jump to navigation

Corgan’s bandmates contribute by keeping up, not by reining him in 10:23 pm // Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Posted by jjb in analysis, band, criticism, mellon collie, oceania, thefutureembrace.
comments closed

Among the most tired canards found in criticism of the Smashing Pumpkins is that Billy Corgan’s work has been much better at those times when his vision was actively constrained by his collaborators.

A metaphor often used to illustrate Corgan’s supposed position has been that of a horse beneath a rider, and (as predicted) that metaphor has been trotted out in reviews of the Pumpkins’ new album Oceania. Spin Magazine’s Rob Harvilla used it today:

And so when it’s time for the nine-minute, multi-suite title track that gets way out of hand, these young bucks at the very least keep up, rein Corgan in, keep him honest.

Yes, it can plausibly be argued that Corgan’s music has been better when other hands are very involved; if you don’t love his solo record TheFutureEmbrace but hold dear the Pumpkins canon, that’s a ready conclusion to reach. But this is probably the case because Corgan is, or at least feels, freer to explore and go crazy when he’s in a band setting: His bandmates improve the music not by burying him in noes but by, to borrow Harvilla’s other phrase there, keeping up—not in the saddle but alongside Corgan, enabling him to divide labor and achieve wilder visions. What, after all, are the attributes we ascribe to the band’s reputed best work? Harvilla lists a few himself:

Prime Smashing Pumpkins reveled in the alleged worst aspects of the ’70s (the excess, the prog, the squeedly-deedly-doo guitar solos) and has nonetheless aged splendidly: Siamese Dream is a shitload less dated than, say, Ten; and Mellon Collie, for all its blatant absurdity, is an astoundingly deep, committed, multifaceted, entrancing clusterfuck that is way closer to being the best record of the grunge era than any of us should be comfortable with.

The next time someone says that TheFutureEmbrace reveled in excess will be the first; as was fairly apparent, Corgan imposed some tight constraints upon its recording, such as a limitation to only one guitar track per song. That record aside, the other major output from Corgan’s interstitial solo period was…a batch of exclusively acoustic music. And we are supposed to believe that James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin’s contributions to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream are best characterized in terms of placed restraints? When Corgan talks about Butch Vig’s influence on Gish, he doesn’t speak of boundaries—he says that Vig was the only one who could stay up with him, while everyone else had gone home.

Harvilla is smart, and his review of Oceania is mostly on point. But it does suffer, pardon that expression, from pomposity a lack of self-awareness. Harvilla goes on for 1,200 words, the writing is showy as a public fuck…and it’s fine; the piece is entertainingly expressive, and a hardass editor cutting out modifiers would probably kill the major joys therein to be had. This here is to urge the guy forward, not to choke him back into an amble: Rob, write on.

Billy Corgan made the great lost record. 3:28 pm // Saturday, June 23, 2012

Posted by jjb in amusing, analysis, billy corgan, chicagosongs, interview.
comments closed

During a Los Angeles meet-and-greet yesterday, this exchange (video) took place between KYSR-FM deejay Darren Rose and Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan:

Billy Corgan: If I told you my real opinions of every album, you’d probably laugh.

Darren Rose: Do you have a favorite?

Corgan: Not really, no. Honestly, I think the best album I’ve ever made I haven’t released. It’s sitting in a can at home. I did a solo acoustic record about my hometown of Chicago. And I played one show, and I thought the show was amazing, and then I went on like an idiot the next day and read what the fans were writing and they said ‘Can he just please pick up an electric guitar again? Screw this acoustic music, we don’t want to hear this shit, dadadada.’ And I said OK, and I put the album back in the can and it’s sitting there to this day. People who’ve heard it say it’s some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever done. It’s just sitting there.

The album in question, known as “ChicagoSongs” or “ChicagoKid” or both, dates to the 2002-2004 period and encompasses about fourteen or fifteen or seventy-two (yikes!) songs.

While Corgan seems to blame “the fans” for the album not having been released, another possible reason is that Corgan has to be his own best editor. If he’s putting out something, it’s a decision he’s made, and sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with musical quality. It has to do with personal satisfaction. He’s earned the right to fucking suck.

Also, exuberance from Corgan about his yet-to-be released records (e.g., Zeitgeist, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Oceania), as well as negative comments by Corgan about released records that the public has not embraced (e.g., Zeitgeist, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope), are par for the course.

RESEARCH UPDATE: On October 19, 2004—exactly six months after the “one show” Corgan played—a Toronto radio DJ asked him (audio, at 3:55) to “Tell us about the [ChicagoSongs/​ChicagoKid] DVD.” Corgan replied: “It’s in the can. It’s all acoustic. There’s been about thirty songs recorded. And we’re just starting to cut it together, and hopefully that’ll be out by the end of next year.”

Media react to Corgan’s talking tour of SXSW 12:14 pm // Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Posted by susan in analysis, billy corgan, news, oceania.
comments closed

Billy Corgan has made several public appearances at South by Southwest in Austin this week. You can check out full videos of his Sunday night appearance at Android House and his early Monday afternoon appearance at Samsung Blogger Lounge. Video is not available of the panel featuring Corgan and social media consultant Brian Solis that occurred late yesterday afternoon; my understanding is that video from all panels generally makes its way to the SXSW YouTube account about two weeks after the conference ends (if you scroll down, you’ll see a playlist featuring archived 2011 coverage). That panel is making headlines in the media today; Billboard and Rolling Stone have both posted their takes on Corgan’s comments. However, longtime Smashing Pumpkins fans may find Nadia Neophytou’s account for Memeburn a bit more interesting; it’s packed with quotes and presents a more holistic view of Corgan’s remarks, including his plans to develop a Kickstarter-like subscription service with the Smashing Pumpkins Record Club.

Judging from the Twitter list of panel attendees I created yesterday (although at this point you’ll have to scroll back quite a ways to find relevant content), many in the room found Corgan’s remarks refreshingly candid and honest. This seems right to me: in a room full of social media experts and techies, hearing someone speak who’s willing to cut through marketing morass is probably a breath of fresh air. Remember that this panel was part of South by Southwest Interactive–the music side of SXSW is just getting started today.  It also doesn’t surprise me that the music media elite (e.g., Billboard and Rolling Stone) don’t seem to be too enthused for what Corgan had to say.

Nothing I’m reading indicates that Corgan gave many specifics about the Pumpkins’ plans for their upcoming album Oceania. I tend to wonder if he ran out of time to make his announcements at the panel, given that many in the audience reported that the session seemed to be evolving as it was happening and not following a defined script. Corgan seems to be toying with the idea of creating a “visual experience” to surround the album; as HU readers may remember, the idea of “conceptual videos” is something Corgan has been toying around with for a while.

As I type, Corgan is attending a screening of The Source, a documentary I watched and reviewed on Sunday. Corgan makes a brief appearance as a interviewee in the film and he’ll be taking questions on a panel after the film.

Can reissue booklets reveal, or must they conceal, ‘the real lyrics’? 1:14 am // Thursday, December 1, 2011

Posted by jjb in amusing, analysis, gish, lyrics.
comments closed

Open your eyes to these mustard lies
She knows and she knows and she knows 

—from lyrics to “Rhinoceros” printed in booklet for the reissued Gish

For the sake of argument, assume with me for a moment that the first time Billy Corgan had the thoughts that were to manifest themselves again every time he would sing or otherwise proffer the words to “Rhinoceros” over the subsequent 20-plus years, what would become the line quoted above instead surfaced initially into his consciousness as:

Open your eyes; to these, must I lie?

This line ‘makes more sense’ in that it does not seem to invoke a dishonest condiment. But it is also maybe a bit too intense, precious, or ’embarrassing’ for Corgan the Braincrusher to have rolled with and felt comfortable about every night on stage in front of detached crowds. So maybe he changed what he had to something dodgy that sounded similar, and even that preserved some of the meaning, but would pass as ‘arty’ or whimsical or flip.

Perhaps, though, that all still does not mean the more sensible line deserves to be tagged as the ‘original’ (or ‘real,’ etc.) lyric—for when does a surfaced thought become a lyric? Is it as soon as the thought hits? Or is it when it is sung aloud or jotted down in private, when it is shared with another person or collaborator, when it is performed in public, when a recording is given to the Library of Congress or sold in stores, or when it appears in a booklet from a publisher? Or…well.

And whether one decides to say the line in question was already a lyric or still only a thought at the time it changed, there’s also the question of when that was. Maybe it wasn’t in 1989 in Corgan’s bedroom, but at some later point. Possibly the line is one of a few ketchup gags created exclusively for and packaged inside every copy of the reissue of Gish. Maybe the opening line of “Rhinoceros” was actually “planned a show” through every single studio take and live performance before Corgan read a tweet sent by Lauren Bethany Hawkins of Norwich, England on August 19, 2011. Who knows? He knows, and we don’t.

Don’t think for a second. 4:57 pm // Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Posted by jjb in amusing, analysis, billy corgan, interview, oceania.
comments closed

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan says that his band’s new album “stands up with [his] best work,” but don’t take his word for it—audiences on tour are responding well even to the record’s lengthy title track, he tells Joe Bosso of MusicRadar.com:

Corgan: I’ve been very surprised at how positive the response to the song [“Oceania”] has been and how people are getting it right away. I might have expected that they wouldn’t, but the fact that they are is great. Hearing people go “Yea!” to a new song is a welcome change. I’ve had a lot of “Hmm…” the past few years. You get used to “Hmm…”

Bosso: But how did you deal with “Hmm…”? That couldn’t have been easy.

Corgan: It wasn’t. When I was younger, I got really angry. Then I got sort of bitter, like, “This sucks. Shouldn’t I be given more of an opportunity here?” Eventually, I realized that you have to trust the public’s opinion. Even if they’re wrong, they’re right. You know what I mean? If they like Justin Bieber, you can’t say, “No, don’t like Justin Bieber.” They’re going to gravitate towards what they want, and you have to accept that. Looking back at where I’ve gotten it right at the highest level, the public has always responded positively. […]

[W]ith Mellon Collie, which became a huge album, I had to be talked into releasing “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” by Phil Quartararo, who was the president of Virgin Records at the time. I wanted another song to be the first single.

Bosso: Which song was that?

Corgan: “Jellybelly.” I thought that was more in line with how the Smashing Pumpkins should be represented. This was after eight months of work. And nobody ever talks to me about “Jellybelly,” yet every night when we play “Bullet” people yell and scream and jump all over the place. Just because I’m the artist doesn’t mean I always know. The public will tell you when you’re right.

Now, if you are blessed with memories of the past year, you may be recalling at this moment that Billy Corgan himself is the best evaluator of his ability and his skill set. But that doesn’t mean it is for him to tell when he’s right, at least not at the highest level. Sometimes he needs to do the okay song to get to the great song, but just because he’s the artist doesn’t mean he always knows which song is which.

And then, if that leads you to believe that the public might provide input valuable to Corgan with regard to what songs he should release, realize that Corgan has to be his own best editor. If he’s putting out something, it’s a decision he’s made, and sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with musical quality. It has to do with personal satisfaction. He’s earned the right to fucking suck. [laughs]

Billy Corgan believes in all his songs. 9:43 pm // Monday, October 3, 2011

Posted by jjb in analysis, billy corgan, criticism, interview, oceania, zeitgeist.
comments closed

Let us get that clear, right from the outset. If and when—it’s when—the Smashing Pumpkins auteur seemingly disparages his own past work, you must read with caution. Take the following statement, made today by Corgan as part of the “#SPRCtakeoverquestion-and-answer session hosted on Twitter by Live Nation:

If four years ago you were among the sizable group of fans and critics who appreciated the gold-certified album Zeitgeist, you may be feeling some resentment. “Hey,” you think. “I told people I liked that record in 2007. Is Billy Corgan trying retroactively to align himself with Pitchfork and the NME against Rolling Stone, PopMatters, and me?!”

No, no. Corgan is saying only that you (and David Fricke, etc.) may have made the same error that he now understands himself to have made, back then: you failed to realize that 2007 was the wrong time for that collection of worthy songs. While you were understandably distracted by the sheer quality of the music on Zeitgeist, those who disliked the album sensed that there was a problem, something in the air that year, ineffable but real.

Thankfully, today the problem is gone. Corgan, who misread something in 2007, now knows 2011 is right for Oceania. The detractors of Zeitgeist, sure to recognize the real, ineffable change that has taken place, will listen to Corgan’s new work with fresh ears and assess it on its merits. What are you gonna do?

Internet fans: James Iha less important to TSP than Slash is to GnR 3:48 am // Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Posted by 34 in ac/dc, analysis, beatles, d'arcy wretzky, ginger reyes pooley, guns 'n' roses, james iha, jimmy chamberlin, led zeppelin, satire.
comments closed

According to some highly non-scientific research (i.e. paging through google search results of “not $BandName without” queries), James Iha ranks above John Bonham and Bon Scott (not to mention any other former TSP member), but lower than Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne or Slash, when it comes to “it just isn’t Band X without Member Y” fan opinion. Check below to see who “matters” more to a band’s sound/identity (or perhaps merely which bands’ fans are the most vocal about lineup changes).

Big publications agree: No ‘Teargarden’ song among 2010’s best 1:10 am // Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Posted by jjb in analysis, criticism, news.
comments closed

The most prominent rock publications’ lists of the top songs of 2010 are in, and none of the seven songs released this year by the Smashing Pumpkins as part of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope album is on any of them.

The basis for that statement — one which we would be happy to see disproven; please submit evidence in the comments on this post! — is a scan of twenty best-songs lists we sampled from the exhaustive list of lists maintained by Largehearted Boy. We covered nearly all the lists from sites or blogs familiar to us, plus a few unfamiliar ones.  The 20 sampled lists (listed and linked below the fold) contain almost 1,400 entries.

Artists named on at least one of the 20 sampled lists include Blur, OK Go, Usher, Josh Ritter, Thom Yorke, Neil Young, Robert Smith, John Mellencamp, Liz Phair, Alicia Keys, Teenage Fanclub, MGMT, Maps and Atlases, Iron and Wine, the Hold Steady, Interpol, Elton John, John Legend, Soundgarden, Avenged Sevenfold, Jimmy Eat World, Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry, Drake, the Roots, Mavis Staples, Stone Temple Pilots, Slash, Huey Lewis and the News, Willie Nelson, Hole, Miley Cyrus, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Chesney, Muse, Jack Johnson, Nelly, Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, and Gwyneth Paltrow…plus all the artists you expect to have recorded the critics’ favorite songs of 2010. (more…)

A tale of two legs, or, U.S. tours by the numbers 5:20 pm // Thursday, October 14, 2010

Posted by jjb in analysis, by the numbers, tour.
comments closed

It’s been a while since one of these was needed…for a refresher as to what this post is about, see an important disclaimer; also check out past “by the numbers” posts.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ tours of the United States during 2010, June 30 to July 27 and August 28 to September 25, by the numbers: (more…)

“Teargarden” track-ordering problem now to become unmanageable 11:01 pm // Monday, September 13, 2010

Posted by jjb in arithmetic, scary, teargarden by kaleidyscope.
comments closed

By sharing one MP3 at a time from new ‘album’ Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, the Smashing Pumpkins are creating a somewhat novel problem (or opportunity!) for their fans: the formation of a playlist.  While online music has always allowed listeners to reorder tracks, bands still tend to release albums with specified, or at least suggested, sequencing.  Teargarden does carry a couple of implicit orderings — one by the individual tracks’ dates of release, and one by the ordering of tracks on the physical EPs — but neither of these would seem to compel listeners’ recognition as The Artist’s Intended Ordering.

Tinkerers will be hard-pressed, however, to reach consensus on any one superior sequence, for the combinatorial space is absurdly vast — the number of possible orderings of N tracks is given by N factorial. A well-informed debate could perhaps be held regarding an ideal ordering of the five Teargarden tracks already released, as only 120 possibilities exist — but after the release of “Spangled” there will be a daunting 720 to evaluate, and once Teargarden has grown to 44 tracks there will be, like, (more…)

HU Podcast #62: Poll Results 5:33 pm // Thursday, June 24, 2010

Posted by chris in podcast, regression analysis.
comments closed

This past weekend I contacted my fellow podcasters with the intention of doing a short, one-topic podcast about the results of the recent poll of your favorite Billy Corgan-penned songs post-revival.  I figured we’d argue about some songs, make fun of each others’ tastes, and call it a night.  Well 40-some-odd minutes, a regression analysis, and discussion on almost every song later, Jason talked me into tacking a 35-minute song onto the end as the Song of the Week.  So don’t be too alarmed by the staggering length and lack of broken-up segments.

Which of us was a total crowd-follower and didn’t vote for any song below Starz?  Who had such discriminating taste that they only voted for 5 songs?  Who voted for almost the entirety of American Gothic?  Who admitted to kind of liking, but not voting for, Choose to Choose Love?  Tune in to find out, and view the full poll results below the jump.

Listen to the whole show (1:15:15)


-Chris, Jason, Jill, and Andrew

Song of the Week
-Gossamer, San Francisco, CA July 31, 2007


A couple hours of Pandora’s “Smashing Pumpkins Radio” 4:30 pm // Sunday, September 20, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, genre, radio, websites.
comments closed

I was hanging out at a friend’s house yesterday; he uses the Pandora music service sometimes, so we tried entering “Smashing Pumpkins” to see what came up. Here’s what Pandora kicked out, in order:

  1. Smashing Pumpkins, “Today”
  2. Weezer, “Say It Ain’t So”
  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Otherside”
  4. Smashing Pumpkins, “Rhinoceros”
  5. Foo Fighters, “Times Like These” (I clicked ‘thumbs down’)
  6. Nirvana, “Lithium”
  7. Smashing Pumpkins, “Soothe” (!)
  8. Pearl Jam, “Yellow Ledbetter”
  9. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Can’t Stop”
  10. Stone Temple Pilots, “Plush”
  11. Smashing Pumpkins, “Thirty-three”
  12. Nirvana, “On a Plain”
  13. Foo Fighters, “Big Me”
  14. Radiohead, “High and Dry”
  15. Green Day, “When I Come Around”
  16. Bush, “Machinehead” (I clicked ‘thumbs down’)
  17. advertisement for new Matt Damon movie “The Informant!”
  18. Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box”
  19. Radiohead, “Creep” acoustic version
  20. Foo Fighters, “Learn to Fly”
  21. The Killers, “Mr. Brightside”
  22. Bush, “Everything Zen” (turned off in disgust)

Pandora is, supposedly, “powered by the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken, the Music Genome Project: a crazy project started back in early 2000 to capture the complex musical DNA of songs using a large team of highly-trained musicians.”  But just about anyone’s inductive reasoning will suggest this list was ‘socially’ determined, i.e., that it comprises a list of songs that achieved a similar level of commercial success through similar cultural channels at about the same time.  Seriously, what Smashing Pumpkins fan would not have already heard of every single artist on this list? And it’s remarkable not only how few artists came up — eleven different bands behind the 21 songs — but also how Pandora tried to cram Foo Fighters and Bush songs down my throat after I had given the ‘thumbs down’ the first time each of those artists came up.

While this may have been somehow influenced by my friend’s personal Pandora usage history, from what little I know about that history I don’t see how it could have driven the basic result (I know of three other ‘stations’ he’s tried and none of them are connected to the 1990s or to ‘alternative rock’). If you’ve tried “Smashing Pumpkins Radio” on Pandora yourself, I hope you’ll comment on this post. Is it consistently just a period station, tightly focused on the ‘biggest’ or most enduring bands of ’90s alt-rock?

Brown’s blog, Tulin’s tweets break ground for openness 3:05 am // Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, blogging, studio, twitter.
comments closed

Secrecy and mystique have always surrounded the making of Smashing Pumpkins albums, but this time, so far, whether we need to know or not, fans really are being told.

Not only is producer Kerry Brown delivering on his plan to blog almost every day about the recording process — weighing in last night with photographs and a lengthy discussion of the microphones being used — but bassist Mark Tulin has tweeted two updates on the proceedings in the last 24 hours. And later today, the album title and other earth-shattering information will be posted to SmashingPumpkins.com by the big squash himself.

Corgan Comes Alive!, or, Why Billy should consider a live album 2:40 am // Friday, July 31, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, billy corgan, live, releases.
comments closed

Among the many question marks that the Smashing Pumpkins haven’t shaken off over the years is the notion that they aren’t a good live band.  While many of the smears levelled at the band are totally wrong, I think there is a grain of truth in this one.  The Pumpkins are in some sense an inconsistent live band.

Not surprisingly, I think this inconsistency comes from a good place — I’d say that their shows are of an unpredictable quality because the band embraces risk and growth. Many bands shuffle their setlists, but Billy Corgan frequently tinkers with song structures and arrangements as a tour progresses.  Every time a song is partially rewritten, the band has to adapt — generally, the first few times they perform a song in a new arrangement, it’s not quite as ‘good’ as it will be after 10 or 20 performances.  Improvement comes both from practicing the new arrangement and from Corgan making more adjustments.  At any given show, then, an audience might be hearing, say, 15-18 songs that are being played more or less exactly how they were played the previous night, but also two or three that were altered in some way.  Add to this planned ‘looseness’ the likelihood that several songs will be arranged quite differently than on the records, and you have a recipe for some complaints.

Like it or not, the book on a band is written according to its major releases.  That’s not a problem when you’re trotting out exhibits such as Gish and Siamese Dream to represent your early days — but I think Billy’s best work since the Pumpkins broke up has been done in concert.  It’s a fairly common belief that Zwan was a lot better than Mary Star of the Sea indicates — and regarding the Pumpkins’ fall 2008 tour, I see a lot of people who actually attended (cough) or listened to (ahem) the shows saying it was precisely the opposite of horrible.

So, just maybe, one way to partly rehabilitate the image of the latter-day Pumpkins would be to issue a live album — but, for the reasons documented above, I don’t suggest that they put out a full recording of any one concert.  I even suspect that fans could reach something close to a consensus on some of the particular tracks to include. So, let’s try it: Which song performances should Billy Corgan consider for a new compilation live album?

Here are the ground rules I suggest for giving your ideas in the comments on this post:

  • Only choose performances from 1995 or later, since the band already put out Earphoria.
  • Yes, by all means, please consider Zwan and Billy’s solo period.
  • Don’t list more than five songs.  I have a laundry list of ‘honorable mention’ possibilities, but I’m keeping them to myself.  If I can do it, you can do it.
  • List song performances you already know and find memorable — if you have to go listen to a show right now in order to come up with an answer, maybe that’s not helping. :)
  • Do not suggest anything from 1995/10/23 Chicago, 1997/01/08 Vancouver, or 1998/08/04 Atlanta, and I’m only kind of kidding. These were the most grossly overcirculated tapes of all time and, dare I say, they perhaps are part of the reason the Pumpkins are not considered a great live band. Haha, tell me I’m wrong.

I’ll give my selections in the comments!

Which song is the one good song on Zeitgeist? 3:25 pm // Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Posted by jjb in amusing, analysis, zeitgeist.
comments closed

(12:49 AM) jillysp: man
(12:49 AM) jillysp: i swear
(12:49 AM) jillysp: bring the light could like solve world peace
(12:49 AM) jillysp: this song is so. good.

I’ve long been aware that Jill is crazy about “Bring the Light”, but she reminds me from time to time.  And when she does so, I often recall my one-line argument for why Zeitgeist is a perfectly fine album: “Everyone says Zeitgeist has one or two good songs — just, no one agrees on which songs those are.” (My evidence for this claim can be found here.)

After Jill’s most recent reminder, I thought about other friends of mine who have told me that they LOVE one particular song off Zeitgeist (not to say they don’t like other songs as well).  I don’t have amusing IM transcripts for all of these, but…my sister loves “7 Shades of Black”; my brother, “For God and Country”; HU reader Stace, “Bleeding the Orchid”; HU podcast host Chris, “Tarantula.”

Is anyone’s favorite song “Pomp and Circumstances”? (Besides this guy.)

The status effects of illegal downloading 1:36 am // Thursday, July 2, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, business, last.fm, legal, sales.
comments closed

Probably the major subtext of HU to this point has been a critique of status-seeking through music appreciation.  I don’t like it when someone claims to like or dislike a certain artist or type of music largely because of some social (read: reproductive) edge that the person expects to acquire as a result. I do think this is very common. People aren’t always aware that they are doing such a thing, true, but even then, maybe they don’t know they’re doing it out of a failure to introspect.  I do not pretend to be immune from its practice myself, but I try to think about it and become aware of it.

In this post I come not to judge or even guilt-trip illegal downloaders but just to make one observation: people who decide that they are willing to download music without paying for it acquire a status advantage over those that don’t.  Quite obviously, those who get music for free are able to expose themselves to more artists and styles of music, and to explore artists’ catalogs in greater depth, than those that do not.  (One data point: since joining Last.fm, I have noticed that a few acquaintances of mine have 1,000 or more artists in their personal libraries; when I finish ripping my personal collection, I may only reach 300 or so.)  And just as obviously, those who do not pay for music can check out any or every newly hyped album; meanwhile, those who pay will have to make hard choices, possibly waiting to read reviews or even waiting to see if an artist manifests any sort of staying power in the culture before spending money to check them out.  Yes, there is YouTube, and MySpace, and other similar venues where new artists often stream a ‘single’ and a couple other songs for free, but I think the relative difference is still significant.

The effects?  I used to be fairly comfortable with the idea that I was never (or not anytime soon, anyway) going to be able to explore the music of many classic artists in any depth whatsoever. But I sense more and more that my peers expect me to have explored that music as a matter of simple cultural literacy. In the past, it would have been deemed rather uppity for a rich young person to flaunt his familiarity with thousands of albums — but now, to raise poverty as an excuse for one’s unfamiliarity with Dylan or the Gossip is implicitly to criticize the moral choices of one’s peers.  So the person who doesn’t download illegally, if he says so, is now the uppity one…and if he doesn’t say so, he’s simply going to look uncurious or even uncultured. The more sensitive one is to these sorts of status games — and, obviously, I’m very sensitive to them indeed, haha — the more one probably feels like a sucker if he still pays for his music.

James Iha did not contribute to new Marilyn Manson album 8:09 pm // Saturday, May 30, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, james iha, marilyn manson, wikipedia.
comments closed

As was suggested by a peculiarly exhaustive HU investigation, published reports claiming that Smashing Pumpkins co-founder James Iha would appear on Marilyn Manson’s followup to Eat Me, Drink Me have proven inaccurate.  The Wikipedia entry for Manson’s just-released The High End of Low gives the bottom line:

[N]obody outside of the main personnel appear on the album.

“The Smashing Pumpkins sound” that often wasn’t 3:55 pm // Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, influence, last.fm, siamese dream.
comments closed

I have often seen claims that Silversun Pickups or other bands have been influenced by or are keeping alive “the Smashing Pumpkins sound” (check out this Google search for many examples).  The “sound” to which these claims refer is surely that of the layered guitars on Siamese Dream‘s louder tracks.  But check out the Smashing Pumpkins’ ten most-listened-to songs on Last.fm:

Of these ten songs, only two — “Today” and “Cherub Rock” — definitely have the sound described above.  Maybe one could stretch it to include two others, those being “Zero” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness — but there is no way that any of the other six songs can be placed in that group.  So perhaps it is better called “the Siamese Dream sound” than “the Smashing Pumpkins sound”.

HU asks: How cool is WaPo music blogger David Malitz? 4:22 pm // Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis.
comments closed

Any HU reader knows the Smashing Pumpkins get kicked around a lot by tastemaking thirtyish writers for online music-news outlets.  My central thesis about these writers is that they are, generally, reacting against music they loved as teenagers out of a desire to fit in with the professional, ‘adult’ rock-crit world that they are entering.  This thesis is similar to that laid out in this post on the blog Thirteen Birds vs. the Record Desk, where it is argued that musicians signal that they are serious about their craft by citing as influences not their well-known favorite bands but rather bands they don’t truly love as much yet from whom they do take certain definite aesthetic ideas.

But is my thesis valid?  I would have to provide some real-world evidence for it, I think.  Need some examples.  So here’s a possible one: David Malitz, writer for the WashingtonPost.com “Post Rock” blog. First, let’s establish his anti-Pumpkins cred:

  • Malitz composed for the Post itself an extremely negative review of the Pumpkins’  July 10, 2007 concert in Washington.  He wrote that the song title “Fuck You” described “pretty much how [he] felt all night” toward the band.  The Post published along with this review a transcript of Malitz’s during-concert texts back and forth with Post Rock co-blogger J. Freedom du Lac, and it is hard to read the transcript without coming to believe that Malitz was precommitted to a negative view of the concert.
  • Not one month later, oddly, Malitz and du Lac praised the Pumpkins’ set at Baltimore’s Virgin Festival: “[T]he group’s big-and-bigger songs translated well to the setting…Billy Corgan’s power chords were crunchy and his solos crisp. If only he could do something about that braying voice.”
  • Malitz blogged a somewhat negative review of the Pumpkins’ November 11, 2008 show in Washington. He summed up the concert as “confusing”.  In this review he called Jeff Schroeder “Fake-ha” and Ginger Reyes “F’arcy”.
  • Overall, Malitz wouldn’t dispute that the Pumpkins are “an old Post Rock punching bag”; he’s said so himself.

So Malitz doesn’t much like the Pumpkins nowadays, though it sure seems that he used to.  What does he like right now?  What does he hold up as good?  Looking at some of his recent WaPo writings:

  • He seems consistent in his dislike of long concerts, complaining that the Dead delivered “40 minutes of good music out of nearly four hours” and praising Ne-Yo for a “tidy 75-minute set”.  (His texted question about being “paid overtime” for the July 2007 Pumpkins gig does make one wonder if this preference is purely aesthetic.  And that August 2007 Pumpkins festival set he liked was short, too!)
  • He wore kid gloves to a recent Coldplay concert, justifying his respectful review by writing that it has been “socially acceptable — even mandatory — to bash Coldplay.”
  • Joking or not, he’s claimed to like Nine Inch Nails in part because Trent Reznor “hates lots of things” and he recently picked Future of the Left — with its “angry music” and “hilariously hateful lyrics” — as his favorite band at SXSW.

Hard to draw much out of that, but a September 2008 profile of Malitz by the Washingtonian is a bit more edifying.  Malitz is 28 (29 now?) and way into fantasy sports; he loved LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, and he’s into the Silver Jews and Morrissey, and his most-listened-to iPod songs are all sonically unambitious post-punk-y numbers.

None of that undermines (or much supports) the applicability of my thesis to Malitz, but the line that goes the furthest in suggesting its correctness comes from a Post Rock entry where Malitz tried to understand the appeal of Jane’s Addiction:

Maybe if you were a teenager in the late-’80s/early-’90s there was something about Jane’s Addiction that was exciting. That’s my reasoning whenever I find myself defending Smashing Pumpkins. “I was 13, what do you want?”

We live in a world where plenty of 52-year-olds appreciate the Dead, or Kelly Clarkson — and it’s the same world where a 29-year-old music critic feels little need to justify his appreciation of Nine Inch Nails or Future of the Left. So what is the problem, David?  Why the “I was a teenager” defense for Smashing Pumpkins, who as you realize are much more interesting and vital than is Coldplay? Is it that the 15-year-old David Malitz really, deeply embraced Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness at face value?  Yes, that was a mistake — but it’s not the record’s fault.  Imagine someone about Malitz’s age writing around the feelings they had as a teenager, and then really going for it, as a concept record; not embarrassing at all, that idea.  So why haven’t Malitz and other young critics figured this out?

HU readers often ask why I/we care about what is written about the band, and my answer is always that I’m tired of hearing a chorus of negativity toward the band from tastemaking bloggers.  These critics are largely my age, they largely share my tastes, abilities, and interests, and like me they generally all have held the Smashing Pumpkins in high esteem at some point.  But today, as a group, these people are tearing the Pumpkins down; they are creating or are trying to create a social environment where it’s difficult to admit liking the band. I, on the other hand, would like Pumpkins fans to be able to hold their heads high — and I don’t see much reason that a late 20s fantasy-football-playing weblogger pushing the music of Half Japanese and Jay Reatard should be considered a social authority.  Rather, I actually think Malitz and so many of his peer critics are as yet unable to step back and view their own adolescence with much equanimity.  They are still running from most everything that they associate with their youth, rather than embracing what was good in it. Meanwhile, the previous generation — to its credit — unabashedly holds up the good popular music of its youth: the Beatles, the Stones, etc.  When our generation starts to do that, it’ll be a signal that we’ve arrived as grownups…but we ain’t there yet.

HU’s Jill at SP.com: “What’s the APR for hope?” 2:29 pm // Friday, March 13, 2009

Posted by jjb in analysis, smashingpumpkins.com.
comments closed

She discusses the band’s recent Visa commercial.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers