Billy Corgan Is What Kurt Cobain Would Have Become Had He Lived!


Only twelve more hours until Billy Corgan's nine-hour atmospheric jam at Madame ZuZu's comes to a merciful finish.  In celebration of that glorious moment, we contemplate Corgan's legacy as front man for Smashing Pumpkins, compare him to Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, and.  

I remember hearing "Gish" the day it came out and thinking, wow, this is some tuneless psychedelic wankery.
But when "Siamese Dream" came out, I had to give it to William Corgan for not only writing some actual songs, but writing some great songs.  Some of them were damn good, too, and the band - deservedly so - became a very integral part of the '90s alt. rock juggernaut, right up there with Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Of course, Nirvana were The Beatles to Pearl Jam's Rolling Stones, thereby relegating Smashing Pumpkins to being The Who, which isn't a bad thing at all, except for the fact that I think Billy Corgan really felt that he and his band were The Beatles in this particular equation.

Nirvana's Nevermind became the blueprint by which a hundred much lesser bands clawed at the proverbial brass ring whilst feigning complete disinterest at the same time.  They'd mistaken Cobain's stunted social skills for cool aloofness and immediately aped it for their own gains.  By the time the band made In Utero, they were already seeing diminishing returns and rightfully so, as the album was a defiant "fuck you" to fair-weather fans.  Before any of us got to see where Nirvana would go from there, Cobain was killed (yes, killed) and the image of this 27-year-old reluctant icon was forever locked in time.

Meanwhile, guys like Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan have had to deal with growing old, seeing most of their audience move on, and struggling to remain relevant while many of those "lesser bands" alluded to above are making serious bank on the nostalgia circuit.

A year after Cobain's death, Corgan and the band released the unabashedly ambitious two-disc set Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness and sought to claim their rightful place atop the grunge scene.  Unfortunately, grunge was beginning to lose valuable radio and MTV real estate to the likes of No Doubt, Blues Traveler and the Mighty Mighty BossTones, to name but a few.

Granted, "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" (which most people seem to think is called "Rat In A Cage" and "1979" were but two of the four songs that landed in the Top 40, but the cumbersome vibe of a two-disc set priced at well over $20 was a bit much for fair-weather fans to swallow.  The reason we repeatedly address these so-called "fair-weather fans" is because bands and record companies are incredibly reliant upon such consumers.  The amount of time a band spends being a part of the "mainstream" hinges on how successful they are at continually, and repeatedly, engaging such music fans.  If you don't, they simply move on, leaving bands like Smashing Pumpkins to play smaller venues and sell fewer records.

By the time the band released Adore in 1998, the bloom was well off the rose.  When added to the drama surrounding the band - Jimmy Chamberlin's drug problems and eventual sacking from the band and Billy Corgan's mother dying of cancer, for starters - it was enough to make Corgan give serious consideration to taking his ball and going home.

If he'd done that, truth be told, the band's legacy might have a little more juice, but instead he began flailing, making the sprawling Machina albums, then forming the underrated Zwan and breaking it up before it could be accepted by a mass audience.

Since then, Corgan has continued his love/hate relationship with his fans, his legacy, and his future in a very public manner.  2008 saw him trying his darndest to make each and every fan who attended their shows regret doing so, either by ignoring the hits in favor of pre-recorded bird calls, or verbally antagonizing his audience.  It was like watching a spoiled kid throw a temper tantrum.

Of course, Corgan realizes this.  These days, with a completely new Smashing Pumpkins line-up behind him, he seems resigned to "giving the people what they want" on the road while remaining as ambitious as always in the studio.

Thing is, where do Smashing Pumpkins fit into the current musical climate where you've got pop tarts like Miley, Katy, and Lady Gaga dominating the upper reaches and indie rock acts like Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, and Of Monsters & Men moving a shitload of units while trying to retain their indie cred.  You'd think there'd be room for a great Smashing Pumpkins tune, but the weight of their legacy seems to precede anything they do.  Any new song will immediately be measured against "Today" or "Rat In A Cage" (ha!) and either get the airplay it deserves, or be dismissed altogether.

Billy Corgan, by living, has seen his career minimized without his consent.  Sadly, I can't help that that maybe Cobain saw much the same fate in his future.  He knew how fickle fans could be and that there was no topping "Nevermind".  Since the album itself had been such a misrepresentation of what he and the band were all about in the first place, there was no winning this battle.  The fame that afforded them the opportunity to do whatever they want - to "be themselves" - gave them just enough rope to hang themselves.

Such pitfalls can be a total bitch and only magnifies the brilliance of a band like U2 that has continued to remain relevant, to push the envelope artistically while also giving millions of rock fans a reason to continue to pay top dollar to see their particular brand of rock spectacle.

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