“As the world goes ‘round, it’s got me thinking that the things I want just keep me sinking down..”
“And all I wanted was just to hold you close, a little sunshine just to butter my toast…”
“If only I died just once in my life…”
“Jesus, I’ve taken my cross…”
“Remove my spirit from darkness! Love become my hammer!”
“Never lose that feeling….never lose that feeling….never lose that feeling….”
Great lyrics stick out in your mind over the years. They come back like friendly ghosts and remind you of the feelings they evoked. With them may come the memory of a time or a place, or they may stir a creative vision of something here and now, or something that could be.
Those are the kinds of lyrics and music that William Patrick Corgan wrote for Zwan, that brief, bright explosion of a band that lit up the waning rock and roll world from 2001-2003.
And according to the Smashing Pumpkins Fan Collaborative (a database for all things Pumpkins-related), Zwan’s one and only Mary Star of the Sea was released 16 years ago today.
The album is practically a lost gem. Unless you were a loyal fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, or else a devout music enthusiast, Zwan probably didn’t show up on your radar. The fact is that most people have heard of the Smashing Pumpkins, but most people can’t recall Zwan. But it’s not for lack of great music. It’s just that it was a short-lived band that imploded due to personal issues between band members (apparently “sex, drugs and rock and roll” stuff), with Pumpkins Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin basically disavowing the other three members, David Pajo, Matt Sweeney and Paz Lenchantin, and pretty much vice versa. That, and the Pumpkins (and good rock music in general) had long been waning in popularity in favor of a new rise in pop music – i.e., music more as entertainment and less as art.
Billy Corgan officially announced the break-up of the band on September 15th, 2003, the same year the album was released. But even though the band was short-lived, it produced a wealth of songs, most of which didn’t even appear on the album and to this day are loved by those who know. Songs like “Chrysanthemum,” “Spilled Milk,” “God’s Gonna Set This World On Fire,” and many more. When Mary Star of the Sea was released, there was a deluxe edition that came with a DVD which included bits and pieces of live footage, skits with the band, and a few complete live songs – one of which was the very short but extremely lovely, sad and beautiful “On The Meaning Of Loss,” – one of my personal favorites. “Freedom Ain’t What It Used To Be” is another, almost pre-Zeitgeist foreshadowing.
As a side note, and for those who may become confused, the band came in variety of unofficial incarnations. “The True Poets of Zwan” being their more bombastic, electric guitar-driven folk rock, while the “Djali Zwan” was more of the acoustic, soft side of the band. I remember fans excitedly discussing on message boards back in the day just how many Zwans there could be. Alas, we’ll never know. Though with songs like “Spilled Milk,” many hoped for a prospective “Dark Zwan.” Which would have rocked, I’m sure.
As memory serves me, Corgan finally gained the rights back to Zwan in 2014. With all the bad blood and bittersweet memories, he had been quoted saying he couldn’t stomach dealing with going through all the material at the time being and was just waiting for some future point when he could. But it seems that time has finally arrived, with Corgan announcing via Instagram that the Zwan re-issue is indeed going forward. This will be a tremendous opportunity to finally bring so much of that golden material together and deliver it to the fans and the rest of the unknowing world. At long last, this material will have the chance to see the light of day in the way it deserves.
So today, kick back and take a listen to the album, or any other Zwan song that strikes you, and if you were there, remember the excitement of the time and the brief, spectacular fireworks display of incredible music it was. And if you weren’t, marvel on what you missed. Because in terms of quality of music and quantity of output alone, Zwan has got to be one of the most short-lived but amazing bands in the history of rock, and that’s quite a distinction.