With coheadliners the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson, the End Times Tour is a traveling history museum of '90s rock. In fact, no two bands could represent the rock world's issues of the 20th Century's final decade quite like they do.
As the '90s began, the main musical debate involved authenticity. Now that enough time has passed that the Smashing Pumpkins' music is categorized as classic rock, it's hard to believe that when they released their second album, 1993's Siamese Dream, it was labeled alternative. With their guitar distortion, booming drums, and dreamy vocals, the Pumpkins sounded less polished than mainstream groups. Yet the band sold millions of albums whose songs were played on rock radio stations alongside Guns N' Roses and Aerosmith. This was an era when financial success was frowned upon as selling out, and the Pumpkins' success drew lyrical disses from so-called true alternative bands like Pavement.
The Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson
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The idea that success was a form of failure was the thesis of Kurt Cobain's suicide note. And if Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan had sent himself to rock 'n' roll Heaven in April 1994, we might be talking about the Smashing Pumpkins in the same hallowed tones we use to discuss Nirvana. The Pumpkins' first two albums were as poetic and powerful as anything to come out in that period. But Corgan seemed to like success, and as the '90s wore on, he chased it more and more. With 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, he showed he wasn't joking when he said Boston and Cheap Trick were his major influences. By the time the band released its last two albums, Adore and Machina/The Machines of God, it was edging toward electronica. Its sound had gone from raw to overproduced, so by the time the group called it quits in 2001, many fans wondered if the Smashing Pumpkins they fell in love with a decade earlier had ever existed at all.
Marilyn Manson never cared about authenticity but rather theatricality. And his unflinching commitment to his shocking onstage antics is what eventually pushed him into his role as America's punching bag. From his start on the mean streets of Fort Lauderdale with the Spooky Kids, who were named best local heavy metal band by this paper in 1992, Manson always went for more — more blood, more guts, more volume, more outrageousness. With its lead singer's face caked in makeup and his ungainly, lanky body convulsing in bondage gear, the four-piece kidnapped the world's attention.
Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids sonically pissed on the Eurythmics with the tuneless cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and gave albums unholy titles like Antichrist Superstar. The group, helmed by its fearless leader, held nothing sacred and took nothing seriously, which of course had humorless parents across the nation fuming. Sen. Joe Lieberman called Manson and his band "the sickest group ever promoted by a mainstream record company,'' and disgusted protesters in South Carolina and Utah spurred concert cancellations. The controversy only fueled Manson's popularity — until the mother of all controversies, the Columbine High School massacre, occurred in 1999. Just as the media have blamed the Confederate flag and violent movies for recent shootings, they scapegoated Marilyn Manson for the deaths of 13 victims shot by two teenage students. Manson's career continued but never regained that high level of popularity.
Now that the '90s are ancient history, the down moments of these bands can be forgotten. Instead, we can celebrate the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson's greatest hits while reminiscing about what a weird time it was when Jurassic Park and Terminator sequels played in movie theaters and when our choice of president was a Clinton or a Bush.