You know, I feel that I really needed to have this particular moment within my musical life as this specific world has seen more than its share of sorrow over these past three months with the passings of one legendary musical figure after another, and in such quick succession. Even so, the level of joy I felt raised me significantly higher than I thought that I could have been raised but considering the event, I am more surprised that I have been able to float back down to Earth to write this latest posting.
Very late in the night on Saturday, March 26th, I was poking around Facebook, possibly stalling bedtime, when I stumbled across the very photograph that adorns this post. The photo itself was taken and subsequently tweeted by Linda Strawberry, an artist, musician and longtime friend of The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan. Taken backstage after the latest performance by the band on their current L.A. stop on the "In Plainsong" tour, an acoustic/electric hybrid showcasing the full breadth of Corgan's songwriting, which includes material from Corgan's short lived band Zwan, solo and unreleased material plus Pumpkins selections, the photo in question features Pumpkins' guitarist Jeff Schroeder (band member since 2007), Billy Corgan himself, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin who has returned to the band for the second time to perform on the tour and then, nestled in between Corgan and Chamberlin was the figure that made me pause.
I looked at the photo again and again as I was truly unsure as to what I was seeing, figuring that it had to have been some sort of photoshopped gimmick. I wondered if it was even an older photo but due to the presence of Schroeder, it could not have been an image from the past. Indeed, what I was seeing was the face and full form of none other than James Iha, co-founder and original guitarist of The Smashing Pumpkins who infamously exited the band by uttering not even one word to his bandmates after the conclusion of their epic 4 hour farewell performance at Chicago's Metro on December 2, 2000.
Under the photo, I commented some dumbstruck questions which was then met with a reply of a You Tube fan video taken from that night's concert featuring Iha's arrival on-stage to rapturous, thunderous applause and Billy Corgan, taking Iha's hand for a moment, smiling broadly and exclaiming, "Yes, it's James Iha," while also giving him credit for co-creating the band and therefore the legacy all the way back in 1987. And then, both men, armed with two acoustic guitars began to play one of their rare co-compositions, "Mayonaisse," which opened a seven song set featuring selections from the universally heralded "Siamese Dream" period.
Watching the beautiful, graceful performance and seeing the photograph, I honestly almost began to tear up as this was a sighting and event I absolutely, positively never, ever and then never again would I ever have thought that I would witness. Yes, bands break up and reform all of the time. This is nothing new or remotely out of the ordinary. But, there have been some bands to not once reunite and I can more than understand the reluctance and/or the refusal, despite my deepest wishes as a fan.
Regarding The Smashing Pumpkins, I have more than championed Corgan's right to resurrect and continue making music under the band's name for the specific reasons that he is indeed the creative generator of essentially all of the band's material (completely so since the reformation) plus the fact that the name fully feels to represent Corgan's musical identity and vision regardless of whomever happens to join him, much like what we have seen with the likes of Robert Fripp and the many incarnations of King Crimson, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie with their revolving door of collaborators with Fleetwood Mac and also Joshua Homme with his co-conspirators within Queens Of The Stone Age to name a few.
It has been and has remained an especially controversial choice for Corgan to have made for himself within the Smashing Pumpkins fan community, whom to this day still feel that without Iha or original bassist D'Arcy Wretsky, the band in question is not and will never be The Smashing Pumpkins. I, however, have not existed as a Pumpkins purist, feeling that Billy Corgan more than has earned the right to do whatever he wants and work with whomever he chooses to work with (even though he still confuses and confounds me from time to time--especially with the departures of bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne).
Furthermore, and due to all of then internal tension the original foursome faced and endured together, I have felt that perhaps these may have been four individuals who made astonishing, transformative music despite the fact that perhaps they should have never even existed within the same room together. The tension obviously produced the music we all love but at what cost, considering the bad blood that has existed between the band members for so long? And I could not reconcile the idea of wishing four people who just may despise each other performing together upon a stage once again just to satisfy my, or any fan's needs, to relive the past, to recapture a memory, to fly through the window of nostalgia even just one more time. Life is too short but now, I am wondering if that harsh reality may have proven itself to have been a catalyst.
At this time, neither Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin or James Iha have spoken publicly about the events of the night before, so all is speculative. But even so, Corgan, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, did mention that after all of this time, he had hoped to somehow find some peace with both Iha and Wretsky, especially as the once strained relationship with Chamberlin has obviously been repaired. Granted, this had nothing to do with the original band performing together again but if something like that were to ever occur, then considerable healing needed to take place.
Over the past 16 years, Corgan has indeed made quite a number of nasty and even brutal comments regarding Iha, their time together and the fall out after the initial breakup. Iha has been disparaged for his supposed lack of talent to even the full quality of his character over and again while Iha, taking the high road as far as the media is concerned, stuck to the same answer of being proud of what was achieved in the past and refusing to offer any further comments whatsoever. That said, his silent departure from the band after the Metro concert was deafening in its finality. It would not be unlikely to wonder if Corgan felt abandoned, hurt and maybe even betrayed by Iha's actions, and while clearly he never experienced any sense of closure, he lashed outwards. And Iha, remaining silent, continued to hold his ground powerfully.
But, now on March 26th, there they were...together again, performing "Soma," "Disarm," "Whir," "Rocket," "Spaceboy," "Today," plus an encore performance of The Rolling Stones' "Angie." Additionally, the band and audience as led by Corgan serenaded Iha with a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday" complete with cake and candles to celebrate Iha's 48th birthday that night. Beaming smiles and embraces were abound and then, afterwards that photo was taken.
The Pumpkins fan community, like myself, has been fully thunderstruck and of course, there are now rallying cries for D'Arcy Wretsky, who has reportedly left the music business entirely, to also return...a notion that I feel to be extremely premature. But, the bulk of what I have seen has been more of a reflective quality, taking this night for what it may have actually been, a night of healing and possibly even a level of forgiveness between these two figures who have had such animosity for so long.
Would I love for James Iha to return to the fold and re-join Corgan in the studio or on stage for future music? Most certainly!!! Yet, I do not wish to get ahead of things and just allow myself to be more than thankful for what has occurred. What is really meaningful to me at this time is the fact that these two men, whom I was certain would NEVER, EVER share a stage together EVER again actually did so and seemingly in good, healthy spirits. And if they even had only performed one song as opposed to eight, that would have been more than enough. I would have easily been satisfied enough knowing that it had happened.
I wish that I could possibly explain precisely what it is about this band and these individuals that fans have held such a precious hold. The fan community has echoed my thoughts of surprise and rejoice ever since the photo and fan footage has been released and I am wondering if what has transpired was just a grace note signaling to us, as well as to both Billy Corgan and James Iha, that life is indeed too short to hang onto resentments and recriminations. That no matter what transpires from this point, for one night, the capability to forgive was beautifully and blissfully apparent and more than that, so very tangible and possible, even when it seems and feels to be completely impossible.
Who knows what led to this reunion. Perhaps Corgan's life as a new Father afforded him a new perspective. Perhaps just the act of aging had something to do with Corgan, Chamberlin and Iha performing together again. In many ways, it doesn't really matter, for we were all witness to it and whatever affection existed on the stage that night, it has reverberated loudly. Even if it never happens again, it did happen just this once.
And how extraordinarily thrilled that I was here to see it.