By the late nineties, the Pumpkins had been reduced to Corgan plus "two drug addicts and one guy who hated me, and I hated him." The non-drug addict was guitarist James Iha — the only Pumpkin other than Corgan to get songwriting credits on the band's albums. As Corgan tells it, Iha got deep under his skin by acting hostile and then insisting nothing was wrong. Bassist Wretzky — who seemed to be around more for her cool vibe and good taste than any particular musical talent — had already left the band by the time Corgan broke it up. He now wishes he'd handled the whole thing differently. "Rather than break up the band, what I should have done is chuck James out," Corgan says. "I should have just said to Jimmy [Chamberlin], 'You go to rehab, and we'll continue, and James, get the fuck out of here.' Instead, I fell on my sword for James, for what I thought was a friend." ("In our band there were always four divergent opinions and perspectives," Iha says in an e-mail. "I choose to remember the good times.")
When Corgan revived the group in 2006, the lineup was Corgan, Chamberlin and some hired hands. They recorded a relentlessly heavy album called Zeitgeist, which focused only on the most metallic, brutal aspects of the Pumpkins' sound — it was as if Corgan was punishing fans for wanting the band back. "Some of the songs we didn't use for Zeitgeist sound like classic Smashing Pumpkins — they're ballad-y, big rock-anthem things," he says now. "I hear them and I'm like, 'What the fuck was I doing?' "
When Chamberlin and Corgan hit the road on a so-called 20th-anniversary tour in late 2008, fans started asking the same question. Dressed in long, shiny robes, Corgan played sets that were nearly four hours long, padded by a 25-minute cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," spiced with electronic bird calls. Fans walked out as Corgan berated them from the stage. "It was like burning a bridge, and I'm really good at burning bridges," Corgan says, smiling. "It was crazy — violent like I haven't seen in a long time. The dialogues with fans, they got contentious."
Afterward, Corgan fired Chamberlin — though the drummer halfheartedly suggests that he might have quit. Until he had his first child seven years ago, Chamberlin was a heroin addict — Corgan first fired him in 1996 after touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died while partying with him on tour one night. Chamberlin is sober now, but Corgan is convinced that his character hasn't changed, that he is fundamentally "unhealthy." "Jimmy is a destructive human being, and people who are destructive break things," Corgan says. "I don't see me reaching the highest levels of my creativity if I'm unhealthy and if I have unhealthy people around me. Every time Jimmy didn't show up for a week in the studio, I made it about me. Any time James Iha was off in a corner somewhere not paying any fucking attention, I made it about me." After Corgan told Chamberlin he was out, the drummer "unloaded" on Corgan, unleashing 20 years worth of pent-up insults. "So I was like, 'Fuck you,' " Corgan recalls. " 'Go ride around in a white van for the rest of your life.' "
Chamberlin becomes apoplectic when he hears Corgan's account. "In the middle of the last tour, Billy said it was the agent's fault, then it was the band's fault, then it was the fans' fault," the drummer says. "Yes, in the past, I was a destructive human being. I was a complete drug addict and a complete loose cannon, but I've taken responsibility for my life.
"In the grand scheme of things," he adds, "it doesn't really move the needle that much anymore. It's a few gold records and a bunch of money. Who cares? I have a wife and kids, I'm completely happy." He has started a new band, called This, and he doesn't see the point of spending months painstakingly recording music anymore. "Music is such a small part of people's lives now," he says. "People don't sit around like they did in the Nineties and stare at album covers and think about Kurt and Billy. I fucking hated the Nineties."
So it's just Corgan now, and he doesn't wince when his situation is compared to Axl Rose's. "I'm a fan, and maybe Chinese Democracy wasn't as great of a record as I would hope for, but it also gave me greater appreciation for what he actually does," says Corgan. "I'm in a different situation, I'm in total control of my world. If you listen to any Smashing Pumpkins song, if you minus the drums, 99 percent of the time you are listening to me" — meaning he played almost all the guitar and bass parts in the studio. "I still have all of my old equipment — I could make the Siamese Dream sound. I could do anything I needed to do or wanted to do, but the question is, why would I want to do it?"
One afternoon this winter, Corgan was curled on a couch with porn star Sasha Grey and her husband, watching the NFL playoffs. Grey is just one of the beautiful famous women Corgan has drawn into his life. "He's smooth," Grey says with a laugh.
Jessica Simpson lives a couple of houses down from Brown, and she met Corgan when he invited her to a Spirits in the Sky show. From there, if you believe the tabloids, they began a now-concluded romance; Corgan, who also helped Simpson record a song for her new TV show at Brown's studio, half-jokes about ending the interview when her name comes up. He then becomes verbose, if slippery, on the subject. "If I go, 'Oh, we're just friends,' then it's like, 'Did they go out, did he dump her or she dump him, what happened?' It has nothing to do with any of that. Sometimes people just like being around each other, and good things come out of that. My goal in life is to love whoever I think is worth loving, and I think if people knew her like I knew her, they would love her like I do. It's really simple."
Another of Corgan's relationships, with reality star Tila Tequila, may be more complex. Corgan says they never dated, adding that their on-again, off-again friendship is in the "off" position. But Tequila insists that after five years of a friendship that began after he contacted her on MySpace, they started a romance — and, according to Tequila, they frequently spoke of marriage. "He learned from me to love people as they are and not to try to change them," Tequila says. "And he learned that he pushes away people that love him and care about him. We'd have these disgusting, horrible, horrible fights that were really hurtful, but then you have the best make-up."
Tequila thinks Corgan is contradicting his spiritual beliefs. "He'll teach me about all this unconditional love, blah, blah, blah . . . but then I'm here, the one not afraid," she says, sounding sad. "I know he really wants to have children, so I told him a long time ago I'm ready to have a baby. If he was ready, I'm ready. He better get it before he loses that chance."
A lifelong insomniac, Corgan rarely sleeps more than six hours a night. But he has constant vivid dreams. "I had this incredible dream about a month ago, and I was in this massive cathedral," he says. "I was looking at an angelic light choir, and it was a beautiful scene of light and color, but I was on the outside watching it. They were singing a song, and it was something about joy. I recorded the line, and I still may use it."
It seems significant that in the dream Corgan was on the outside, watching: For all his questing, he is still unhappy "about half the time." "Look, when your mother goes crazy and disappears when you're three and a half, four years old, and then you end up in a home with an abusive situation, it just fucks your head," he says. "I haven't met anybody who's had similar circumstances to me whose head didn't get fucked up. I've had 25 years to figure it out, and I still haven't figured it out."
Corgan doesn't go into much more detail about his spiritual adventures — he's saving that for his book, where he hopes he can put them into proper context. Pushed to elaborate on his claim of psychic abilities, he snaps, "I can levitate to Jessica Simpson's house, isn't that enough?" Mostly, he says, "I believe in constant meditative thought. You have to practice self-love — and forgiveness."
This kind of talk opens him up to more mockery, I point out — people might call him a flaky, aging rock star who embraced New Age quackery after moving to L.A. He shrugs. "If it's a new opportunity to poke into me, what are they poking into me? There's nothing there to poke into. I'm not attached to any of those systems anymore. Five years ago I was thinking, 'Beck Hansen got the better end of the deal' — he's cute and he got good reviews — but it's actually the same deal. Because they discard all of us when they don't need us anymore, they just throw us in the garbage and bring us back out to wring us out one more time for another war story."
Corgan pauses for breath. "But if you want to pick one thing that I'm weak on, I want my work placed where it belongs," he says. "That's one thing that my ego won't let go of. I want my just desserts. I don't want to be on the outside looking in."
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