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Pumpkins on high again following year of tragedy
September 10, 1996, 11:00 pm

Source: Toronto Star

Pumpkins on high again following year of tragedy; [Final Edition]
By Peter Howell TORONTO STAR. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Sep 11, 1996. pg. B.1

It's been a year of triumph and tragedy for the Smashing Pumpkins, and the wonder of it all is that the band survived, guitarist James Iha says.

The triumph includes last week's trophy clean-up at the MTV Awards, diamond sales in Canada of the band's current album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and a virtually sold-out concert this Saturday at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The tragedy is the mosh pit death in May of a Pumpkins fan in Ireland, and the heroin overdose death in July of the Pumpkins' tour keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin. The overdose death involved troubled band drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who was charged with criminal possession by police and shortly afterwards fired by his bandmates.

There's no disguising the weariness in Iha's voice, as he looks back on both the joys and the ``infinite sadness'' of 1996 for himself and remaining bandmates Billy Corgan and D'Arcy.

``We're not like supermen,'' Iha, 28, said from Quebec City yesterday, as the band prepared for the first show of its new Canadian tour.

``We're not any different from anybody else. A rock band gets thrust into the limelight, and people think it's a glamorous thing to do. It is glamorous in a lot of ways, but there's been so much happening to us, I'm just used to the really high highs and really low lows.''

Based in Chicago, Smashing Pumpkins have been together for the better part of a decade, establishing themselves as one of the top acts of the alternative rock '90s. But the band faced a career crisis over the death of Melvoin and the unavoidable firing of Chamberlin.

``I think after everything happening with Jimmy and Jonathan, we've been a lot more humbled by the whole experience,'' Iha said.

``The game plan was, A. Do we want to be a band still? and B. Okay, if we want to be a band, do we want to finish this tour? We couldn't go on with Jimmy the way he was.''

Chamberlin is an alcoholic and drug addict who had repeatedly caused problems for the Pumpkins. Band leader Billy Corgan says in a current Rolling Stone interview that Melvoin's death, which allegedly occurred while he was shooting up with Chamberlin, wasn't just the final straw in the band's long struggle with Chamberlin, ``it was the final brick.''

Iha shares Corgan's sentiments of frustration and regret.

``Jimmy's a great guy, he's a great drummer, but alcohol or drug addiction is just overwhelming,'' Iha said.

``It's just such a heightened drama, you can't deal with it every day. You get sick and tired of it, and if they (the addict) don't want to get better, it's just pointless.''

The band decided it would finish the rest of its North America tour, which concludes with a Jan. 8 date in Vancouver, but the tour was delayed several weeks while replacements for Chamberlin and Melvoin were auditioned and hired.

The new players are drummer Matt Walker of Filter and keyboardist Dennis Flemion of the Frogs. Iha said they're fitting in well, but Walker is still learning the subtleties of the Pumpkins' drum sound. He was given a copy of Mellon Collie and told to bone up on it - and fast.

The Pumpkins have gone through too much already this year without having to worry about a new drummer taking them on a new direction.

``We want Matt to have his own style, but the main thing is, he must be able to reproduce the records without drastic changes,'' Iha said.

``We've played with the same drummer (Chamberlin) for eight years, or whatever, and it would be a big stretch to have someone's completely new style thrown in. But Matt's pretty much playing most of Jimmy's parts. He's a really good drummer, and he hits really heavy.''

Walker and Flemion have no official status with the Pumpkins beyond this tour. But then again, the Pumpkins have no official status with themselves.

``We wanted to finish the tour because we didn't want to finish the band on a sour note,'' Iha said, indicating just how close the Pumpkins came to splitting over the recent tragedies.

``We wanted to do a big arena rock tour of America and Canada, and we felt if we'd gone out (split up) because of our drummer, it would be kind of lame. We really wanted to finish the tour, because we've had so many stop-starts over this year.''

Now that the tour is back on track, there's a good chance the Pumpkins will carry on and record a new album in '97 or '98, Iha said.

``We're just going to play it by ear, but as of the moment, we're planning on doing another record together. But we've just had so much stuff happened to us, it's never 100 per cent.''

HIP GARDENS: The Tragically Hip have announced a Dec. 12 concert at Maple Leaf Gardens, with special guests Rheostatics, as part of a fall Canadian tour. Tickets are $26 each, limit of six per person, available Friday at 10 a.m. at select Ticketmaster outlets (870-8000). The Hip's current CD, Trouble At The Henhouse, is the band's fifth album to sell more than 500,000 units in Canada.

Credit: Peter Howell