01. Smashing Pumpkins
Legacy: In 1995, post-Kurt and mostly post-grunge, but pre-Radiohead, snatching the alt-cult leader reins with vigor, Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins were the country’s Last Great Rock Band. They incredibly went octuple platinum with their iconic double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and with it bequeathed rock radio with five staples, each wildly different but all timeless, to join their highlights from the more cohesive and equally beloved Siamese Dream. Even though subsequent albums Adore, MACHINA, and the bizarrely self-released MACHINA II never captured those highs again, when the band retired they were known for audacity and a towering reach that, while it sometimes exceeded its grasp, always did so with passion and dignity.
How It Was Destroyed: The Pumpkins’ legacy was destroyed the same way it was built: on the back of frontman Billy Corgan’s ego. That ego had created some of the band’s greatest triumphs: he famously took over recording of all guitars for the Siamese Dream sessions, and the band’s greatest commercial windfall, Mellon Collie, is only possible if Corgan truly believed he had three hours worth of things to say. But that ego also began declawing the band near its end. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was kicked out prior to the Adore sessions, and Adore goes toothless at the exact moments you’d expect Chamberlain’s thunderous dexterity to kick in. He brought back Chamberlain for the original band’s last official release, MACHINA, but replaced bassist D’Arcy Wretzky with Melissa Auf der Maur.
Even all that wouldn’t have ruined the Pumpkins’ legacy, but when Corgan resurrected the band after failures with Zwan and one release under his own name, the floodgates for legacy destruction opened. The issue isn’t necessarily the music. Most of the Pumpkins’ second wave of output has fallen into self-parody, sure, but Zeitgeist had moments, and most of the releases are largely inoffensive. But the true destruction of the Pumpkins legacy has been Corgan’s scorched earth policy toward the original incarnation of the band. He’s called former guitarist James Iha a piece of shit. He’s called Jimmy Chamberlain a liar. He’s essentially disavowed the original lineup of any creative input into the band’s best moments, saying in an interview with Pumpkins fan site Crestfallen: “I wrote the songs that propelled the band to that other level,” and “[Iha] gave me something valuable that inspired something different in me… but if you took the best 30 songs that I’ve written on my own against [songs written collaboratively], I think I pretty much trump the argument.”
Corgan has also bought a pro wrestling company, partnered with PETA, opened a tea shop, insulted Pavement, David Pajo, Radiohead, and Robert Smith of the Cure, and played an eight-hour jam session inspired by a 1922 Hermann Hesse novel. At one point, we enjoyed the Smashing Pumpkins material because of Corgan. Now, we have to do so in spite of him.
Can It Be Restored? Save the possibility of creating and/or procuring a time machine to stop post-Zwan Billy Corgan at all costs, no. –Chris Bosman