Smashing Pumpkins, in four parts…
My two least favorite rock stars are Lenny Kravitz (such a poser, despite his talent, and also has never had an original idea) and Smashing Pumpkins lead singer, Billy Corgan, who is a great guitarist, but who sings like a toad, and is made even toadier by all his bragging. You’d think if you “sang” like that, you’d keep slightly humble. He should play guitar in some better singer’s band, stand at the back of the stage, and shut the fuck up.
Before I arrived in Tampa for college in 1992, Billy Corgan haunted the nearby Florida town of St. Petersburg. He’d moved there to be near Tampa’s goth scene, and to front the goth band The Marked, so named for all the members’ prominent birthmarks. Florida legend has it that, before Corgan moved back to Chicago, at his going away party, he told the roomful of people, “I have the looks, the voice, and the talent to make it.”
As they say: it ain’t tricking if you got it. Corgan soon made good on his threat. Still, what a toad.
I still lived down in Ft. Myers, Florida when my friends and I drove two hours north to Tampa to see the Chicago-based Smashing Pumpkins a few months before Siamese Dream would come out. Tickets cost $6 apiece. We didn’t know much about the band, yet still showed up in Tampa five hours early to explore Ybor City. I remember seeing then-unknown Floridian, Marilyn Manson, in full makeup, carrying a lunchbox, passing out fliers for his band’s show the next week.
Hoping to listen to the Pumpkins’ soundcheck, we sat on the venue’s back steps. Soon, blonde bassist D’Arcy and guitarist James Iha pulled up in their tour van. We stood and cleared the steps so they could get by us. They looked dirty and half asleep as they struggled to open the back door — it seemed almost like they’d never opened a door themselves before. Still a teenager and a few years from my first drink, to me they seemed like drug addicts, totally smacked out.
Iha stuck his foot into a hole at the bottom of the door, as if that would magically trigger it to open. When that didn’t work, he finally looked up at us teenagers, mouth slightly open like, Please help.
I’d never seen anyone so out of it. It scared us a little. Whereas, nowadays I would just assume they’d been touring the country, staying up late every night, and sleeping in a van.
We knocked on the door and someone came and let them into the venue.
They seemed fine by the show that night, which was admittedly phenomenal, aside from the as-yet-released opening song “Disarm,” one of the toadiest songs to ever gain radio prominence. Corgan still had long hair, and wore a dress, and emphasized his guitar solos. Siamese Dream wasn’t out yet but they played all those songs. That night, it woulda been hard for me to believe how much I would come to dislike Corgan.
Since my own story of meeting Smashing Pumpkins wasn’t that great, I want to share my friend Matt Simmons’s better story, about the time he jammed with a hilariously arrogant Billy Corgan. In Matt’s own words (edited by me):
“It was probably 1987. My bandmates and I weren’t old enough to get into bars, but someone had heard of a late night get together at the ‘Bad Dog’…There were a bunch of locals hanging out that I vaguely knew. In the corner of the large empty space was a smattering of musical instruments: a drumset, a bass guitar, a couple of guitars and amps. One guitar was missing a string, so I picked up the guitar that was intact, string-wise, though not entirely un-crusty.
“We embarked on a ‘jam’; a smattering of the simplest Rush tunes we could muster, and maybe a longform version of “Louie Louie.” I’m not sure which of these we played when Billy Corgan walked in. Billy was known in the area as the lead singer of goth power trio ‘The Marked’ and was probably the closest thing sleepy St. Pete had to a rock star at that time.
“He was wearing a poofy pirate shirt with big frilly sleeves, the likes of which would eventually be made fun of on Seinfeld. Corgan made his way past us to where the five-string guitar was, regarded it, and set it down again. He made his way back over to me during a pause in the music and said very matter of factly, ‘I think I should play the guitar you’re playing now, and you should play that one.’
“I made more of an effort standing up for myself than at any point prior or since; I had gotten there first, the space belonged to someone that I had known longer than this guy, and all the other players were my friends. So Corgan walked back over to the missing-string guitar and began to play it.
“At that point, the informal jam session changed substantially. We launched into some other progression of chords, but now it had suddenly become a background for the 5-string guitar played by Corgan. It took on less of a jam session feel and more of something cohesive, like something with purpose was happening. I felt like more people in the room started actually paying attention.
“Once that epic tune had ended, Corgan suggested playing the theme to the ‘Batman’ TV show. But now the informal jam was taking on the tenor of a masterclass. He came over and took the bass and showed the bass player how he wanted it played. He got behind the drum kit and demonstrated how the drum part ought to go. He showed me how he wanted the backing guitar so he could solo over it, this time on the 6 string guitar, which I had surrendered to him after his display of better-than-competent playing earlier on.
“The thrown together band did the best they could, but I think it ultimately fizzled out due to a general bad feeling among the players that they weren’t living up to the pirate-shirted bandleader’s expectations.”
In college in Tampa one night, my very attractive young girlfriend went out without me to The Castle goth club. There, she spotted Billy Corgan. He was in town playing some Tampa arena with Smashing Pumpkins. He’d recently shaved his head bald.
My girlfriend approached Corgan and asked him to dance.
“No, thank you,” he replied.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.