An Honest Look at Billy Corgan, Rock and Roll’s Weird-But-Still-Kinda-Cool Uncle
Throughout 2014, Smashing Pumpkins frontman and founder Billy Corgan dealt with some unflattering press and gained a reputation for being a bit unwieldy and egotistical, if not downright strange. Bloggers often find ways to insert snarky tone into reports of Pumpkins and Corgan happenings -- I myself have been guilty of this very thing.
After reading so many, "Hey, look at this weirdo!" articles about the man who wrote 'Siamese Dream,' one of rock and roll's greatest albums, one might begin to wonder about the reasoning behind this trend. It has just become an unspoken assumption when reading anything Corgan-related that whatever he's doing, whether it's some strange project or some non-music-related promotion, it's probably wacky. Now, it's easier to treat Corgan as a rock and roll sideshow than it is to express any empathy when writing about him.
If you type "Billy Corgan weird" into your favorite search engine, you'll be presented with maybe a dozen pages of stories with headlines that range from laughingly dismissive to downright mean. So let's start our examination by looking at the "cooky" stuff he's done in recent history.
First off, let's talk about the singer's earnest dive into professional wrestling. Everyone seemed to have a good laugh at Corgan when he started Resistance Pro Wrestling back in 2011. We have to assume the joke was that Corgan seems an unlikely candidate for enjoying pro wrestling, much less starting his own company. Or maybe the joke is that pro wrestling is considered uncool by the music blogging community at large.
So is it really that funny that Corgan likes pro wrestling? Does it add an element of trashiness to his personality? Or does it clash with the notion of him we've pieced together over the years? Corgan was criticized for spending more time focused on wrestling than on music. I don't really blame him, though. Everything he released musically got categorically rejected by the masses, while jumping up and down in a wrestling ring actually looks like fun.
(And as far as wrestling being uncool, tell that to long-time wrestling fan and one-time World Championship Wrestling writer/coordinator Bob Mould, godfather of hardcore punk.)
As for the reality show featuring Corgan behind the scenes of Resistance Pro Wrestling, I for one am bummed that it fell through. Everyone seemed to turn their noses up at the notion, but I bet every person who laughed at it would end up watching it eventually. How could you not?
If you doubt me, just watch this commercial:
I want more of that.
Corgan also seems to catch a lot of flack for opening Madame Zuzu's, a tea shop near Chicago. Why though? One might assume that Corgan, who is a man of considerable means, really likes tea -- so he opened his own tea shop. (Many days I lose myself in the fantasy of hitting it big in the music blogosphere and using my wealth to open my own Mexican restaurant just so I can go into my own place and consume as much carnitas and top-shelf tequila as I want.)
The tea shop led to everyone having a good laugh when Corgan decided to perform an eight-hour-long ambient noise interpretation of 'Siddhartha.' I say, "So, what?" Personally, I'd probably rather be slapped in the face by Rick Flair's younger, more enthusiastic brother than listen to that, but it's not my tea shop, and I don't work there, so luckily I didn't have to go.
Maybe we should move on from Corgan's extracurricular activities and look at his musical output. Corgan wrote and recorded music during the 1990s that played a huge role in defining the music, disposition and tone of that era. After three great rock albums, Corgan dared attempting something different with the release of 'Adore,' and some fans were down with the new sound while others jumped ship. With every album since then, the masses have responded with a never-ending cry of, "But Siamese Dream!"
OK, so in all honesty, a lot of what he's released since 'Adore' has been lackluster, and then there is the experimental solo work he's released. Albums like 'Machina/The Machines of God' and 'Zeitgeist' don't gel as records that will stand the test of time. But whether you like his more recent output or not, Corgan has consciously tried to evolve as an artist. In an interview on the Howard Stern Show, Corgan said, "Obviously, I’ve put my whole life on the line for making different types of music as I’ve gone along. We’ve talked last time I was here about playing old songs, evolving ... it’s just my mentality."
Dave is a great musician, a great songwriter and has done the work, but to me, my criticism of the Foo Fighters, if I’m being a music critic, is that they just haven’t evolved and that’s sort of the recent rap on them is, you know, making the same music. Obviously, I’ve put my whole life on the line for making different types music as I’ve gone along. We’ve talked last time I was here about playing old songs, evolving and it’s just my mentality. I know it’s not for everybody. Listen, [Dave’s] getting it done, so it’s like, if you want to be competitive, my philosophy against his, he’s the one winning.
When that statement appeared on many music blogs, though, it was heavily redacted. The same occurred with his comments about Pearl Jam. Of course, those blogs put sound clips of the sections they refer to in the story more often than not, but not before they've been presented in as negative a light as can be conjured.
Corgan has said some things that bother me personally, such as his climate change denial and his anti-vaccine rant. And while I can't really excuse those things, I will say that Corgan gets unfairly targeted, probably because the Pumpkins aren't dominating the charts like they used to. Nobody's calling out Foo Fighters' drummer Taylor Hawkins' own anti-vaccine stance. Nor do we mention Foo bassist Nate Mendel's HIV/AIDS denial and the charity concert he put together to raise money for an HIV/AIDS denial group back in 2000. (Maybe no one's mentioning it because the Foo Fighters have good PR people who convinced the rhythm section to keep their controversial opinions to themselves.)
Corgan seems to be working without a net.
Corgan seems to be working without a net. His willingness to put himself out there in this increasingly harsh, judgmental world speaks more to his tenacity than it does to his weirdness.
Maybe he makes some decisions that seem questionable from the detached perspective of a computer monitor, but then again, maybe doing all of this stuff is a lot of fun -- and that might be all Corgan is worried about today.