One of the oldest (and in many ways, most passive) feuds in rock history got stoked again on Monday (November 15) when Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan took to Twitter to take down recently reunited indie rock darlings Pavement. “Just found out SP is playing with Pavement in Brazil,” Corgan wrote on his Twitter. “It’s gonna be one of those New Orleans type funerals. I say that because they represent the death of the alternative dream, and we follow with the affirmation of life part. Funny how those who pointed the big finger of ’sell out’ are the biggest offenders now.”
The feud dates all the way back to Pavement’s song “Range Life,” which comes from their classic 1994 album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In the song’s third verse, frontman Stephen Malkmus sings “Out on tour with the smashing pumpkins/ Nature kids, they don’t have no function/ I don’t understand what they mean/ And I could really give a f–k.” (The lyric also calls out Stone Temple Pilots a bit later.) Corgan bristled at the idea of being called out in the lyrics, and it didn’t help that “Range Life” became one of Pavement’s cornerstone songs (though never really a true “single” in the sense that Smashing Pumpkins broke singles).
Corgan’s note about “sell outs” is emblematic of a ’90s alternative rock attitude that doesn’t really exist any more. For a time at the beginning of the alt-rock revolution, maintaining credibility was a huge issue among bands (even those who were already signed to major labels). The idea of whoring out your music for the sake of getting in a television commercial or getting tour sponsorship was considered a deadly sin in that era, and bands were openly vocal about their ability to stay true to themselves despite the river of money that was flowing toward them at all times. Pavement stayed ultra-indie until the end, while Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins were considered sell-outs because they made big-sounding music that was all over the radio and MTV. (Also it didn’t help that they were on a fake indie label that was actually owned by Virgin.)
Of course, all this discourse is somewhat moot nowadays. You don’t hear the phrase “sell out” anymore — the music industry has gotten so fractured that it’s basically impossible to make a living as a musician without a little integrated marketing. Nobody holds it against their favorite bands when they decide they want to eat, and people are just happy to have Pavement back, even if it means paying slightly too much money for a ticket (though again, most Pavement fans would happily trade some extra cash so Bob Nastanovich can eat). The bottom line? “Range Life” is still a great song, no matter what you think of Smashing Pumpkins.