Sharon London: Where are you?
Billy Corgan: Wallace, Idaho.
SL: How did you end up in Wallace, Idaho?
BC: I’m on an antique sojourn.
SL: Did you buy anything?
BC: I always buy stuff.
SL: Do you want to say what you got?
BC: I bought a 1940s gum ball machine, I bought some [Japanese] horseman figurines. Nothing else is jumping into my mind.
SL: Let’s talk about the name The Smashing Pumpkins.
BC: Is that a question?
SL: Or a discussion.
BC: I’d rather not discuss the name The Smashing Pumpkins. No matter how many times I tell the story of the origin of the name, I still get asked the question. I’m at a point now where I just don’t want to repeat the origin. It’s like you repeat something so many times, you’re not really even sure it ever happened.
People making jokes about pumpkins around me is like pointing out that Prince Charles has big ears. It’s a level of obviousness that has nothing sublime in it for me. I’ve had to endure twenty-five years of headlines that allude to the pumpkins. It gets old after a while. It’s a little bit too obvious for me at this point.
SL: I heard something that it was not about actual pumpkins, too. And the myth of it.
BC: That’s the great thing about rock n’ roll: the myth is ultimately more important than the reality. And that’s what you learn—you just learn to go with the mythology. The mythology in rock n’ roll is that I’m a bit of a loose cannon. Yet I’ve produced more music than anybody in my generation. So how much of a loose cannon am I? But the general public believes that I’m a loose cannon, so let them believe it. I’m not going to correct them.
It brings to mind the Shakespeare quote, He doth protest too much? At some point, you protest too much they think you’re guilty just because you’re protesting.
SL: Well, you don’t seem to be a loose cannon, but I’ve had no musical experience with you, so it might be totally different.
BC: I’m an experimental artist in a field that doesn’t celebrate experimentation. It celebrates self-destruction, which I guess you could say is a creative endeavor. But I’ve rarely done anything that’s overtly self-destructive without consciously knowing what I’m doing. And then of course, the astute journalist jumps forward and says, “Why are you being calculated?” Calculated seems to assume a sinister intent. My intent is always for artistic effect. But usually the intention of the artistic effect is too sophisticated for most people to understand, sort of like a joke that they don’t get so they don’t think it’s funny. I’ve had a lot of things rendered as not being effective or as some indication of my lack of sanity, only to be praised ten, fifteen, twenty years later for what I did once in this overt consciousness.
SL: You were before your time, it sounds like.
BC: No, I don’t think I’m before my time, I just don’t think I’m in my time.
SL: What do you mean by that?
BC: I rummage around in artistic things from the past. If you don’t understand the context, they wouldn’t make any sense. I rummage around in conceptual ideas of the future, but if you don’t know the source of the thinking, [it] wouldn’t make any sense.
The music business—and I guess you could say any artistic endeavor—usually rewards those who are on the leading edge of where everything is going, but you can’t be too far.
I read a book by James Cabell. He wrote a famous book called Jurgen, which was banned in many countries. It basically reads like a Surrealist piece of ‘60s stoner culture literature but it’s from the ‘20s or ‘30s. So it didn’t do him a lot of good to be thirty years ahead of his time. But it did Burroughs a lot of good to be ten years ahead of his time.
SL: There’s that whole concept for forty-year cycles. Do you believe in that? That things go by decade and then they start over again, after forty years or so?
BC: I think that those time factors are changed. I believe in the cycles, I think the cycles are accelerated. Hence people expecting me to be a greatest hits band at forty-five.
My point is, the expectation is there because the cultures are accelerating. You can look at rock n’ roll history and see where fifteen years after, everybody has their sentimental moment.
That’s basically two seven-year cycles, so it makes sort of sense. Now the expectation is that, once the public decides that the artist is gentrified, the public demands that the artist stop growing. And [the public] actually puts all their energy into reasserting or re-establishing what the artist has long ago left behind. Because that’s what they want. The source of creativity, the gift that’s been given, be damned.