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'I don't operate on the normal bounds of reality'

Promoting his first solo CD, Billy Corgan says now he's into re-forming the Smashing Pumpkins. You wanted logical?

June 25, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most acclaimed, influential and popular bands of the '90s, selling millions of records as they translated psychic pain, youthful confusion and the search for solace into an aggressive and elegant brand of rock.

Leader Billy Corgan was right up there with Kurt Cobain and Trent Reznor as rock's voice of his generation, but it all crashed down in 2000 when he shut down the band amid drifting musical direction, declining sales and personal tensions with his bandmates.

The Pumpkins were also one of the most soap-operatic bands of the '90s, and Corgan lived up to that legacy when he surprised the rock world this week by announcing his plans to revive the group. He did it with full-page ads in the two major newspapers in his hometown of Chicago, and he did it on the day his first solo album came out. The first album he did after the Pumpkins was with a band called Zwan, which he quickly disbanded and later denounced in scathing terms.

All this makes Corgan seem like rock's version of the Runaway Bride -- someone who repeatedly gets things all lined up and then is compelled to move on to something else.

But that's not how it seems to Corgan, 38. To him it all makes sense, if you just think outside the box.

"I don't operate on the normal bounds of reality. I never did," he said in an interview this week. "The way my band operated, the reason we did things, was completely nonconventional.

"So the minute this comes out everybody goes into their conventional thinking. Promoters see money, and this guy sees this, and that's not at all what I'm thinking. It's a spiritual journey of figuring out who one is."

It takes someone with a monumental disregard for the norm to announce a reunion and reject what he calls "reunion culture," to drop a bombshell like this and then clam up. But that's what Corgan did when the conventional questions were put to him. Such as, will all the original members be in the Pumpkins lineup?

"I'm not talking about that," Corgan said, speaking by phone from Atlanta, where he was starting a U.S. tour for the solo album, "TheFutureEmbrace." (He'll play the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood July 12 and 13.)

"I think the statement I made is really complete," he continued. "... I don't really feel it's anybody's business. Because I'm not selling anything, and I'm not asking anything of anybody.... I reject this reunion culture.... There's sort of a rosy sentimentality that goes on -- 'Hey, your favorite band, fill in the blank, is now back on tour playing the old songs.' I'm not interested in that. I'm defiantly standing up and saying please don't chuck me in that pile. I'm an artist and this is my way of defining my artistry in a public context."

Whoever is in it (Corgan's original bandmates were guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky, who was replaced near the end by Melissa Auf der Maur), and whenever it happens, the renewed Pumpkins figure to be greeted by a passionate community of fans. The band forged a powerful bond with listeners who identified with Corgan's emotional candor and deep reservoir of anguish

In addition, he's opened his troubled heart in a book of poetry and in "The Confessions of Billy Corgan," an Internet blog full of intimate details about both the Pumpkins' inner workings and his own troubled upbringing.

But none of his writing or post-Pumpkins music has the weight and the visibility of the group he formed with Wretzky and Iha in 1988.

"I started my band for all the right reasons, and we did what we did for all the right reasons, and somewhere along the way it got sort of taken away from us," Corgan said in the interview. "We were not sophisticated enough to see what was happening. We were being exploited by the business; we were being given horrible advice by people of course that are long gone.

"So it takes some time to sort all that out.... I kind of came to the realization that killing the band or having the band killed didn't change anything, I was still in essence operating on the charter of the band."

But why make the announcement on the day your own album comes out? Doesn't that create a distraction and take some of the steam out of the solo project?

"No, not at all," Corgan said. "I think it energizes people because they understand now. They see everything that I'm doing in its full context. If one cares enough to look at my musical path objectively, it's kind of got a jagged line to it. It's a little bit all over the place.... And I think putting the Pumpkins star in the heavens there makes a lot of this other stuff seem a lot softer and gentler."

But Corgan was discovering the potential of this Pumpkins news to divert attention from "TheFutureEmbrace." The album hasn't even come up for discussion during the interview.

"I wish I was raising more of a ruckus with my record, you know? And that's exactly why I didn't talk about [the reunion] before, because that's all it would have been about.

"I worked for 13 months on my album, and depending on who you ask it's either this brilliant masterwork or is a car crash," he said. "But most agree that it steps outside that box and at least that's surprising.

"And that's not the focus here. The focus is, 'Hey, by the way, Johnny Junior's back with the Rocket Tones.' I think it's a real miss to go there."

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