Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part One)


I pride myself on being headstrong, stubborn, and perhaps a bit narcissistic on certain parts of my life.  One of those is that I can say I've been a long time Smashing Pumpkins fan (fan since 1992).  I was listening to Gish and the Lull EP when they first came out (even though I hated it all at the time). In fact, it took the Siamese Dream record to seduce me to the dark side.  Hummer is my favorite song off that record and a close contender for favorite of all time (we've got Drown, Marquis In Spades,  and Bury Me in the running as well).  The groove in the song forced me to have to go revisit Gish for which is still my favorite SP record to date.

Through the years, Billy has continued to challenge me as a fan.  Adore came out and was an awesome record even if it didn't have Jimmy Chamberlin in the fold.  The songwriting came through on that record.  Then Machina-era records were released with interesting songs and a challenging, half-finished concept attached to them for which honestly I couldn't really wrap my brain around.  I just accepted I was too dumb to appreciate Billy's brilliance in this and hopefully he would publish just the the fawk that concept really was (to this date, I still don't know what he was trying to do.  Perhaps the Machine reissue will solve that riddle for me).  The songs were much bigger and lyrically tougher to decipher than previous efforts.  Radio and MTV had turned against the band starting with Adore and stopped playing the new stuff in heavy rotation (yes, new stuff was being played but not nearly at the level Today, Disarm, or even Tonight, Tonight was).  Fans started turning against the band as well as they wanted more of 1992-94 than 1998-2000.  By 2001, being a fan of the band meant either you liked "old Pumpkins" or being a fool for liking "anything beyond Mellon Collie".
Then SPv1 broke up.  It was a good ending to an era of me dumping so much time and effort into proving to everybody I was the biggest fan (for which I wasn't).  I then watched the rise and fall of Zwan, which honestly should've been the next Pumpkins record.  Then lackluster solo releases from Billy, James (who released a solo record during the Mellon Collie era) and Jimmy were released and I even supported them by seeing them on tour.  The whole time I was yearning for a new Pumpkins record.

Pumpkins Alive!

When the Pumpkins reformed in 2007, I was very optimistic.  Yes, it wasn't the original line-up but I had already come to terms with the fact that we had a rotating rhythm section with D'Arcy Wretzky having already been fired (or left the band depending on who you ask) after the recording of Machina and Jimmy having been fired during the Mellon Collie tour thus giving me exposure to Matt Walker and Kenny Aronoff as touring drummers.  I was also quite aware of the musical contributions from D'Arcy and James on the other recordings and could live with the new album being a Billy/Jimmy record.  When Zeitgeist was released, I had a really difficult time digesting it.  Yes, it was rawk with fantastic drumming and soaring solos, but it was missing a bit of "soul"; I just chalked that up to a number of factors:
  • Billy, Jimmy, and I have aged.  We're no longer the people we were back in 2000.  Life experience and growth had occurred so we were all trying to reconcile our historical experiences of what The Smashing Pumpkins meant to us then with what was being produced now.
  • I REALLY wanted SPv1 back together to satisfy my youthful cravings.  Believe it or not, I was ok with everyone moving on with a new line-up.  I figured that if Billy and Jimmy were happy, their music would reflect it for the better.
Again, I was being challenged to accept new music along with the circumstances behind the making of it.  It took me until 2009-2010 to truly understand the brilliance of that Zeitgeist record.  I had  attended the shows where Billy's rants and antics alienated the old school "fans" as well as alienated his own bandmates at times.  The thing I respected the most was his willingness to pursue his passion.  He'd rather fall on the sword of trying something new and failing versus turning into an oldies act and capitalizing on the past.   I finally reestablished a visceral link between me and Billy as I was and still am going through the same artistic struggle as he is.  I feel a kinship with him in being hated for just trying to do art and be happy with what I'm doing.

Tears In The Ocean

When the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and Oceania projects took shape, I had to accept my favorite drummer of all time was out of the band and replaced with a 17 year old kid.  Ouch.  Another challenge, Billy? Fine. I'll roll with it.  I accepted that Billy was a one-man-band at this point and was carrying the name on his shoulders without his right hand man.  OK.  I said to myself, "Let's see where he'll take it.  He did it well with Adore.  Perhaps he's got something even bigger than that."  The results were over-promising and under-delivery.

The Teargarden project sounded too good to be true.  Billy had spoken a lot about grandiose projects in the past so I knew when he said it'd be 44 songs released one at a time for free that the project would not be completed.  The songs weren't strong enough to stand alone or even together (except maybe Freak), but they weren't weak enough for me to totally abandon them either.  When Oceania came out, it was a very strong effort.  It was promising to listen to.  Having locked in guitarist Jeff Shroeder along with Mike Byrne on drums for quite some time and treating them with respect as full band members and allowing them to record their own parts really elevated the SP game.  The "soul" in the band had been found.  No, it wasn't SPv1 but at least there was a vehicle here for Billy to pursue his quest on rocking people with new music.   But this ride wouldn't last forever.

The Smashing Darkness

All of a sudden, SP goes dark after their extensive tour, Billy starts up Madame Zuzu's Tea Shop, gets heavily involved in getting Resistance Pro wrestling off the ground, continues work on reissuing old SP records, puts out some independent solo instrumental recordings, and makes occasional appearances here and there discussing the state of rock, the state of the SP, the state of the music industry, and the state of the state (the Alex Jones interviews are hilarious to watch).  I'm cool withe all of this.  Billy can't be SP 24/7 and needs to recharge his creative outlet.  However, it does challenge me a bit to "keep the faith" that the next Pumpkins effort is going to be good.

We then get news that Billy's working with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee on two future SP records Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night. AGAIN WITH A DRUMMER CHANGE BILLY?!  Ok.  Again, I'm cool with it.  I was never a big Mike Byrne fan anyway.  I felt like he butchered a lot of what Jimmy would do.  Don't get me wrong.  He's an awesome drummer and can play circles around me but I just never felt the "groove" with him.  Also, we start hearing that Jeff is the only guy left in the band other than Billy.  OK.  Fawk it.  It is what it is.  I was never a huge James fan anyway.  Billy did a fantastic job documenting the album progress on the SP website and that gives me hope that not all is lost with the Smashing Pumpkins.


So, we're now up-to-date with my fandom and are facing down the road of Billy playing a "solo-ish" set of music at Ravinia.  Billy puts out a call to everyone to write a 20 song set that we would love to see him play at Ravinia spanning his entire career.  There were no promises he would use your set if you won the contest, but I decided to submit the following songs:
  • To Sheila (Adore)
  • Pox (American Gothic E.P.)
  • Of A Broken Heart (Mary Star of The Sea)
  • Muzzle (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Bye June (Lull E.P.)
  • Pale Horse (Oceania)
  • Widow Wake My Mind (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope)
  • Today (Siamese Dream)
  • Ugly (Aeroplane Flies High)
  • Smiley (John Peel Sessions/Gish era)
  • Let Me Give The World To You (Machina II)
  • Glynis (No Alternative/Siamese Dream era)
  • Try, Try, Try (Machina)
  • That's the Way My Love Is (Zeitgeist)
  • Rhinoceros (Gish)
  • Mayonaise (Siamese Dream)
  • 1979 (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Starla (Pisces Iscariot)
  • Drown (Singles soundtrack/Siamese Dream era)
  • Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)

I'll list out why I picked these songs in my next blog.

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