It's one of the great philosophical questions of the ages: Is a band really a band when nearly all of its original members have left?
This year has brought three "reunions" that are dubious at best. First, Courtney Love — finally freed from parenting responsibilities and apparently in need of more collagen injection money — has announced that Hole is coming back. That is, if you consider Courtney Love to be Hole. Actually, that is if you care at all.
Love's group has gone through personnel changes from the beginning. The band's original rhythm section was replaced after Hole's 1991 debut, "Pretty on the Inside." Replacement bassist Kristen Pfaff joined the Dead at 27 Club from a '94 heroin overdose.
Now eight years after disbanding, Love wants to reclaim her former grunge glory with a new group of players who more than likely couldn't find Seattle on a map. The only thing standing in her way is band co-founder Eric Erlandson. He says Love can't use the name without his permission. Stay tuned and wait for the debut of Courtney Love's Orifice.
Meanwhile, Love's former boy toy Billy Corgan issued a new single this week called "Widow Wake My Mind" under his Smashing Pumpkins brand. It's part of a 44-song project called "Teagarden by Kaleidyscope," which Corgan plans to record one song at a time and release for free. I guess you can't complain if it's free.
The Pumpkins' original lineup disbanded in 2000. After a disastrous experiment launching a new group, Zwan, Corgan got smart and put the Smashing Pumpkins back together again. In name only. The band's 2006 reunion was without guitarist James Iha or bassist Melissa Auf deer Maur (who was previously part of the revolving door Hole lineup). Now the Pumpkins are Corgan and some drummer kid who presumably does whatever Corgan says. It's a long way from the Pumpkins' glorious late-'90s alt-rock heights.
And lastly, there's Axl Rose, our prodigal, aging metal crackpot Axl Rose — the Howard Hughes of rock. Rose's "Chinese Democracy" tour began in 2001 with his Guns N' Roses Revue, seven years before the release of the "Chinese Democracy" album. Since then, the tour has had more lineup changes than show dates. Another great band reduced to an overblown mediocre brand.
And that's the point. Bands are more than just brands. In fact, treating them as brands betrays the fans who hold their music as something sacred. Kraft is a brand. No one cares who makes the can of Cheez-Whiz. It tastes like crap whether it's made on the night shift or the day shift. But a band is a family, and their relationship with one another and with their fans means more than the logo on a t-shirt.
Names matter. Ask Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, and Axl Rose. They know the reason they have any chance of selling out a stadium is by relying on their long-defunct, creatively bankrupt namesakes. Music matters too. Call it anything you want. If it's good, people will remember. Otherwise, you're just selling Cheez-Whiz.