Whether people get this or not – “Our history would dictate that they don’t get it more than they get it,” the frontman states, dryly – is not Billy’s concern. Never has been. Early on, at the band’s first shows in Chicago, people didn’t get it. When Mellon Collie… made them one of the biggest bands in America, people didn’t get it. These days, some people still don’t get it. “If we’d worried like that, we’d never have made it out of Chicago,” he shrugs.
People don’t always get Billy, either, to the point that the accepted idea of him has become that of a grouchy, overly-serious pseud, prickly in the press, a no-fun zone with whom conversation is difficult, and connection even more so. That man is not here today. When he talks, he is energetic and enthusiastic. He laughs often and, at one point, tells us that, “You and me could talk for hours about metal – Ozzy, Judas Priest, Sabbath, whatever rabbit hole you want to go down,” before revealing that one of ex-Priest axeman KK Downing’s ’80s amps now resides in his studio. But perhaps best of all, he is honest and open. Because Billy Corgan truly doesn’t give a fuck what you think. Or, he’s actually trying to test what you think, in a way.
A recent example: Smashing Pumpkins’ last tour featured a set-piece that left some fans wondering what exactly they were seeing. Having started the shows in a sober, sombre fashion by playing Disarm alone, with pictures of himself montaged on a video screen, at around the two-hour mark, the vibe was so different it could have been in another language. First: why were the band covering Stairway To Heaven? Second: is that a giant Billy Corgan being carried through the crowd like a mighty religious icon?
“I had people write me after and say, ‘You think you’re fucking God, what the fuck’s wrong with you?’” he says. “You’ve got a little boy, and then you’ve got this guy up there singing Stairway To Heaven, probably the greatest and most bloated rock song of all time. As we’re doing that there’s this religious icon of me being pushed around the arena. How do you put those two data points together? You can’t! You see, that’s the whole point. What happened to that little kid that may have him thinking down the road that he’s God? Or a god. Or could be a god?”