As a boy, Corgan had an unnervingly intense gaze, staring so hard at adults that they complained to his parents. As Corgan sees it, that was the first sign of what he believes to be his spiritual abilities. "I was psychically reading them — I just didn't know what that was," he says. "I was gathering information, whether I was watching their body language or reading through them. I thought everybody was like that."
Corgan was a lonely, traumatized kid, born into a world of dysfunction and addiction. His father, William Corgan, was a heroin-addicted blues and R&B guitarist; his mother had a breakdown and abandoned him before he was five years old. Later, while his father was on the road, Corgan says, he endured physical abuse from a stepmother.
His past has a way of reaching into his present: On January 1st, 2008, police in Tampa, Florida, found his 60-year-old father unconscious in his car, a heroin needle in his left forearm. Not for the first time, Billy stepped in to help his dad, bailing him out of jail and paying for rehab. "Billy saved my life so many times," says Corgan Sr. "I've been given more than my fair share of chances to be a human, and I've blown it a few times. I grew up in a house of no love or emotion — it kind of sticks with you. You end up passing it on to your kids, and we're hoping that we maybe broke the chain."
Corgan has spent enough time in therapy to know it's no accident he created a new dysfunctional family in the Pumpkins. He surrounded himself with addicts, from Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to former lover and collaborator Courtney Love. He's tried to sever every one of those relationships. "If I love somebody, I'll look the other way," says Corgan, "and stand there and walk them through their addiction. Maybe because of my father I learned how to do this at a young age."
He worked with Love on songs for her new album, but he wants nothing to do with her now — and if she releases the songs, as it appears she will, "it would be a real big problem, because I haven't given my permission," Corgan says. "I have no interest in supporting her in any way, shape or form. You can't throw enough things down the abyss with a person like that."
Corgan is a regular at the Polo Lounge, a classic old-Hollywood spot nestled inside the bright-pink Beverly Hills Hotel, and when we meet for lunch there the next day, he gets a prime booth and a "good to see you again, sir" from the maitre d'. He's shaved his beard and ditched the hat, though he's still got the red scarf on. He's in a better mood today. "It's amazing who I've seen in here," he says with guileless enthusiasm. "I came in here for a meeting once about my book, and it was, like, Katie Holmes, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Kidman."
Corgan arrives with the 61-year-old who played bass on his recent demos — Mark Tulin, from the Sixties garage band the Electric Prunes. With the departure of Chamberlin last March, the Pumpkins became a concept rather than a band, leaving Corgan to play with whomever he wants. He found his new drummer, Mike Byrne, who's 20 and looks 12, through an audition. Tulin and Byrne have become close, with the drummer turning a man old enough to be his grandfather on to indie rock that their boss can't stand — Corgan says the words "Animal Collective" as if they taste bad on his tongue.
Corgan met Tulin after the frontman got involved with a group even he calls a cult, the Source Family, who in the Seventies lived communally in a Hollywood Hills house and spawned their own psychedelic band, Ya Ho Wa 13. After reading a book about the group, whose beliefs are loosely based on Kabbalah, among other sources, Brown invited one of its members — Sky Saxon, frontman for garage-rock legends the Seeds, who died last year — to come down to the studio. "He came with the Family members, and the whole spiritual circus came and moved in," Brown says.
He and Corgan were adopted into the group, which gave them new names: Brown is Stargate Aquarian, Corgan is Samuel Aquarian. The pair learned the group's meditative exercises, though they didn't necessarily embrace the part about sex without orgasm. "That's for the hardcore," says Brown. Hours of recordings of Corgan jamming with Ya Ho Wa 13 exist, and Brown is trying to figure out how to release them.
Tulin never joined the group himself, but one of his drummers did, so he ended up in Brown's studio one day — his first musical project with Corgan was Spirits in the Sky, a band formed to play tribute shows for Saxon. Tulin's Dude-like presence clearly relaxes Corgan, who cracks up as the bass player tells a story about once getting so high before a gig that he didn't realize he never played a note. Corgan starts sharing his own drug tales. "When I would take LSD, I'd listen to Sabbath and Ry Cooder — Sabbath to come up, Ry Cooder to come down," he says. "The Pumpkins used to take LSD onstage, all four members. Not good. The music was really complicated and fast, and you were playing prog-rock, tripping your brains out."
The conversation turns to band dynamics. "I think a band as an entity is, if not impossible, very difficult to maintain," says Tulin, who has a Ph.D in psychology. "It's an artificial relationship with people you may not have anything else in common with." Corgan nods, emphatically.
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