Article by Corenski Nowlan
In my offline life, I have never known another person who is a truly hardcore Smashing Pumpkins fan. A few friends are casual listeners. One pal of mine has a vested interest, but is definitely a notch below the crazy-obsessive-pumpkinhead level. *ahem* It is an incredibly occasional occurrence for me to have an internet-unplugged-opportunity to engage in Pumpkin-centric discourse. So naturally if someone name-drops the great SP first, I’m ecstatic to indulge.
Days before the release of Oceania, such luck on was my side. Or so I thought. The chat went down something like this (no verbatim claims/probably paraphrased):
You love the Smashing Pumpkins right?
You’ve noticed! (not hard) You know, their newest album comes out on Tuesday!
Sure, I vaguely remember them being a band once or something, but how about that Billy Corgan guy? I read an interview the other day and he said that blankety-blank-blank was a blankety-blank-blank, and since I happen to feel very, very passionately about blankety-blank-blank, I won’t be listening to that pretentious #$%&’s new album.
Oh well, ah… that’s too bad I guess. Personally, I’d recommend still giving it a chance, I mean blankety-blank-blank isn’t really relevant to the Pumpkins, or this album, and…
Yeah well, I also read Corgan’s opinion on *insert issue*, and I really, really hold that particular issue close to my heart because I’m totally flawlessly awesome. Corgan really offended me personally and I think he meant to. I mean, he doesn’t even know me and he’s talking crap about me? Why the hell would I listen to his music? Why would anyone? He’s devoted the past decade to the systematic alienation of his entire fan base, often singling fans out individually and what the hell is up with the wrestling thing?
I… um. Huh. Let me get back to you in a week or so after I do some research (aka, lurking fan site message boards) and write a blog about this.
When I cite my interest in Pumpkins-chat it does not necessarily mean I’m looking for an all things Corgan-esque conversation. I’m actually more interested in music than gossip, like lyrical interpretations versus who Billy’s bangin’. Being knowledgeable about a celebrity’s personal life is not the same as knowing them personally. Wild concept right? What someone says in an interview does little more than skid the surface of their psyche. Does sharing an opinion on politics provide the public with insight into how they conduct themselves in private? Is it a way to glimpse/gage how they act when socializing with friends or family? Key aspects are exposed, like whether they are philosophically left or right leaning, but the media paints incomplete and inaccurate profiles.
So why does it seem that Billy Corgan is such a venomous force on the promo circuit? It doesn’t seem that way to me. Whenever I watch a video interview with Papa Pumpkin, I feel I am witnessing an articulate, intelligent, and gracious individual. The man is opinionated, but his statements are thoroughly and thoughtfully backed up in what is generally a passive manner. He is an avid conversationalist, always willing to elaborate upon his points and entertain debate. It is not often that a Corgan interview spawns a scathing, scandalous sound byte. In fact, I would say that ninety-some percent of the time when Billy makes a questionable comment it is in a print-only interview, or a tweet. Those small, arguably insignificant chunks of text quickly become mainstream quotable and everyone loses their minds.
Am I taking on a role of a diehard Billy-washed, er, I mean… brainwashed fanboy? No, I don’t believe so. Would I defend Billy Corgan’s character so wholeheartedly that I would grant him a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for any wild notion he might murmur? Sort of. There is no denying the Great Pumpkin’s reputation for stirring up more than a vinyl storm, but as much as it might pain some fans to admit, he is only human. Believe it or not, Billy has bad days too, and as difficult as it is to decipher from his cryptic songs, apparently some people also suspect him of suffering from the syndrome of “human emotions.” The public seems to forget that like everyone else in the world, Billy puts his skirt on one leg at a time(?), or something like that… perhaps pertaining more so to hipster scarves and fisherman hats (no sarcasm here, the aforementioned articles are often included in my regular wardrobe).
I do not blindly obey Billy Corgan’s every command, nor will I defend every syllable that he utters (no matter what my family or friends might say). Billy doesn’t need his fan to make excuses for him, but we do. I recently read some posts suggesting that when Billy speaks ill, it is purposeful. Calculated strikes against his foes as a plea to garner more media attention. Some people even linked his less than cheerful comments to his wrestling obsession, charging that when he slams ex-musical collaborators it is a akin to “trash talk” by wrestlers. These are not theories that I support. It serves to remove Billy from the situation. Ideas like this extol him to godhood, implying that everything he does is deliberate, and that he does not sometimes succumb to impulse like the rest of us, or make mistakes. It also partially exonerates him of any responsibility for anything that he does. If everything is planned and he’s simply playing a role, then he can’t really be blamed or be at fault. If he’s always playing a part then where is the real Billy? Buried deep, never to rear his real face to the camera-eye?
This type of thinking constitutes an excuse more so than what I am proposing. Where does it leave Billy as a person? Well, it means he’s the kind of the person who wakes up in the morning, and consciously makes a choice to publicly insult someone.
“But who,” a malevolent Billy ponders while shining up the old cue ball in preparation for his afternoon interview.
“Uh-huh! I got it. Him. Yes, him. I haven’t taken a jab at that guy for a while… what should I call him? I’m thinking something that pertains to fecal matter. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. That’ll get everyone talking, muawahaha, haha… ha.”
With his target in mind, and the proper bullet from his insult arsenal in hand, old Bully-Billy is off to his interview with but one task remaining; psychically steering the journalist towards asking the right question. The necessary prompt needed to unleash his methodical maelstrom without it seeming like he wanted to have the topic brought up.
This isn’t Austin Powers, so don’t get Billy confused with Dr. Evil. Is it not more realistic, more human, to think that Billy really doesn’t want some topics brought up, and when they are it agitates and upsets him? I don’t believe for a moment that he would plan to insult someone in an interview. How would he even know that a question about that person might be asked?
My purpose is to humanize a man who happens to be one of my heroes, and whom I sincerely believe deserves the benefit of the doubt. There is a trend to judge him by an entirely different set of standards than that which every other artist is judged by. Does Billy sometimes say things that he should not? Yes, and no. Yes, but at some time in our lives we all say the wrong thing. The “No”, is slightly more complicated. To put it simply, who am I to judge whether or not a statement made by Billy Corgan is appropriate? If he is talking about his personal life (say, a soured relationship for example), than I have an incomplete understanding of the subject matter. I know what the media has told me, and over the years my memory has created a patchwork of who I believe Billy Corgan to be. Objectively, I would say I’m disqualified from critiquing him as a person, but I remember that he is a person and therefore should be cut some slack.
Imagine if you will… it is pouring rain. On his way to an interview, Billy’s car breaks down. By the time he reaches his destination he is soaking wet. His clothes are splattered with mud. He’s cold and cranky. In addition to car troubles, there is an infinite list of unpleasant variables that might have tainted Billy’s morning. Last night was a late one. The band’s been working their asses off on the new album. Billy sleeps in, has to skip breakfast, slips in the shower, a dog has a brown squishy accident on the carpet, the radio announces that yet another 90’s alt-rock act that hasn’t made an album in the past decade and has absolutely no intention to produce new music, are jumping on the reunion tour bandwagon and everyone is super excited to throw their money and praise at these rock’n roll legends, etc, etc, etc… (don’t forget I mentioned that new album SP the band has been working their asses off on) and that brings us to the point in which the very professional music journalist who did lots of homework for this interview by googling “Smashing Pumpkin,” asks Billy when the original line-up is returning. That’s when our normally gentle giant loses his shit.
If this fictional interview was being filmed, then Billy would likely feel inclined to explain his dampened attire. If it is a print interview, neither he, nor the journalist need make mention of his disheveled appearance. Context is immensely important, and unfortunately crucial elements of human interaction such as tone of voice, cannot be properly expressed through text. The intent of the speaker is not always clearly communicated. Devices like sarcasm or humour can easily be lost in translation. It can be difficult to pinpoint the emotional intent of an interviewee. Perhaps some of Billy’s print-only comments have been misinterpreted. Video or audio might change our minds. It is the job of a journalist to effectively present the results of an interview. A reader’s impression is reliant upon the skill of the journalist. If they are not competent at their job, or able to put personal bias aside, they can make an artist look very bad. The journalist holds the artist hostage.
I realize that this blog might not be perceived the way it was intended. If anything, I’d like to remind people of what is really important; the music! Isn’t Oceania amazing? Yes, it really is. The conversation I had last week ended with my friend humbly asking, “How do you read the stuff this guy says, and still listen to the music?” If I read something truly terrible that Billy said, how do I reconcile it? First and foremost, I listen to the beauty that he’s given to the world. No matter what, even if Billy were to become some sort of cruel, psychopathic monster and was convicted in court for blah-blah-whatever, it’s never going to change his music. It’s never going to change what it’s meant to my life.
What has changed is my access to information. I follow Billy on Twitter. I get updates about the band from Facebook, Google +, in my email inbox, and from fellow fans. I know so much about the band’s history and about Billy on a personal level. More than I need to know. Back in the 90’s there were two ways to get band info; magazines, or Much News. (Much Music’s version of MTV news, I’m Canadian) I missed a lot. I didn’t watch Much News every night and I couldn’t track down every magazine, believe me I practically grew up in the woods, it was hard to find a store that carried Rolling Stone let alone the smaller music-mags. Also, hyperlinks weren’t embedded in the text of magazine articles, so if an older article was referenced it’s not like you could click and instantaneously read it as well. Kids at school would sometimes say things to me like;
Hey did you catch The Smashing Pumpkins on Much News last night? (or in this month’s issue of…)
No I didn’t, did you tape it? (or do you have that magazine on you?)
No, but you should have heard/read what Corgan said about so and so!”
But I didn’t hear/read it, and since there was no YouTube, and my Ewok-forest village didn’t get internet access until 1999, there was really no way for me to. Today, I read all articles on the band, and watch all interviews. I care about the band beyond the music, I really do. At the same time my love for the music always comes first, and that’s why I don’t feel like I’m overexposed. There are those who feel saturated with information and I think that interferes with their ability to enjoy the music. They get caught up on one weird thing that Billy says, and it actually does make them want to boycott the Pumpkins. Then there’s the whole wrestling thing. A lot of fans, (like myself) are bewildered by Billy’s love for wrestling. Personally I’ve had a lifelong loathe-affair with it, but I couldn’t care less if he enjoys it. I can opt to not read articles that pertain to Resistance Pro if I want to. There’s also the way that the media, and people in general tend to focus on the negative instead of the positive, but that’s a whole other culturally confused ball game.