Monday, April 25, 2005

BILLY CORGAN, THE SMARTEST KID IN THE CLASS

We wonder how Billy Corgan copes, waking up every morning knowing that he's only here on Earth to provide a spare in case Bono is suddenly incapacitated. Reading his self-regarding interview in the Chicago Tribune almost gives you wish you could be spending your time listening to Bono: at least Bono has given us Sunday, Bloody Sunday. Corgan has offered us - well, opinion varies, but let's be honest: Smashing Pumpkins were no Drop Nineteens, were they? Not that Corgan would agree.

"What would my musical legacy be if I kept my mouth shut?"

Well, it'd be exactly the same if you keep banging on; the only difference with you talking about it is it saves a lot of people the effort of having to listen to Melon Headed and The Ongoing Sadsacks to start hating you and wanting to draw pee-pee and wee-wees on your poetry books.

"I'm a religious person, and when God decides to push me off a cliff, I don't want to think as I'm going over that I didn't try hard."

It's a pleasing image, isn't it? God and Corgan recreating the Janine and Barry moment from EastEnders. (Apparently, at the same time, God was giving an interview to the effect that when he pushes Billy Corgan off a cliff, he doesn't want to think as he's walking away that he didn't shove that hard).

"I'm just a realist," he says. "A kid e-mailed me last night because he appreciated the blog I was writing. He told me a story how he was at somebody's house when he was growing up, and a guy was showing off a shotgun and pointing it at another kid's head. The kid tried to brush it away, but the gun went off and the kid's head got blown off in front of his friends. That ended their childhood."

But the story doesn't end there. The e-mailer tells Corgan he isn't a Pumpkins fan, but that his late friend loved the Pumpkins' song "1979."

"A few years later, he heard `1979' and it reconnected him to that friend, it healed something in him,"


Now, we don't doubt the story - that's what music does; that's what music is for. What we find slightly distasteful is Corgan retelling the tale in an interview to push his latest projects. Nobody expects a rock star to be self-effacing, but there comes a point where, surely, people would stop and say "What do I hope to show about myself by talking about this?" But then, Corgan isn't just the centre of his universe; he's all it has to offer. For example, he was asked about how he goes about making his new record:

I had a mantra: "I just want it to be exciting." I already know how to make alternative guitar rock. So how do I make something new that's exciting? I looked at different periods of music, examined the transitional points where new things come in. The first reaction is, "What the hell is this?" The next reaction is, "Oh, that's kind of interesting." And the third reaction is, everybody wants to do it. Whether I've done that, I don't know. But I wanted to do something where people didn't instantly say, "Oh, that's great!" Because you're probably backdated already. The audience is not necessarily sophisticated enough to always be on the tipping point. And that's not their fault. That's why they pay you the big bucks. You're supposed to be on the tipping point. But new rock 'n' roll tells you to stay in the warm part of the circle, don't go too far out, make sure the choruses are loud, and the verses are mournful and down, i.e., what you used to do.

Now, we agree with him that there's a lot of rock now that does try and stay with what people know and expect, but even Corgan seems to realise he'd taken his superior attitude a little far with that "the audience is not necessarily sophisticated enough..." - but then makes it worse by suggesting, of course, that he is "on the tipping point."

And on the break-up of the Pumpkins?

I'm not in the Smashing Pumpkins right now, but for me it's an everyday thing, I'm still wrestling with that. Every day I think about, "Where's D'Arcy? Is she OK?" and [exasperated voice] "Frigging James [Iha]." Jimmy [Chamberlin] and I still talk twice a week. The bonds are still there. There is also a lot of [domestic] abuse in my past. Hostile, reactive, self-abusive behavior. People from the outside would look at me, and say, "What's his problem? Why's he such a jerk?" I feel if I tell the whole story, most people will understand why I did what I did. A child protects his parents from what they're doing to the child because he thinks he can fix the parents. It applies to families, bands, relationships. It's taken me 30 years to realize that doesn't work. Telling the truth will open me to criticism that I haven't been open to before. But it will release the black ball that has been sitting in my stomach.

Even when he's trying to admit he's been bad, he can't stop dressing it up. (not, of course, that he's ever just been an asshole... it's always been because of what's happened to him).


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