In this full length interview that Hank Shteamer has with Billy Corgan took place in early September (the day before the opening of Madame Zuzu). They talk about Tea, Wrestling, Oceania, perception in the media and playing the hits. Lets go over some highlights:
On the Tea House:
Time Out New York: Well, do you have some bookings already arranged? Do you know who’s going to be coming in there and performing?
Billy Corgan: No, because I wanted to kind of get a feel for who was going to come in. I didn’t want to make any assumptions. It’s a very kind of… let’s call it entrenched type of community socially. So I think to move it in any different direction is going to take time; I don’t think you can come in here and say, “It’s going to be like this,” and people are just going to jump on board. I don’t see that happening. I think you have to find a balance point between the intentions and what the community is interested in.
Time Out New York: Was there a point when you walked into another coffeeshop or teahouse and thought to yourself that you could do this better than what was already being done?
Billy Corgan: No. In fact, I appreciate how well most of those place are run. You know, particularly people [for whom] it’s their deal. I’m not talking about a chain; I’m talking about people who just decide to open their own business. No, I’m more of a romantic idealist of what I imagine an old-school teahouse would be like. It was more like that, more of a yearning for something that’s not really readily available.
Time Out New York: What was it that you were hoping to bring to the world of wrestling?
Billy Corgan: You know, I’m a WWE fan, and I still go to the shows, but I believe that they have a very specific vision, and they’ve sort of transferred—and they’ve been very vocal about this—to more of an entertainment brand. I believe there’s a lot of people who grew up on the wrestling, particularly AWA wrestling of the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s that’s still like that kind of, let’s call it just basic old-school mentality. It’s a little less pomp, and it’s a little bit more meaty.
So, I’ll give a perfect example: How does that apply in the modern context? Well, most of the women that wrestle for WWE, they’ve kind of been marginalized more because the women are used more like eye candy. And they admittedly hire women who are bikini models and stuff and try to turn them into wrestlers. These are not women who dreamed of being professional wrestlers; it’s an opportunity they end up taking. So the women’s matches, by and large, can be spotty affairs, because they’ll have girls who are very skilled at wrestling with girls who aren’t very skilled at wrestling. Well, I think there’s a community out there that wants to see women who are great athletes wrestle at a very high level, and I believe I can help take that into the mainstream and build an audience that is interested in that. So that’s a way to take an old-school value and bring it into the modern context.
Time Out New York: Do you think there is a part of you that wants to legitimize wrestling and draw people’s attention to the art of it?
Billy Corgan: I believe you can do that with any subculture. I know people who are into, like, obscure ’70s Thai cinema, and if you watch it enough, you see that there’s a certain kind of street value. Wrestling’s been around since the advent of television to the mainstream culture and even before with carnivals and stuff like that. So, in a way, it already is mainstreamed; WWE has already done that job: Hulk Hogan, really, Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Roddy Piper, all that. I just think that there’s a different take on it that can be appreciated as a subculture, that the guy with the handlebar mustache can get into it because it is a subculture just like anything else can be a subculture. Like, all of a sudden, everyone’s brewing their own fuckin’ beer, right? You know what I mean. Like, that’s a subculture. Well, you know, wrestling’s a subculture too. There’s a language; there’s a tradition; and you can get into it or you can not. I don’t feel that it needs a sell job is what I’m trying to say.
Oceania and Oceania Live
Time Out New York: You must be proud of it, because you’re playing the full thing in concert. Can you talk about the decision to do that?
Billy Corgan: I suppose it was born of— typical me: It’s born of a reaction, and eventually, I come to my senses. My first reaction was, Everybody’s out there playing their old album, why don’t we play our new album? [Laughs] But then, you know, the reality hits which is like, Wow, can we actually do this? And how do we do that? Because I’d never done it; it’s not like I had any experience in it. Then we got into the reality of “Well, how do we stage this? Do we start with the album, or do we play it in the middle?” You know, then the rubber hits the road, and you have to make real decisions. So, we’ve been pleasantly surprised both by our enjoyment of it and that it’s worked so well with the audience. That first show, we really held our breath, because if it didn’t work, we had no plan B.
Place in the Media
Time Out New York: Do you still actively feel like an outcast?
Billy Corgan: Sure, yeah. I think that’s changing, though. I look to other artists’ careers for some sort of guidepost, and there are those artists—Neil Young is a person I would point to—that don’t necessarily take the obvious, direct route, and eventually the public comes around and decides that they do have an inherent value and starts to treat them differently. I believe I’m sort of on that path. I should be so lucky to be as highly held as Neil Young; I’m not trying to compare myself to him, but that’s a similar path. I think that’s happened in the past five years even for the Cure. The Cure’s value has risen up to its probably more accurate value, because the work is there and the value is there, the influence is there, and the fact that he was into a lot of things long before they became ultimately popular. So blah, blah, blah; I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’ve read enough of those quotes already. [Laughs]
Time Out New York: I assume there have been times when you’ve just tuned out and decided not to read what’s been written about you.…
Billy Corgan: Oh, I barely read what’s written about me, because I can pretty much feel the temperature. I think that what’s happened over the last six months is, there’s been a general warming, right? Where’s the warming coming from? (a) The band’s good; (b) the album’s good; and (c), I’m kind of useful, you know? I get Web hits; people like to read about me; people like toargue with me. There’s nothing wrong with that; that’s kind of a good thing.
This is why I like doing Web interviews more than print interviews now, because the Web guys and girls will print your whole answer. What does the enemy do? They swoop in and pull out one quote, and they trump it up, and next thing I know, I’m pissing on Radiohead. Okay? Next two weeks of interviews that I did, because I was doing a lot of press at the time, everybody said the same thing. They brought it up, of course, and they said, “I actually read what you said, and I realized that there is nothing to it.”
Playing the Hits
Time Out New York: Is there a part of you that’s a concertgoer who’s been frustrated by not hearing older tracks by a certain band? Can you relate to the fans…?
Billy Corgan: That’s kind of a loaded question, you know what I mean? Of course, I can relate to the fan; I’m a fan. But I think you have to draw a distinction between what’s the intention of the artist. And look, what we’ve had happen here in the past ten years is that the business has been capitulating because it’s been getting smaller and smaller and smaller. People start running towards the simplest answer, and the simplest answer for a lot of bands is to go out there and lean on a past work. And once people saw that it was working for this band or that band, then they all starting doing it. If it was sort of just a general idea out there like, “Oh, this is kind of cool; we can do that,” I probably would have done it for every reissue, because it would have made sense, it would have been a nice circle of time, and it would’ve promoted the reissue. Even if we did just, like, three concerts, and we filmed it or whatever and put it on the Web. But once I saw that it was a bunch of sycophants running towards the exits, I said, “Fuck you all.” And that’s why I’m saying: Where is the critical class that stands up and says, “Wait a second, this is actually counter to what rock & roll is supposed to be about.” This is not a rebellious idea; in fact, this is the exact opposite of rebellion. And then people pretend that it’s rebellion. It’s not rebellion. That’s what I am saying—I’m offended by the lack of spirit. It’s more a symbolic argument for me. Look up the set list from Sydney or whatever; we’re playing plenty of old songs. There is no shortage of hits in the set. It’s the context by which we present them. I don’t believe the artist should bow to the audience and say, “Thank you so much for giving me five minutes of your fucking time.” I think that’s not why I got into a rock band. That’s for entertainers-in-Vegas shit. And we’ve seen this watering down of rock & roll street value because it just sells more of somebody else’s shit. And the critical class has been asleep at the wheel for not criticizing this for what it is.