LEAVE BILLY ALONE

Af­ter three decades as the Smash­ing Pump­kins’ mas­ter­mind, Wil­liam Pa­trick Cor­gan still gets treated like a zero By Alex Nino Ghe­ciu

Sharp - - GUIDE -

HE’S THE FRONT MAN of the god­damn Smash­ing Pump­kins, one of the big­gest bands of the ’90s, who’ve sold mil­lions of records and con­trib­uted a trove of unim­peach­able hits — “Today,” “1979,” “Bul­let with But­ter­fly Wings” — to the rock canon. And yet, de­spite his ac­co­lades, Billy Cor­gan is still just a rat in a cage.

Well, sort of — he’s since up­dated the metaphor: “I’m an as­tro­naut in my own cul­ture,” he tells me. “I don’t feel like I be­long, which is re­ally weird for some­body who’s now been in the pub­lic sphere, and suc­cess­ful, for 30 years. If you’d have asked me 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d feel like this now.”

Much like Michael Jor­dan — a fel­low chrome-domed ’90s Chicago icon — Cor­gan’s seen his legacy get be­smirched lately, thanks to the In­ter­net’s ten­dency to turn him into a tragi­comic meme. To be fair, in re­cent years, the dude’s given snarky blog­gers no short­age of ma­te­rial: he’s moon­lighted as a pro wrestling com­mis­sioner, dated Tila Tequila, railed against so­cial jus­tice war­riors on In­fowars, and was pho­tographed look­ing in­finitely sad — es­sen­tially his Cry­ing Jor­dan face — at Dis­ney­land. “I don’t feel the work I’ve done has been given full stroke,” he gripes. “It’s like I’m re­duced to a tabloid char­ac­ter. You reach a point in pub­lic life where you’re more valu­able dead than alive.”

And so, at 50, Billy Cor­gan has de­cided to off him­self. He is sur­vived by Wil­liam Pa­trick Cor­gan. That’s the name on the cover of his new solo al­bum Ogi­lala, and on his birth cer­tifi­cate. The “Billy” he is killing is his pub­lic per­sona, which he’s vowed to stop at­tempt­ing to cu­rate. No more late-night tweets; no more speak­ing openly about cur­rent af­fairs. “I will no longer of­fer my­self up pub­licly in a way that will al­low free ac­cess. I’m out. No­body’s go­ing to make any more money off my dead body.”

All that’s left, then, is the mu­sic. For­tu­nately, the mu­sic is good. Ogi­lala is a col­lec­tion of ten­der, rus­tic bal­lads that sound un­like any­thing Cor­gan’s ever done. In­spired by a road trip he took across Amer­ica, most numbers fea­ture lit­tle more than Wil­liam, a gui­tar or piano, and the odd string sec­tion (el­e­gantly recorded by pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin). But there is one fire fea­ture: orig­i­nal Pump­kins gui­tarist James Iha plays on ra­di­at­ing track “The Pro­ces­sional,” mark­ing his first time record­ing with Cor­gan since the band broke up in 2000.

The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is fit­ting; though there’s some trade­mark Cor­gan melan­cho­lia here, the LP car­ries an un­der­ly­ing sense of peace and con­tent­ment. Even as Amer­ica stum­bles, Cor­gan re­mains hope­ful about its fu­ture, and where he can fit within it.

Which is a re­lief, be­cause the guy sure likes talk­ing about death. Af­ter the sui­cides of Chris Cor­nell and Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton this year, the mor­bid analo­gies Cor­gan kept us­ing dur­ing our chat had me sec­onds from di­alling a cri­sis line. Hav­ing con­tem­plated (actual) sui­cide him­self in the ’90s, he’s cer­tainly well ac­quainted with demons. These days, how­ever, he knows just how to cast them out. “You can get lost in the house of mir­rors that is the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness and for­get that Ex­cal­ibur mo­ment: that I can pick up a gui­tar and some­how, out of thin air, make up some­thing that can touch some­body in Thai­land or South Africa.”

And when there are no en­e­mies within, the en­e­mies out­side can’t hurt you. We can make all the dank memes we want, but Wil­liam can still shred our faces off. “You have your laugh. I’ll have my mag­i­cal mush­room gui­tar jour­ney over here.”

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