, peaking at #171 on the Billboard charts and selling only 7,000 copies in its first week. During a promotional set at the Viper Room, James is largely ignored, as Billy is set to follow him. The band get into a legal broil with their label, Virgin, for breach of contract. Earlier, they had tried to split from the label under a California law that limits personal contracts to seven years; Virgin counter-sues months later, saying that the band were supposed to make seven albums for the label, but only delivered three. In March, the band scout Kenny Aranoff (Bob Seger, John Mellencamp) as their touring drummer. They kick off a European tour in May, with plans to recreate their upcoming album every night. On June 2, 1998, Adore is released. It is arguably the most sophisticated thing the band have ever released. Though the album goes platinum after a month and peaks at number two on the Billboard charts, sales pale in comparison to Mellon Collie, and it falls off the charts after nine weeks. Around this time, Billy gives a controversial interview to Howard Stern in which he discusses being the "svengali” behind Hole’s Celebrity Skin record (a claim he originally made in USA Today, and heavily disputed by Love) and berates his fans for not liking Adore enough. Internet newsgroups and mailing lists respond with anger, and Billy offers a half-assed recantation in a Rolling Stone article before repeating his assertion, in so many words, via CNN. The band announce a charity tour, "An Evening with the Smashing Pumpkins,” to run from late June to early August. The tour, documented by MTV’s Jesse Ignjatovic, earns $2.7 million, with all profits going directly to charity. Billy lives another childhood dream in September, singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley field during a Chicago Cubs game. This will kick off a brief and ill-advised side career in sports-related media for Father Pumpkin.

In January, Rolling Stone stokes rumours that the band is rehiring Jimmy, but nothing is official. The LA Times, and Spin restate the claim in February, and Jimmy confirms the rumours in April. In March, a music history professor at Princeton named Peter Jeffrey sues the Pumpkins over a show that occurred two years before. Jeffrey, according to reports, had been at the show for just 20 minutes in order to look for his son and suffered chronic tinnitus as a result. He claims to have suffered hearing loss, even with earplugs, and targets the city, venue and earplug manufacturer for $150,000. In late April they’re honoured by the Make a Wish Foundation of Northern Illinois for donating $500,000, the organization’s "largest single donation,” during their charity tour the previous summer. In August, Billy contributes four short stories to the art magazine (t)here; girlfriend Yemchuck contributes photographs. During the same month, the band dump their management team, Q Prime, for not understanding them enough. They hire Sharon Osbourne in October, who unfortunately understands them all too well; she lasts for just four months before resigning, with the statement: "I must resign today due to medical reasons… Billy Corgan was making me sick.” She tells MTV news that Billy is a "sissy” who "plays mind games.” In September, the band announce that D’Arcy is leaving to pursue other projects, including an acting career. Billy will later state in his blog that she was fired "for being a mean-spirited drug addict that refused to get help.” D’Arcy calls the split "long overdue” in an interview with Chicago magazine, and announces her part in an upcoming movie, Peaces of Ronnie, with Mickey Rourke and Debbie Harry. (The film is released four years later under the title A Good Night to Die, without Wretzky). She moves to L.A. and signs with an acting manager, Jason Weinberg of Untitled Entertainment. Montreal bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, who has recently resigned from Hole, is selected to take D’Arcy’s place.

2000 On January 25, D’Arcy is arrested for buying three bags of crack cocaine with a male companion named Tony Young. According to a Rolling Stone report by Jaan Uhelszki, the couple entered a building on Chicago’s West Grand Avenue and then returned to their car, making two illegal U-turns with their headlights turned off. When the police stop them they find drugs in Young’s pocket, and he tells the cops that D’Arcy had "handed me some rocks to hold.” D’Arcy admits to this, and is ordered to attend drug-abuse prevention classes in lieu of trial. "I gave somebody a ride, that was it,” she maintains. The charges are dropped in May. Meanwhile, the Pumpkins release themselves from their deal with Virgin Records: "I’m no longer an indentured servant,” Billy tells Reuters. Rumours begin to circulate that the band’s upcoming album will be their last. The band Filter tells Dot Music that the Pumpkins will break up after finishing their promotional duties, although days later the Smashing Pumpkins Internet Fan Club dismisses this as fiction. Billy flip-flops, dropping hints about a forthcoming break-up in Rolling Stone ("I’ve taken pop songwriting as far as it can go… this is pretty much the end of the line”) and then retracting it in later. He begins talking about the decline of alternative rock, telling the Kansas City Star that "critics look at us as a barometer for what else is going on in music,” and telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that "once we finish this cycle, I don’t want anything to do with the mainstream world... I think people forget that we’re not just making records for this generation.” In March, Corgan does a notorious interview with Q magazine. When interviewer Nick Duerden compliments his long black skirt, he snorts: "It’s not a skirt… it’s a Gaultier.” When asked about the upcoming album, he says: "Work that out for yourself, which may be difficult because I’m an artist ahead of my time.” And when Duerden asks a question he doesn’t like, he makes a weird hand gesture, saying: "It means that you are a bad, bad boy… and it means, drop it.” The band release their fifth studio album, MACHINA/The Machines of God, on February 29. It peaks at number three on March 18, but plummets to 54 after five weeks, with sales of just 340,000. Though the album is a flop, the ensuing "Sacred and Profane” tour does well. It is the last tour the band will ever do with Iha, as the world finds out on May 23. In an interview with Tami Heide for KROQ, Billy announces that the band will break up at the end of the year. "There’s nothing wrong inside the band,” he says, "But the way the culture is and stuff, it’s really hard to… keep trying the good fight against the ‘Britneys’ of the world.” Jimmy Chamberlin, he claims, was brought back into the band to "end on a good note.” A lot of hoopla is made about the Pumpkins’ lousy excuse for splitting up (Billy later takes it back and pins the break-up entirely on James). Shirley Manson of Garbage posts an angry, far-too-serious response on her band’s website: "All the more reason to keep going to ask me… The enemy is NOT Britney. It’s Christina Aguilera.” The band had actually planned to break up before the album was released, and had told friends; MACHINA’s artwork, by Billy’s admission, alludes to this. The band play their last shows on November 29 and December 2 at the Metro, and they distribute live recordings of their first-ever show in 1988. The shows sell out in 20 minutes, and there are rumours of tickets going for over $2,000 on eBay. Billy’s father joins him onstage for "For Martha,” a song written about the death of his mother. According to Billy’s blog, James thanks only D’Arcy onstage, and leaves without saying goodbye to the rest of the band. Afterwards, Billy tells Melody Maker that the break-up is final, and later mentions to Rolling Stone that he’s been talking to labels about a solo deal. Jimmy Chamberlin is reportedly devoting himself to auto racing, Iha is working on a second solo album, and Melissa takes time off to concentrate on photography.

2001 to 2002
Billy takes on some interesting projects: writing for Marianne Faithfull’s Kissin’ Time album, playing Bozo the Clown’s last show on July 14, 2001, and performing at Third Waltz, a benefit for the Neon Street Program for Homeless Youth. His more questionable projects include co-writing a song for Lisa Marie Presley’s first album, To Whom It May Concern, and an animated vanity project called Glass and the Machines of God. Its plot makes The Wall seem self-effacing: in the future, a "singer/messiah” named Glass "offers his fans a kind of musical salvation,” Noah Robischon writes in Entertainment Weekly. Bereaved Pumpkins fans take the break-up in stride, organizing the Act IV tribute concert in July of 2001, with proceeds going to the Make a Wish Foundation. Billy joins New Order for Moby’s Area: One tour, and then puts together Zwan, his own post-Pumpkins band. The band make their live debut on November 16, 2001, with a line-up including Billy, Jimmy Chamberlin, Matt Sweeney of Chavez (who had played with Jimmy and Billy in 1990), and a bassist known only as "Skullfisher.” The gig sells out, and fans line up around the block before it begins. They begin recording demos as early as July, and finally settle on a line-up including Chamberlin, Billy, Matt, David Pajo (Papa M, Slint) and Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle). Pajo joins in November, having been introduced to the band through Sweeney (the two had played together with Will Oldham). Zwan sign to Reprise the same month, and their first single, "Honestly,” debuts in the weeks that follow. In December of 2002, Billy’s poor relationship with Sharon Osbourne comes back to haunt him: he gets into a physical altercation with Bert McCracken of the Used, who is dating Sharon’s daughter, Kelly. According to reports, McCracken tries to trip Billy during a festival they’re both appearing at, and Billy responds by kicking him in the stomach. A week later, Kelly tells a radio-sponsored festival crowd that Billy sucked off the station’s program director to get on the bill.

Zwan’s debut, Mary Star of the Sea, is released on January 28. It sells 90,000 copies in its first week, peaking at number three on the Billboard charts on February 15. Although the album receives good reviews in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, it falls to 27 on the charts in its second week, and sales decline by 58 percent. In the same month, Billy appears in the movie Spun; director Jonas Ackerlund casts him in exchange for providing the music. Zwan appear to be much happier with one another than the Smashing Pumpkins were; the video for "Honestly” shows the band sitting in garden chairs, walking through the outdoors, and generally co-operating. Billy seems to be at peace: "I think he’s gone back to Christian and Catholic iconography,” Pajo tells writer Simon Collins. "…He’s just interested in the mythology of Christianity, at least that’s how I interpret it.” In the same interview, Pajo calls Billy "Totally fair and reasonable.” Zwan record over 100 songs and plan to release acoustic material under the name Djali Zwan. In June, the band abruptly cancel their European tour of over 20 dates. In August, Paz announces her departure. On August 11, Pajo tells that Zwan is taking a break, and a month later Billy announces that Zwan is over. "I think my heart was in Smashing Pumpkins… it was naïve of me to think that I could find something that would mean as much to me,” he tells WGN-TV in Chicago. In September, Billy reads at the Poetry Center of Chicago’s 31st Annual Reading Series. C.J. Laity from says the reading was "so bad it was comical,” and that it "came off feeling like a collection of parodies of psalms, complete with the words ‘thy’ and ‘alas.’” Corgan begins talking to publishers about releasing his first volume of poetry. Meanwhile, James has taken Paz’s place in A Perfect Circle, for touring purposes mostly (APC’s chief songwriter, Billy Howerdel, had been a Pumpkins guitar tech). Before joining the band, he had been working on his recording studio (co-owned with members of the band Ivy), Stratosphere Sound, in New York City, as well as his clothing and record labels, Vapor and Scratchie, respectively.

Billy posts a few inflammatory blog entries, making less-than-kind statements about the Pumpkins and calls Zwan (with the exception of Jimmy) "immoral.” Pajo responds on his own blog: "Billy is spreading blatant untruths about me, about Paz, about Matt. I didn’t make a dime from Zwan. I made enough to stay broke. Someone in the band walked away with millions and it wasn’t me, it wasn’t Paz, and it wasn’t Matt.” Billy later tells the Chicago Tribune: "Music wasn’t the big problem, it was more their attitude… and then you get into what I would call cataclysmic behavioural stuff. Sex acts between band members in public. People carrying drugs across borders. Pajo sleeping with the producer’s girlfriend while we were making the record. It made me appreciate my old band even more.” He tells the New York Daily News: "They were supposed to be these cool indie rock people where it’s all about the music… but it was all about hanging out with skanky chicks in bars.” While Billy has integrity (he tells Newsweek’s Bret Begun that he refused to license the songs "Today” and "Tonight, Tonight” because they’re "sacred”) James has become a nightclub staple in New York, DJing at Fashion Week after-parties, MisShapes, and Dim Mak events; he’s frequently "spotted” in the paper and in NYLON Magazine. Melissa releases her debut album in June, which she had reportedly financed with the money she saved playing in Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins. Billy works as the "official Cubs correspondent” for WXRT-FM. He reports every Monday and Friday morning throughout the season, but apparently dislikes the early hours. In October, he releases his poetry book, Blinking With Fists, and goes on a signing/reading tour. "I shouldn’t be saying this,” he says to John Soeder of Plain Dealer, "but I think some poems in the book aren’t very good.” It is also announced that Billy is writing a novel for his publisher, Faber and Faber. At this time, his relationships with D’Arcy and James are "piss beyond poor.”

Jimmy releases Life Begins Again with his new band, the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. The album makes #12 on the Billboard online sales chart and receives a surprising three (out of four) stars from Rolling Stone. Billy begins to speak frankly about his religious awakening, revealing to Chicago Conscious Choice (an urban new age publication) that he’s become a "devotee” of Ken Wilber, a proponent of "Universal consciousness.” Apparently Billy "prays to God constantly to forgive him for not being perfect,” and has enlisted the services of Sonia Choquette, a "Chicago-based healer,” who believes that Billy has a "world soul.” Gelu Sulugiuc of Reuters reports that Billy became religious after the Pumpkins break-up, which he is now starting to regret. Jim DeRogatis reveals in the Chicago Sun-Times that Billy is writing an "autobiographical tell-all” in online instalments. He considers it an act of charity: "That’s a $500,000 to one million dollar book deal,” Billy tells DeRogatis, "I’m basically turning my back on a lot of money.” On June 21, 2005, Billy releases his first solo record, The Future Embrace. The album, whose cover features a bare-shouldered Billy making mystical-looking gestures with dirty hands, receives a 6.4 on Pitchfork, which is not so bad. On the same day, Billy takes out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune to promote the album, which says: "For a year now I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams.” Billy later tells the LA Times that re-starting the band is "A spiritual journey of figuring out who one is.” Billy storms offstage in July after receiving repeated audience requests for Smashing Pumpkins tunes Jimmy happily signs up for a reunion, but James and D’Arcy will not; all James will say as that he and Billy "haven’t spoken for years.” James is finally starting on his long-delayed second solo album, and D’Arcy is living with her family on a farm in Watervliet, Michigan, where she raises horses. Billy isn’t too torn up about creating a new line-up, which includes Jeff Schroeder (the Lassie Foundation) on guitar, and Ginger Reyes (the Halo Friendlies) on bass. "The band has a soul… I don’t care who’s in it.”

2006 to 2007
The band sign on to and then abruptly pull out of the Coachella festival, making the news outlets that had reported the appearance look foolish. Billy takes to leaving pseudo-cryptic messages with irritating endings on his blog, such as: "Just trust me this once and you shall soon see what I have in store for all of you…” and "Good things surely come to those who wait. Don’t you just love the suspense.” In August of 2006, the Smashing Pumpkins announce that they’re back in the studio with Roy Thomas Baker. Tour dates are announced for February 2007, and album information is released. In May, Pitchfork reports that materials have been stolen from the Pumpkins’ rehearsal studio, and that the perpetrators have been jailed. They were said to have stolen artwork for the band’s new album, Zeitgeist, including a not-so-subtle picture of Paris Hilton in front of an exploding bomb, holding a detonator (cover art for the "Tarantula” single). In June, Billy announces the band’s "open-source taping policy,” which allows anyone to tape their shows. But he remains a staunch capitalist: the album can be found at BestBuy, iTunes and Target with different bonus tracks for each edition. (Small retailers can only sell the most bare-bones version.) In July, the band’s first single in seven years, "Tarantula,” is released. Zeitgeist is a rather inappropriate record title for a band whose doomsday clock chimed a decade ago; still, in a changing world, it’s nice to know that Billy Corgan is still exactly the same.