I’ve long had a somewhat…. allergic reaction to Smashing Pumpkins. I think it all comes down to Billy Corgan, every little thing he does tends to drive me up the wall. I will grant his talent, but just don’t make me listen to his stuff too much.
Anyway, in 1994 the band released a videocassette item called Vieuphoria (ouch…. even the title makes me cringe), and it generally received positive notices. For instance, in the October 29, 1994, issue of Billboard, it was singled out as “a treat” that would serve as “a fine complement to the Pumpkins’ new B-side collection, Pisces Iscariot.”
This was a good moment for Smashing Pumpkins, by any definition. Siamese Dream came out in 1993 and was a massive success, and the ambitious double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would be released a year later. Pavement may have been snarking about the Pumpkins in “Range Life,” but the Pumpkins were clearly winning the game Pavement was ostensibly playing.
Vieuphoria combined copious concert footage with odd bits of levity. Among the musical treats Pumpkins fans could find are an acoustic version of “Cherub Rock” taped for MTV Europe and a blistering version of “I Am One” recorded in Barcelona.
The comedic bits, however, certainly seemed to be an oblique expression of scarcely concealed resentments. As an example, take the early bit involving D’arcy Wretzky mimicking the behavior of a small child. D’arcy is shown wearing a Viking helmet and strumming a toy guitar as the words “Being in a band can make you crazy!” and then “Being together all the time can be trying” appear on the screen—these are essentially intertitles, the governing metaphor, much as with the video for “Tonight, Tonight,” being silent movies. Eventually she shows us her “happy” face and her “sad” face before taking a toy chainsaw to a stuffed doll and chiding the other toy dolls “James” and “Jimmy” and “Billy” to behave better at her tea party. Funny? Right?
Look: There’s little doubt that bits such as these were consciously intended as a defiant, tongue-in-cheek response to allegations that the band was going through problems or whatever. In other words it was meant as a gesture of unity. But it’s just all too easy to read between the lines.
Most baffling, in this context, is an awkward, unfunny, and revealing bit lasting several minutes in which the band members engage in one-on-one sessions with a therapist and—here’s the joke—talk shit about the other folks in the band. The pleasant English lady serving as psychologist starts each segment with, “I hear you’ve been having some problems with your band, and I wonder would you like to tell me about them?” and we’re off to the races.
James Iha complains, quite ridiculously, about the footwear the other members wear; D’arcy says that Jimmy Chamberlin is being paranoid and that James is too into the occult and esoterica. Jimmy is made to engage in symbolic discourse with the other band members using a toy duck and a photo of a cat, and Billy narrates a convoluted metaphor about being owed money by his friends…. which he designates “the story of the band.”
As awkward as the whole thing is, you can just barely glean the purported humor behind it all. In reality the thing just had to be written better? The fact that Billy himself was going through therapy at the time—he discusses it in the April 1994 issue of SPIN—suggests that perhaps he and the gang might not have had the requisite distance from the subject to make the material land.
Here’s “CD1” from Vieuphoria:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins wants to sell you furniture