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The Smashing Pumpkins song in which Billy Corgan demanded blood

@TylerGolsen

Despite the turmoil that surrounded them during their heyday, The Smashing Pumpkins stuck together as a creative unit for far longer than just about anyone thought they would. For roughly a decade, the core of Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin created three of the most celebrated alternative rock albums of the 1990s, all while dealing with backstabbing, romantic drama, mental health issues, and drug addictions. The fact that this group did anything together is a miracle unto itself.

There has been no sugarcoating Corgan’s role as the band’s not-so benevolent dictator. Through much of Gish and Siamese Dream, Corgan supplanted the guitar and bass parts put down by Iha and Wretzky in favour of his own playing, the results of which heightened the already palpable tensions within the group. Iha and Wretzky were dealing with the fallout from their previous romantic relationship, and both had an adversarial relationship with Corgan, who was controlling and demanding throughout the album’s production.

One element that Corgan couldn’t create on his own, however, was the drums. Luckily, he had Chamberlin, a ferocious rhythm fiend with the nuance of a jazz drummer and the power of John Bonham. Unfortunately, Chamberlin was dealing with a major drug addiction that would find him disappearing for days without the band’s knowledge of his whereabouts.  “From day one Jimmy Chamberlain was in trouble with drug dealers and crazy people who he met in clubs and on the street who he would invite into the studios,” producer Butch Vig told Prosound in 2017.

The Smashing Pumpkins song Billy Corgan wrote while dealing with depression

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This led to stays in and out of rehab from Chamberlin, and when he returned to the sessions, Corgan was intent on teaching Chamberlin a lesson, according to a 2002 profile by Greg Kot in Guitar World. Corgan had Chamberlin play ‘Cherub Rock’, but only the opening snare drum roll. After what seemed like endless takes, Corgan finally instructed Chamberlin to play the entire song, once again doing numerous takes. Only after a blister on Chamberlin’s hand popped and the drummer started bleeding did Corgan feel that he had made his point.

“You know, I gave them a year and a half to prepare for this record… I’m surrounded by these people who I care about very much, yet they continue to keep failing me,” Corgan told SPIN in 1993. “If you really think about it, of course, someone doesn’t do the job because they’re lazy, or they don’t think it’s important. But I took it as, ‘You’re not worth going home and working on the song.'”

Siamese Dream truly was an album that The Smashing Pumpkins put their blood, sweat, and tears into. The key was that it worked: Siamese Dream took the band from the underground clubs of Chicago into the mainstream alternative feeding frenzy, rubbing elbows with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The stories of Corgan’s autocratic rule over the band gave him a negative reputation among journalists, but it was hard to argue with the results.

Corgan’s tyrannical reign over the album’s production, remarkably, did not break the band, as all the members stuck around for the next Smashing Pumpkins record Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. During that album, Corgan claimed to turn the bloodletting technique on himself for the recording of ‘Fuck You (An Ode to No One)’, where he played his solo until his fingers were ripped open. Evidently, Corgan believed it to be an effective recording technique. The core of the Pumpkins would implode by 2000, but Corgan and Chamberlin would continue to play together in Zwan and a reformed Smashing Pumpkins. Today both Chamberlin and Iha are back in the group, with recording sessions for their new albums presumably containing less bodily fluids.

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