The Dream Of The ’90s Is Alive In The Mind Of Billy Corgan
The Smashing Pumpkins released a new album this week (I think? I assume? He was on Stern the other day — thanks for that link, Jack — so it has to be either this week or next week) and the Internet is aflutter with reviews, interviews and more. And since the Great Pumpkin King hasn’t been taken to task here for some time, what better way to do so than critique these recent interviews and his new music!
We begin, of course, last week. In an interview with Antiquiet Billy was quoted as saying, “I’ll piss on Radiohead, because of all this pomposity — this value system that says Jonny Greenwood is more valuable than Ritchie Blackmore. Not in the world I grew up in, buddy. Not in the world I grew up in.” Naturally, people responded to the statement by lambasting Corgan for his poorly-worded criticism. It’s too bad, too. He had the right idea but he’s such a lunkhead he couldn’t postulate his thoughts correctly. Instead of comparing Jonny Greenwood (lead guitarist in an immensely popular band) to Ritchie Blackmore (guitarist in Deep Purple for seven years — they’re good years — and then Rainbow, who sucked, and a bunch of other shit bands), he should have said that Radiohead are simply given too much credit. If he’d said that Jonny Greenwood’s band hasn’t released a good or relevant album since the year 2000, I’d be apt to agree with him. If he’d said that ‘Kid A’ was an alternative rock band’s poor attempt at a Kraftwerk record, I’d say “He’s right!” Or if he said Jonny Greenwood was one of the better ’90s rock guitarist and now he’s a pretentious tool who’d rather dick around with samplers than a guitar, people would understand the “I’ll piss on Radiohead” remark’s meaning. What Billy can’t grasp is that this is not 1994 anymore, and guitar chops sadly don’t sell records, so a Greenwood/Blackmore comparison (even though clearly he’s making a Greenwood/Corgan comparison) means little. Instead of bitching about it he should adapt to the changing landscape. Otherwise his aging curmudgeon schtick will continue to lose him favor from fans and critics.
Billy’s follow-up comment — his attempt to give context to the “I’ll piss on Radiohead” quote — makes him sound even more bitter and jealous than the initial remark. He said, “Why is a band un-criticizable? I’m an artist who it is apparently OK to criticize, and I’ve made a career out of playing with that criticism and subverting it.” First of all, he’s contradicting himself. No band is un-criticizable. The same Internet Billy Corgan so detests, that same “guy in a corner with a beard…” is critical of everything, all the time, so nothing and no man is un-criticizable. That’s just a product of how shitty the state of the world is in 2012. Half of us are mindless zombies following everything that is presented as cool and hip by sources deemed cool and hip, and the other half detests everything the first half likes. Billy also holds himself up as an artist who the media and bloggers can freely criticize as if it’s a terrible, horrible, unjust crime against him — but then he quickly reminds everyone that he’s made a career of playing with it and rebelling against it? If that’s the case why the fuck does he care so much about his fucking image and his legacy, and why the fuck does he care if Radiohead winds up — historically speaking — receiving more acclaim than him? Billy Corgan recorded a few albums in the ’90s that were immensely successful. So successful he could have stopped making music and lived comfortably for the rest of his life. And — just like Radiohead — after a hugely successful record he tried to shift gears and do something totally different. Unfortunately for Billy, that plan didn’t work (see: critically speaking, everything after ‘Mellon Collie…’, even though I still like ‘Adore’). And it worked for Radiohead. That’s just how the cards fell. The time to grieve over missteps in your career was almost 15 years ago, not now.
Last weekend the Chicago Tribune ran an interview with Corgan that shows off even more attempts to subvert criticism. Let it not go unsaid that Billy Corgan has a weak spine. The dude can seriously hold a grudge. As a fan of holding grudges, I commend him for that. But…this interview makes him sound so pathetic.
“This album is basically my way of saying I don’t want to carry this stuff anymore. I don’t want to carry (original Pumpkins members Jimmy Chamberlin, James Iha, and D’Arcy Wretzky) forward anymore. It’s done. I couldn’t have made ‘Oceania’ if I didn’t let go of that band.” Uh…let’s recap for a moment. Jimmy Chamberlin was dismissed in 2009, Iha was dismissed in 2000 and Wretzky in 1999. According to Billy, he’s been carrying around the idea of his former bandmates for twelve and thirteen years after they left the band? And that’s what is responsible for his pathetic musical output? I’m not buying it. He was the one who chose to keep the band name Smashing Pumpkins after decimating the lineup, if anything the best way to cease carrying around old baggage is to begin anew, not just hire young guns to replace the ghosts of your past.
In this Tribune interview, almost immediately Corgan’s brain is at odds with itself. His answer to the second question he’s asked is that he wants a “new feeling,” not the same one he felt in 1995 when he was writing hit songs. But…his way to discover that feeling was to “just go with it. Stop over thinking it. It’s very similar to the way I worked in the ’90s.” Huh. Interesting.
To further prove that he’s no longer stuck in the ’90s, Corgan trots out a Kurt Cobain comparison later, stating that ‘Siamese Dream’ was an idealized version of the band he wanted to create and ‘Mellon Collie…’ was an “unvarnished” version of that — just like how Kurt Cobain did the same thing with Butch Vig on ‘Nevermind’ and then chose an “unvarnished” version of his music on ‘In Utero’.
It’s just like David Byrne sang, “It’s not, yesterday, anymore / I go visiting and I talk loud / I try to make myself clear / In front of a face that’s nearer…”
The biggest lark of the whole interview is Billy’s take on the band’s 2008 tour when he notoriously blew up at audiences and abused fans for being dissatisfied with the Smashing Pumpkins concert experience. His hindsight-flavored take on it is that, “It’s (pro) wrestling. I’m in character. Even Jimmy Chamberlin believed it…I’m a weirdo like Wayne (Coyne) from the Flaming Lips. He’ll be the guy in the bubble floating above the audience and I’ll be the guy in the black dress on stage…” What the fuck is he talking about? That’s not just a dude stretching to overcompensate for shitty behavior. Clearly he was on an unhinged, bi-polar rampage during that tour. I’ve watched pro-wrestling. None of those “gimmicks” as Billy calls them, are as believable as the insane, whiny tantrums he went on night after night. Go watch those videos. That’s not a joke. That’s 100% genuine lunatic behavior. And if it wasn’t, Billy wouldn’t say in the very next paragraph, “If that had been a super warm crowd I wouldn’t have reacted like that.” Right. So he’s like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, only he has complete control over Hyde and most of the time he’s just Jeckyll PLAYING a weirdo version of Hyde? Yeah, sorry. I’m not buying it.
On Howard Stern the other day, Billy even went so far as to say, “Why do you still call it Smashing Pumpkins? Cause it irritates people…It’s the way to just stick it right back in their eye.” And again, I have to call bullshit. It’s a marketing technique. It still has a bit of cachet. If he called the band Bitches Brew or Billy Corgan and the No-Ones it would, unfortunately, sell less records. Billy’s ego being what it is, I have no doubt that the stated reason for continually using his old band’s name is inaccurate. It’s also hilarious, because almost immediately after that when Howard asked him to play some of “Tonight, Tonight” Billy said that he didn’t like to play older songs because, “I just don’t want to live in the past.”
Would that it were true. But everything Billy says, everything he does, and every song that he records says the exact opposite. Each interview serves only to highlight the overblown sense of self-importance Billy feels regarding what he created twenty years ago. The only reason he marches on is to meet his own ludicrous careerist aspirations. Who cares if the music is any good, if he’s the last of the ’90s Alternative rockers standing, in his warped perception of reality he’ll actually believe that means something.
Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet – All Things Being Equal (Part 2) [MP3]
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