The award for 1996's Coolest Music Fest goes to...The Simpsons. Fox's craftiest comedy closes out its seventh season on May 19 in a blaze of twentysomething glory, featuring animated appearances by the Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth, and, yes, Peter Frampton.
Although cameos by music acts are nothing new Aerosmith, the Ramones, and Tom Jones have all visited Springfield ''we'd never done a show about rock & roll,'' says executive producer Josh Weinstein, who promises an episode that ''socks it to Generation X'' with a Lolla-like concert starring Homer as an accidental alterna-tour sideshow freak.
Finding bands to play along, however, proved only slightly less circus-like. Offering a $1,000-a-day salary, the Simpsons approached Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Pearl Jam, all of whom respectfully declined. And though Sonic Youth agreed, they balked after learning that Courtney Love's Hole might participate (Youth and Love had locked horns at 1995's Lollapalooza). ''If she was going to be involved, we weren't,'' notes Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Weinstein wound up dropping Hole from consideration, since the band was having trouble committing to the project.
Things improved in the studio. ''As a nerdy white guy,'' notes Weinstein, ''I was intimidated by Cypress Hill's music, but they were really nice.'' And the Pumpkins proved to be ''huge Simpsons nerds. [Lead singer] Billy Corgan did a fantastic Homer and a really good Marge. If we should ever lose [voices] Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner, Homer and Marge will be provided by Billy.'' In the end, though, it was Sonic Youth who got the plum part. Gushes Ranaldo, ''The fact that we got to play the theme song that was really cool.''