full of longing
disclaimer: not a particularly enlightening interview
But, it has to be said, the Smashing Pumpkins hardly played the same venue twice or more in The Netherlands, except for the Pinkpop Festival on several dates, and the Melkweg venue in Amsterdam (20-01-1992 and 12-12-1995). In this interview with you, John van Luyn, Music Programmer for the Melkweg, we try to unveil some of the hidden treasures in the history of this theatre, and of course we will focus in detail on the Smashing Pumpkins playing there. John, would you like to tell us a bit more about the Melkweg theatre that adds to the introductional part I above? History of the building, which famous bands are you able to hire for a gig, what spicy anecdotes do you have for us about this theatre in Amsterdam?
John: The Melkweg or Milky Way used to be a milk factory, the factory never produced milk and no cow was ever seen, but the milk was delivered in huge trucks and the workers at the factory bottled it. After that inspiring period the director of the factory decided to leave this planet and a few hippies squatted the building, the Grateful Dead came to memorize the moment and a music-club started. Thousands of bands came to play, amongst them U2, the Police, Pigmeat, Nirvana, Destiny’s Child, Pearl Jam, Green Day and the Smashing Pumpkins. The spicy anecdotes are numerous, I can write a book about it and probably will be millionaire and loose that money in court if I really write it.
Arthur: I think I would give it a try anyway… (winks at John) John, you work as a Music Programmer for Melkweg. How and when did your career start at Melkweg? And with what activities is an average working day of a Music Programmer filled with?
John: I started to work at the Melkweg in 1988. So I work there far too long, according to some people. What I do on an average day is not really that exciting unless you Pumpkins-fans are terribly interested in mature porn.
Arthur: Hehehe… But now, we are getting pretty curious anyway how Melkweg was able to hire the Smashing Pumpkins. The gig they played in 1992 suited their second visit of Europe (they toured in Europe in January and February of that same year) but they were not a really well-known band yet, at that time. How was contact being made in 1992? Were you maybe involved in hiring them in 1992 too?
John: In 1991 I attended the New Music Seminar in New York and met Billy Corgan, I spoke with him for about an hour or so and because I was so intrigued by the first Pumpkins-album and I believed everything he said. Back in Holland I convinced the Metropolis-festival to book them and also got them in the Melkweg.
Arthur: A world famous second gig at Melkweg was played by the Smashing Pumpkins in December 1995. On the 12th to be exact. World famous, because it was a secret gig, it came out of the blue for everyone, but it was broadcast on VPRO Radio however. Also, the concert resulted in CD bootlegs like “Mellon Collie At The Max”. The most astonishing thing around this concert however, was the fact that the Smashing Pumpkins only did a handful of concerts in early 1995 in the US, then only a few gigs in Europe (2 in Ireland, and 2 festivals in UK and Belgium) in August, and meanwhile they were writing, practicing and recording like crazy in 1995, to finally release their most successful album to date in October of that year: Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Then, after a bit more than a month of preparation, they started the Mellon Collie world tour, that lasted more than 1 year, in… Melkweg Amsterdam! Of all places! Now, how was Melkweg able to book the Smashing Pumpkins for this special event? John, could you please tell us in detail how that went along?
John: I never really knew why they decided to play the Melkweg again in 1995 but I like to believe it’s due to the fact I could get along with Big Bill really well, we liked each other. Big Bill was their tour manager and more and is currently working for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I still wish Bill all the best.
Arthur: So the December 1995 gig was planned and all. How was it marketed, how did you tell the world out there that this special, secret gig was about to take place? Was it sold out? Where many VIP people attending the show?
John: We did no publicity at all and quite frankly I have no idea how the tickets were sold, what I do remember is 10 fans who stand on the bridge hoping to hear something of the gig, when the Pumpkins started I saw it was not too crowded and let these 10 people in for free, these people were so happy at that time, I will never forget their faces.
Arthur: John, do you maybe remember the difference in fee that you guys had to pay the Smashing Pumpkins in 1992 and in 1995? Must have been slightly different, right? Or, if you cannot share this info right now and here (which is understandable), do you maybe remember the difference in the ticket price you guys charged the visitors to both gigs of the Smashing Pumpkins?
John: This is a boring question. Let me teach you one thing: look at the ticket price, take out 10% for VAT and PR’s and estimate how many people are in the venue, a few thousand Dollars, Yens, Euros stay in the club and the rest of the money goes to the band.
Arthur: Ah, right. Not that we know much more now… But it’s a delicate subject anyway. Do you also remember the difference in attitude of the band between 1992 and 1995? I mean, in just a few years they had grown from a not-so-big-band-yet (at least not in Europe, let’s be honest), to the hottest rock act of the Nineties. Did that change the band members, where they less easy to approach, or did they have more expensive dressing room wishes, for example?
John: This is a weird question, I will tell something later on. I don’t agree the Pumpkins were the hottest band in the nineties, sorry to say this, but Nirvana overruled them and so did Sublime and Jane’s Addiction, it’s a matter of taste, I know, but still. If the success did something with the band members is an ironic question, one overdosed if I’m correct. And if you really want to know, Billy wanted soup in the dressing room and when I met him he was eating his soup and said hello.
Arthur: What do you remember of the equipment that the band was carrying around in 1992? And what had changed in 1995?
John: I like music but I’m not a technician, I take it they got more expensive stuff on the road the second time but honestly don’t know.
Arthur: John, did you attend 1 or both of the 1992 and 1995 shows? How would you describe the atmosphere? How would you describe the show? The audience?
John: Both shows were really good and the audience existed of boys and girls, men and women, no dogs allowed (I’m pretty sure about that last detail).
Arthur: Finally, are there any anecdotes, special stories, maybe even gossips, that you remember from 1992, 1995, or later, related to the Smashing Pumpkins? Remember, your words will be put on the internet, for hundreds or even thousands of Smashing Pumpkins fans to be read…
John: So you wanna hear a story, a true anecdote, here you go, this is your favorite band, eat it: Two years ago the Pumpkins were booked for a festival in Greece. Unfortunately Greece was on fire that summer and so was the festival-site, it was a true disaster, worldwide news. It’s common bands receive half of their money in advance as a deposit and the other half after the gig. Other bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Manic Street Preachers immediately returned their deposits and wished the people in Greece all the best. Not the Pumpkins, they wrote: The band is willing and able to play and expect their full fee.
Thanks John, for this interview. It was great talking to you, and thanks for your honesty and detailed information. You know, we, the fans of this band, almost never get to hear the point of view from a Music Programmer. We are damn glad that you took the time to fill us in and hook us up. Rock on, John!