Smashing Pumpkins: Life After Death

Smashing Pumpkins mastermind Billy Corgan says he's been "humbled by God."

"To destroy is always the first step in any creation," wrote the late American poet e.e. cummings. For Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, destruction and creation are a way of life.

"A good artist is willing to die many times over," Corgan says during a recent phone interview. "What's funny is, I've died so many times."

Each "death," however, has ignited a resulting rebirth. From 1988 to 2000, Corgan headed one of alternative rock's reigning bands — one that endured years-long obstacles like emotional dysfunction, personal conflict, drug addiction, and even death.

Smashing Pumpkins 2013 (L-R): Nicole Fiorentino, Billy Corgan, Matt Byrne and Jeff Schroeder.
Paul Elledge
Smashing Pumpkins 2013 (L-R): Nicole Fiorentino, Billy Corgan, Matt Byrne and Jeff Schroeder.

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Bayou Music Center

520 Texas Ave.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Music Venues

Region: Downtown/ Midtown

Details

Smashing Pumpkins with Girl In a Coma and Ringo Deathstarr

Wednesday, May 15, at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas, bayoumusiccenter.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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But even those obstacles couldn't keep Corgan from pursuing the band he still adores, as we've witnessed in the six years since he regrouped Smashing Pumpkins with a wholly new lineup. Only Corgan himself can best describe his personal ups and downs through it all, the births and rebirths, the destruction and resulting creation.

"I've had the rise and the fall, and these years since then have been a clusterfuck," he admits.

Corgan is now the Pumpkins' only remaining original member, though it seems these days he is growing used to that isolation.

The lead Pumpkin was home alone on a Saturday afternoon, speaking from his home in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Highland Park. He was wordy and well-spoken; most notably, however, he was open. No topic was off-limits, Corgan informed us. The conversation's only pauses were brief moments when he tossed toys to his cats.

"Sometimes, I'll interview with a journalist who's obviously just not a fan, and they just look at me, like, 'Wow, you're still fucking here!'" Corgan says. "No one's quite sure what we are anymore, or why we're still here — but we are — and we're still headlining festivals and kicking ass."

Nowadays, the "we" Corgan refers to is his new Pumpkins: guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino, and drummer Mike Byrne. Last year, the group released Oceania, the first Pumpkins album since 2007's Zeitgeist.

Oceania is, according to Corgan, an album of "isolation and love," two themes that seem to rule his life. And while it's been much better received than the critically battered Zeitgeist, it still lacks the luster of those "Siamese Dream-sounding songs" Corgan claims he isn't interested in rewriting.

"Those songs came from an organic feeling, from the drugs I was doing in that moment, whatever," he says. "But once that's done, its gone.

"It's like trying to recreate a fuck," he crudely compares. "It's still pretty good, but it's not going to be as good."

Corgan likens himself to befuddling '70s comic Andy Kaufman in this situation.

"I remember being a kid in the '70s, and watching Kaufman do that conga routine on Saturday Night Live," he says. "But I'd be bummed out because I wanted him to do Mighty Mouse! So I know that feeling. Like, everyone asks me, 'Can't you go back to being the screaming, angry guy?'"

But Corgan is simply not interested. Siamese Dream was released two decades ago; it seems impractical to expect a songwriter like him to remain stagnant in his craft. Those hypercritical comparisons persist, but Corgan hasn't let the criticism affect his self-perception over time.

"When you're riding the wave of a cultural zeitgeist and you're on MTV every five seconds," he says, referring to those '90s-era power-Pumpkins, "It's a lot easier to get your dick hard about stuff. People try to put me in this box of, 'You were powerful [in the '90s], but now you're not.' As far as I'm concerned, I've been powerful all along."

And although Corgan is often lauded as one of rock's savviest businessmen, his personal definition of power has nothing to do with money, record sales or public perception.

"Any spiritual life practice — Guru, Jesus, Buddha, whoever — tells you that true power has nothing to do with material power," he says. "It has everything to do with passion and consistency. Those are the hallmarks I've set my eyes on in my life."

"Consistency" might not come to mind when looking at the big picture. The Pumpkins' checkered history includes their indie/underground origins, multiplatinum mid-'90s heyday, messy breakup, and hit-and-miss reunion with the subsequent lineup shuffle. At the center remains the man who withstood it all, Corgan himself.

It's clear that Corgan's "consistency" is his passion, through the ups and downs and irreparable relationships he's stomached. The front man has endured the turbulence for one sole purpose: to continue living his life with passion, in the best way he knows, through music.

"To re-embrace what I once loved about my work has been a warming process for me," he says of Oceania. "Because it's a good, earned feeling now. The difference with Oceania is, I've found harmony again — and when [band members] actually like each other, it translates to the music."

The praise for his current bandmates is quite the contrast to the rollercoaster of bitter emotion Corgan exudes when the conversation shifts to his former bandmates.

"My relations with the old band are so piss-poor," he says, definitively. "But the issues of a band are so complex; they're politically, socially and financially involved. Like, what am I supposed to say when Jimmy [former drummer Chamberlin] leaves the band and immediately writes a blog saying he won't play for money again? You're talking about the drummer who ODed three times, you know?"

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7 comments
DavyCrockett
DavyCrockett

Say what you will about the band or Corgan, but I've always liked them. Oceania obviously isn't as good as their earlier stuff, but there are some strong, strong tunes on there. Hell, the first song will make you think he found "it" again. But,  HP's sister paper, the Dallas Observer, panned the show last night in Dallas - I thought it was good a good show.

idylwino
idylwino

Hopefully they bring it for the Houston date.  

Anse
Anse

"Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins

Nature kids, aw they ain't got no function

I don't understand what they mean

Like I really give a fuck..."

--Pavement, "Range Life"

idylwino
idylwino

@Anse 

That Pavement song always gets mentioned whenever Corgan has an interview.  Admittedly, the dude is probably egotistical as hell and believes he's going to save rock and roll with the an intimidating amount of pedals.  However, you can read it as a diss on the Pumpkins or a diss on the huge throng that showed up at Lollapalooza for those dates.   Still, Corgan had them kicked off anyway so Malkmus wins?

Anse
Anse

@idylwino @Anse I saw the Smashing Pumpkins play in Austin in the 90's. Corgan stopped the show and walked off the stage not once, but TWICE, because he felt we were not enthusiastic enough. Then, near the end of the show, he invites a bunch of women on stage with him and proceeds to insult them and even tells the crowd he had one of them in his hotel room last night. He's a dick. He's also a mediocre songwriter. Why did I go to the show? Because a chick I had the hots for liked them, and what won't a man do for love? Stephen Malkmus is a hundred times the songwriter that doofus could ever hope to be. But yeah, he's laughing all the way to the bank, I know. Big whoop.

idylwino
idylwino

@Anse @idylwino 

He has definitely had his share of dramaqueen moments in the spot light.  If I remember correctly, they played Rockefeller's West here in support of Siamese Dream and he got hit with a shoe during "Mayonnaise" and they ended the show.    Lame as hell, but I will still cop to being more of a Pumpkins fan and less of a Pavement fan then and probably now.  :(

itstdl
itstdl

"But being healthy, humbled by God, musically engaged, and surrounded by good people," Corgan offers, "those are the moments I'm okay with, because maybe this was the way it was meant to be all along."    

well said.     

 

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