Rock stars are known for all sorts of outlandish activities. Opening a tea shop in the suburbs is typically not one of them. Then again, Billy Corgan has never been known for his strict adherence to navigating life within the socially acceptable norms of conventional behavior.
Corgan’s recent 8-hour long live interpretation of Hermann Hesse’s classic novel “Siddhartha” at Madame ZuZu’s (the aforementioned Highland Park tea shop/arts space Corgan opened in 2012 as a “labor of love”) is but one of many intriguing manifestations of his ever-evolving philosophy of artistic expression.
“I kind of jumped off the deep end,” Corgan says of the February performance that left many fans and critics alike scratching their heads. “I’d never done anything close to that. I think the longest concert I’d ever done was four hours.”
While a project that involved creating a living soundtrack to a 92-year-old novel about the spiritual journey of a young Buddhist using an elaborately wired modular synthesizer may have proved a bit too erudite for a mainstream audience, there is one activity to which the common man can certainly relate: wrestling.
And as “creative director” for local independent grabbling organization Resistance Pro Wrestling (as featured in a 2013 commercial Corgan appeared in for a local furniture store), the Smashing Pumpkins frontman finds himself reaching out to an entirely new type of audience. “I just think it’s one of those crazy things that can’t be explained,” Corgan said of wrestling. “And that’s what I love about it.”
AMC fell in love with it as well, recently signing a deal with Corgan to produce a new reality series surrounding the musician’s work with the organization. The series recently began filming in locations including Highland Park and Willowbrook and, according to Corgan, is set to debut early next year.
“It’s based on kind of what it’s like to be in an independent wrestling league,” said Corgan of the still-untitled series. “It’s actually not that different from being an up-and-coming band. Obviously totally different worlds, but similar ideas: building up the name, building the credibility…We use everything under the sun to get people emotionally invested in what we do.”
If that’s not enough, Corgan is also in the midst of writing a vast “spiritual memoir” titled “God Is Everywhere From Here to There.” With half of the project done it clocks in at 265,000 words, a number he expects to roughly double by the time the work is complete. (The Bible, by comparison, is around 783,000 words.)
“It’s been a crazy effort,” Corgan said of the book. “It’s my life told like a strange dream, told from a spiritual perspective not a celebrity perspective, meaning it’s not like, ‘I went here and did this and met this person.’ It’s much more behind the scenes… Experience in life is kind of like a dream and it has a lot to do with how we perceive it… Perception is everything, so the book’s about how perception changes with one’s progress within your own dream.”
One thing Corgan realized in writing the book is that, even for him, life does not always turn out as planned. “I can easily say that my musical life did not turn out the way I thought it was going to turn out at all, not even close… You don’t start out thinking you’re the bad guy in the story. For a lot of years I was portrayed as some sort of a weird bad guy, and… it became more about this thing that I said about somebody and it got all lopsided, basically. For a long time it wasn’t about the music — it was about me and my personality and all this other stuff that makes for good reading, but it doesn’t make for good life.”
Yet for Smashing Pumpkins fans eager to hear a new album to follow up 2012’s “Oceania,” life is about to get a whole lot better. Not one, but two new Smashing Pumpkins records are in the works — one featuring Tommy Lee on drums.
“It’s probably the strongest reaction I’ve seen to an album I’ve done probably since the mid-’90s, so it feels pretty good,” Corgan said of the band’s first new album, “Monuments to an Elegy,” set for release around December.
As for Lee’s involvement? “It was just one of those things you know, call up a bro and say, ‘hey, you wanna play on my album?’”
The second album, “Day For Night,” which Corgan calls “more experimental/progressive but not necessarily too weird” is planned for release around the fall of 2015.
Whether or not any of these albums receive the massive mainstream attention of ’90s-dominating classics like “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie” and “The Infinite Sadness” remains to be seen. But Corgan doesn’t view success in such limited terms.
“That’s the way the world looks at it,” he said, “like success means you exist and not success means you don’t exist. It doesn’t work like that. I’ve worked continually for the last 25 years, I’ve put out music I think basically every two years or less. So to paraphrase the great artist Prince, ‘I never went away.’…My job now is just to keep going and not worry about whether I exist in the classic American version of existence.”
Looking back on a long and tumultuous career during which “all sorts of weird things have happened,” Corgan does admit to some lessons learned. “I think being in the public spotlight and dealing with the fickleness of what that means, that’s probably the toughest part of it all… All of this [work] gets judged against this very weird prism of whether or not somebody on the other end of a telephone line or an Ethernet wire gives a [expletive]. Because obviously, if I took the time to do something, I give a [expletive].”
Corgan said he leaves it to “people smarter than I to figure out whether all this effort to communicate was worth anything. You talk to one person and they say ‘no, you wasted your [expletive] time and you’d be better off working at a hot dog stand.’ You talk to the next person and they tell me… ‘I decided not to kill myself on that particular Sunday because your song made me realize that I wanted to live’… Ultimately, all you can do is decide what it means to you.”
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