Rock World Calls Pumpkins Split 'Shocking,' But Not Surprising

Fans, radio, club owners say band just worn down by fatigue of past several years.

As the rock world digested Tuesday's announcement that the Smashing Pumpkins will break up by year's end, many echoed the contradictory reaction of radio programmer Dave Richards.

"It's shocking, but it's not surprising," said Richards, of WKQX-FM in Chicago, a station that has been one of the band's strongest supporters.

Four years of public stress for the art-rock outfit — including death, arrests, firing, rehiring, quitting, lawsuits and disappointing sales — tempered the jolt of the news for many. And yet, even for those who anticipated it, there was a measure of, "Wow, they really did it."

"This band has gone through a lot of hell," Richards said.

Pumpkins co-founder and singer/guitarist Billy Corgan announced the split on Los Angeles' KROQ-FM on Tuesday, before the group's show at Universal Amphitheatre.

"There's nothing wrong inside the band," he said. "But the way the culture is and stuff, it's hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys," referring to teen pop stars such as Britney Spears.

Breakup Planned Long Ago

The band made its decision before the February release of MACHINA/the machines of God, which includes the song "Heavy Metal Machine" (RealAudio excerpt), but didn't want news of the breakup to overshadow the music, he said.

But even after the news was unveiled, some were still in the dark.

"He's joking. He's got to be," 19-year-old fan Seth Squires of Corona, Calif., said with disbelief before Tuesday's show. "I'm sorry, there's no way. I don't buy it for a second. There's too much chemistry. They've got a great thing going — why would they shut it down?"

Formed in Chicago in 1989, the Pumpkins have outlasted many of their Lollapalooza-era peers. Perhaps only Pearl Jam have maintained such a large and dedicated following; only the born-under-a-bad-sign Red Hot Chili Peppers have endured as many setbacks.

"The fact that we've been through as much as we've been through," Corgan told KROQ, "gotten beaten over the head as much as we have, and stayed together for so long ... when you think of how many other bands from Generation X didn't really make it as long as we did, play as many concerts as we did, I'd rather look at the accomplishment of hanging in there."

Among the Pumpkins' trials: the 1996 overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and subsequent arrest and firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain for heroin possession; September's departure of bassist D'Arcy Wretzky; lawsuits with management, their record company and others; and the failure of Adore (1998) and MACHINA/the machines of God to recapture the mass audience of the multiplatinum double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995).

"[Corgan] has built himself up to be this huge entity that should only sell 10 or 5 million copies of an album," said Lorri Francis, manager of Chicago's Double Door club, where the band opened its Mellon Collie tour.

"It's a drag, I really like the Smashing Pumpkins," Pat Ferisse, music director at WHFS-FM in Washington, D.C., said. "It seems like they've really had a rough go of it."

Uncertain, Wide-Open Future

Corgan left the door open for a farewell American tour later this year, as well as another album comprising MACHINA outtakes and other material.

"The Smashing Pumpkins will live on forever in everyone's minds and hearts," Tony VanStaveren, 21, of Los Angeles said after Tuesday's show. "They changed tons of things about music; they changed how people use guitar tracks. They use guitar like modern pop bands use synthesizers and keyboards."

Teri Hendrich, 18, of Los Angeles said she feels confident about the bandmembers' now-open futures.

"I'm sure Billy will have a successful career after the Pumpkins," she said. "He made it clear on KROQ that everything is open to him."

Corgan did not, however, make it clear from the stage Tuesday that the show was potentially the band's last hurrah in the City of Angels. He addressed the crowd directly fewer than a half-dozen times, none of them explicitly mentioning the breakup.

"It was not right that they didn't say anything," Myrian Gallaviz, 21, of Baja, Mexico, said after the concert. "They should say something at the end of the concert because a lot of people didn't know, so they didn't know it was goodbye."