Sept. 6, 1996 — The Smashing Pumpkins have resumed a tour that was tragically interrupted in mid-July by the death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, the latest in a series of heroin-related deaths and arrests to hit the music business this year. Melvoin’s death led the Pumpkins to fire their drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who had been in rehab before, and who was arrested for heroin possession at the scene of Melvoin’s death in New York City. Just before they returned to the road last week, I spoke with the three remaining original Pumpkins, and they pulled no punches in revealing the frustrations of running a rock band with junkies in it.
TABITHA SOREN: You had faced the question of Jimmy’s drug addiction in the past as you began the tour, though. I was your impression, just for the record, that he was no longer using drugs of any kind?
BILLY CORGAN, Smashing Pumpkins: True.
D’ARCY, Smashing Pumpkins: Not drugs of any kind but hard drugs.
D’ARCY: Right. Heroin, cocaine.
TABITHA: I spoke to Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Corgan at the beginning of their summer tour in Indiana. There Jimmy talked openly about drugs as if they were a part of his distant past.
JIMMY CHAMBERLIN (from Indiana, earlier this year): Getting, you know, flown around the world; living in an unreality that becomes reality where you can do anything you want to do and somebody will pay for it… because, you know. It puts you in a mind set that’s very dangerous and very self-destructive.
SOREN: Were you aware at that time that he was still battling drug use or that it was recreational?
CORGAN: We were really under the impression that he was having these kind of weekend warrior blow-outs but that basically it was under control. We were being made to believe that we were being told the truth at every step of the way which we later found out wasn’t true at all.
CHAMBERLIN (Earlier this year): I think it’s always a tragedy
when that happens because it’s not necessarily always the artist’s fault.
CORGAN: That’s more bull**it drug addict excuses. I’m sorry but that’s just more excuses. The fact of the matter is you’re a human being, you have responsibilities — not only to yourself but to others.
MTV: The European leg of the “Infinite Sadness” tour was plagued by problems centering around Jonathan Melvoin and Jimmy Chamberlin, last spring. The band offered to stop their tour so Jimmy could seek treatment, but he insisted he didn’t need it. Surprisingly, the Pumpkins managed to keep the drug situation private, despite the severity of the problems they were having.
CORGAN: There were two overdoses prior to this particular overdose.
SOREN: By Jimmy or Jonathan?
CORGAN: The first one involved Jimmy and the second one involved both of them so…
SOREN: Did you at that point sit Jimmy and Jonathan down to say “firing is an option here”?
CORGAN: Oh yeah, we had
a long, comical talk where they told us, “No, it will never happen again and we’re really sorry. Gee, we realize that we are destroying our lives here.” And Jonathan was like, “I have a baby and a wife and responsibility and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.” Jimmy was like, “Yeah, I have so much to lose” and “we’re really sorry.”
JAMES IHA, Smashing Pumpkins: You know, in hindsight we look stupid. But at the time we really wanted to believe them.
D’ARCY: What can you say though? We actually did fire Jonathan. We did fire him. He was fired for about a month, he was just going to finish up the end of the tour.
CORGAN: The end of the Europe tour.
D’ARCY: Yeah, the one leg of the tour and he was a sweet, sweet man and a really wonderful person and we didn’t know him for very long, we didn’t know his history. He came to me and sounded — not only convinced me that he had himself convinced that he was cleaning up his act. And I didn’t realize, I don’t know
his history, I still really don’t.
CORGAN: We gave him another chance to prove himself and he did. We gave him another chance to prove himself.
D’ARCY: He did, he did for the rest of that tour. The two of them were…
CORGAN: …On their best behavior.
D’ARCY: And you want to believe that they are going to be OK.
MTV: It was difficult for the band to detect Jimmy’s heroine use due to the lack of obvious physical signs.
CORGAN: All we had was our intuition telling us that something wasn’t right. That Jimmy wasn’t always in the right mind at all the right times. But you’ve got to understand, he was hiding it so well that you were never quite sure. And when you believe that someone is going to tell you the truth and when you say, “You’re going to tell me the truth, right?” (And they say) “Yeah, I’m going to tell you the truth.” “Is everything fine?” “Everything is totally fine.” What are you going to do? Are you going to go and ask their mom?
I mean, this is a 31 year old man.
SOREN: Did you notice in playing, on tour?
D’ARCY: Well, he was playing very erratically. But I honestly, I didn’t know what the problem was.
MTV: Just days before the band was to play New York City they confronted Jimmy about his drug use again but he insisted he was clean. This denial made it more shocking when the news came that Jimmy had overdosed and Jonathan had died of the combined effects of alcohol and heroine.
D:ARCY: I was especially, just absolutely… just numbed. Literally numbed. I thought that I had dropped the phone out of my hand because I could not feel my hand anymore.
MTV: The members of the band were taken down to New York City’s 19th precinct and questioned.
D’ARCY: It was kind of absurd. They split us up, like on the TV shows, and took us in separate rooms and questioned us to see if our answers would match up. We were like, this isn’t real. This is like some kind of cliché. I’m living
CORGAN: We are now the rock and roll cliche.
Jimmy Chamberlin has a September 26th court date in New York City on his heroin-possession charge; while he’s had no comment yet on what his ex-bandmates have to say about him, his lawyer tells us Chamberlin is still in drug rehab and is “working hard at it.”
BILLY CORGAN, Smashing Pumpkins: For every person that questions this kind of decision, they didn’t sit with him on a bus at 4:00 in the morning while he called us all sorts of names. They didn’t see him not show up for practice and just completely disappear. They didn’t have a recording session with him where he just completely disappeared — you didn’t even know if he was dead and then you hear reports, oh yeah, he went to the REM concert. You know, they didn’t live through all of these things.
He’s an amazing drummer. If he’s not the best drummer of his peerage then he’s the top three. There are very few Jimmy’s in the world. And that certainly
played into our denial of it because it was very hard to face his removal and what it would do to the band.
It’s amazing. You find these big tragedies and creeping up at the worst times. You are, like, in the middle of a tour, in the middle of a record and they go off the deep end. They don’t go off the deep end when they are sitting at home watching TV. They go off the deep end when you need them and you’ll excuse their behavior because you have to deal.
TABITHA SOREN: Why did you need him so much? Why was he so valuable to you?
CORGAN: Listen, any way you cut it, Jimmy is an original member of the band. When we all started the four of us, no one gave two fu**s about us. Nobody, zero, nobody. I mean, we used to beg, beg families and friends to come to the show so we wouldn’t be embarrassed, OK? Nobody cared about us. We built our little egg up to the point where we were on TV and people cared and come to the concerts, OK? It’s not so easy to turn around and go,
“You know I want to remove this 25% of this successful thing that’s totally changed my life. I just want to toss you out just to see what will happen.” There is a fear there that you’re going to blow the little balloon up and there ain’t going to be nothing left. Well what we are trying to say to people is we finally faced that fear. We said, “we don’t give a f**k if it destroys the band. Who the f**k cares?” He’s got to go, for himself and for us. And so we’re carrying on without him. If people don’t like it, if we suck , whatever, that’s rock and roll tragedy. But the fact of the matter is we faced that fear. We are now beyond the point where we have to worry about whether or not Jimmy is going to explode tomorrow. What’s the point of having a band that’s so screwed up that there is no band, there is no heart. I mean, for a band that talks about heart and faith and all of the these things to be going around with this dirty secret under the covers. We just couldn’t take it anymore.
MTV: While Billy Corgan will take responsibility for the musicianship in the band, he won’t be blamed for what the members do on their own time.
CORGAN: We’re human beings, you know? We didn’t do everything perfect. We didn’t say the right things at every step of the way. We did our best but to try and go back and recalculate the moment and the thing, you know? Meanwhile, while this was going on we were on a rock tour, you know? We’ve got our own crap to deal with. I wake up every day wondering if I can even talk. You know, we’re all dealing with our own little dramas here. So all I am trying to say is, the world needs to stop defining these types of tragedies by what the people around them didn’t, didn’t do. The simple fact of the matter is, these two fu**ed up. They totally f**ked up. And they didn’t just f**k up once, they f**ked up three times. And after the first time we were like, whoa! After the second time it was like, this is crazy! This is totally insane! If a man
can’t keep himself from doing those kinds of things with everything to lose — his band, his life, his status, his economic and whatever future — if he can’t stop himself from picking up something from that, what’s going to stop him? Us?
TABITHA: Is any part of you hopeful that Jimmy is getting the help that he needs now? And he will be successful in getting it under control?
TABITHA: Are you in contact with him? Do you know?
CORGAN: He’s out of our life. One hundred and ten percent.
MTV: The band picked up the pieces by hiring two temporary fill-in’s for the tour; Matt Walker from Filter and Dennis Flemion from the Frogs. A month and a half after Jonathan Melvoin’s death the Pumpkins re-launched their tour.
FAN 1: I was hoping they weren’t gonna cancel, ’cause they’re a real favorite band of mine and when I heard that they had that problem, I thought, “Boy, I hope they don’t break up because of this.” That
FAN 2: They were awesome. Considering what just happened, I think it was awesome.
CORGAN: We faced the bogeyman and you know what? It’s fine. We are totally fine and the band sounds great and we are going to go on tour. And you know what? It’s not going to be a sad, violin tour at all. It’s going to be the exactly the opposite. We are going go out and have a good time.
SOREN: Are you changing anything else?
CORGAN: Smiles. We are all smiles now. We are smiling now. It’s the new Pumpkins.