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The Sorry State of Reunions

Reunion tours, dinosaur acts, cash factories…call them what you want, but these days, gettin’ the band back together (for fun and profit!) has become a disturbing trend, especially so when vital original members are missing.

Though it’s up to bands (and their lawyers) to determine who owns the name, certain groups really have no business reuniting under their old moniker. After all, if you can’t rally all the founding members to join in, you probably shouldn’t be reaping the vast rewards of the nostalgia industrial complex. Here are some recent offenders:

Smashing Pumpkins: Last week, Billy Corgan confirmed once and for all that James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky will never rejoin the Smashing Pumpkins, who “reunited” last year and just kicked off a national tour. “I can now say definitively that [James and D’Arcy] aren’t ever coming back. Period. There is no maybe. [The door] is now closed. For good,” wrote Corgan. “The Smashing Pumpkins are now whoever is standing on that stage, on any given day, with a willingness to play those songs.” Keep in mind that drummer Jimmy Chamberlin is the new Pumpkins’ only original member, apart from Corgan. The same Jimmy who was the last to join the original lineup, who was kicked out following touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin’s death from overdose, and who played in Zwan. So what makes this particular group the Smashing Pumpkins instead of just another Corgan project? I guess the fact that now they can play “Tonight, Tonight” live without looking like assholes.

Guns N’ Roses:As a decade’s worth of Chinese Democracy jokes finally get laid to rest this month, Guns N’ Roses are likely preparing to tour…with only one original member. Then again, Axl has been the only founding member of Guns N’ Roses since 1991, when Izzy Stradlin left the band. Axl and Izzy’s group, Hollywood Rose, merged with three members of L.A. Guns in 1985 to form the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses, but all Guns members were replaced before the group released their first album. So if anyone has claim to the name, it’s Axl. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything respectable about running around playing the GN’R back catalog like nobody else had any hand in the songwriting. Velvet Revolver have made a new name for themselves, surely Axl can drop the bullshit and do the same.

The Jackson Five:After Jermaine Jackson ran his mouth off to the press last week about a Jackson Five reunion — one that would include Michael — his eyes-without-a-face kid brother immediately denied involvement. Was it a case of speak-too-soon or a public pity tactic gone wrong? Who knows? Though it remains to be seen whether the Jackson Four-plus-special-guest will be appearing at a nightclub near you anytime soon, I wouldn’t have the heart to fault them if they did. With MJ pissing away his fortune on Ferris wheels, butterfly masks, and lawyers, the brothers Jackson have to get theirs while they can, y’know?

Led Zeppelin: Oh, Led Zeppelin, how you break our hearts. Hope as I might that the entire ballyhoo (see Steve Kandell’s blog for details) is an outrageous bluff designed to shame Robert Plant into acquiescence, I doubt that even the connivingest of Roman senators would try something this crazy. Can Page, Jones, and son-of-Bonham really, really call themselves Led Zeppelin? All I know is that, when whoever-it-is starts keening his way through “Immigrant Song,” the band are indeed going to look like a bunch of assholes.

In closing, I’d like to offer an example of a reunion done right. When Jerry Garcia died, the Grateful Dead could obviously no longer be. But that doesn’t mean the remaining members didn’t still want to tour. By dropping the “Grateful,” the Dead stayed recognizable to their fans without demeaning the memory of their former bandmate. Zeppelin reunion, anyone?