The big rock hoo-ha this week is the appearance of the Smashing Pumpkins’ poignant 1993 hit “Today” in a Visa credit card commercial narrated by Morgan Freeman:
People are screaming “sell out” louder than Billy Corgan’s ear-splitting guitar solos, which is kind of understandable. I was slightly taken aback when I first saw the above ad, although I think that had more to do with a financial institution shamelessly pimping via nostalgia the very wares that brought this country to its economic knees. I mean, as far as the Smashing Pumpkins go, they never really had all that much street cred to begin with.
Before I go any further, I’d like to stress the fact that I truly enjoy a lot of the material SP has released over the years. A considerable amount of joy would have been absent from my ninth grade life had Siamese Dream not existed. Yet the Smashing Pumpkins were never some underground phenomenon holding dear to their principles who just happened to break mainstream. The Pumpkins signed to a major label subsidiary (Caroline) for their first record and jumped to the major (Virgin) for album number two. Corgan and Company actively sought and achieved rock stardom (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Honestly, what band from the post-grunge era exemplifies big time mainstream radio rock better than the Smashing Pumpkins? In the absence of Nirvana and self-imposed MTV exiles Pearl Jam, SP was omnipresent, dominating every facet and becoming the de facto rock band everyone knew about (even the Muppets). The Pumpkins’ third album was a non-ironic attempt to compete with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. They made a guest appearance on “The Simpsons” back when that show was still the most untouchable entertainment property in the universe. They replaced famously ousted members with people just as or more famous (Melissa Auf Der Mauer FTW!). They had TWO songs on the Batman & Robin soundtrack (a fact I find far more reprehensible than having a song in a Visa commercial). Really, when were the Smashing Pumpkins NOT selling out?
I guess since Billy Corgan lays out so much of his bare, naked soul in his songs, people feel like he’s some serious, moralistic musician who doesn’t do shit like shill for credit card companies or appear on “The Bozo The Clown Show.” Well, Billy’s done both of those things, but he’s also made a bunch of killer music. This is all very reminiscent of the hoopla over Iggy Pop letting Nike use a Stooges song umpteen years ago. Does no one remember the years Iggy spent fucking around with David Bowie, trying desperately to become America’s Next Chart-Topping, Money-Making Rock Sensation? People act like Iggy went to the mountains for the entirety of the 1980s and didn’t come down until a sneaker company teased him with a few bags of wampum. It’s fucked. Besides, the Stooges were first signed to Elektra Records, the same label that had THE DOORS. SRSLY. WTF, people.
Billy, I got your back, if only for “Geek U.S.A.” That shit was my JAM. I don’t normally give lifetime passes, but that song, it, like, put me in a safe emotional cocoon where other kids couldn’t judge me or tease me for casually masturbating in public. I want to luxuriate in its blistering, fuzzy psychedelic deliciousness forever. Also, I’m pretty sure you had sex with Courtney Love, which gives you the kind of cred usually associated with people like GG Allin.