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Inside the Smashing Pumpkins' Double-Platinum Soap Opera

Page 3 of 3

Corgan also learned about fatherhood (although he doesn't want children, because, he says, "I think I'd pass on too much bullshit"). The oldest of four boys, Corgan was left with the task of being de facto guardian to his youngest brother, who was born with a genetic disorder and to whom he wrote the song "Spaceboy," on Siamese Dream. "When he was born, we were told that he would never walk, talk or function, and he's about to graduate from high school," says Corgan. "When I get really fucked up and jaded, it reminds me what life's really about. He's an amazing, amazing person."

Yes, here is Corgan at home, living for the first time what he has dubbed "a real life with real substance." He talks to what he calls his three parents at least once a week. He is happily married. The grilled-cheese sandwich in his left hand is perfectly toasted, not too burned, not too soggy. Still, despite all these outward signs of contentment, you don't have to scratch very deeply beneath the surface to elicit a fair amount of, well, "absolute fucking rage."

"That's what's at the base of all this," says Corgan. "I feel like I was fucked over. Why the fuck did you have me if you didn't want me? Why the fuck did you have me if you weren't going to take care of me? Why the fuck did you raise me to be a fucking squirrel? Why was I raised to lose? Why wasn't I given the skills necessary to lead a successful, happy, productive, loving life? Why has it been impossible for me to maintain a relationship?"

It is a series of questions that aren't easily answered. Not even by his father, Bill Corgan Sr.

"Billy has far surpassed any expectations of what a father could think, almost to the point of being unworthy," says the elder Corgan. "He was robbed of a lot of childhood. I didn't do a lot of things that a father would do, play ball and all that stuff. I didn't know how to raise boys. I just did the best I could. And I thought I did a great job, but I guess I didn't. Now we've talked a lot about it. I didn't realize he was hurtin' like he was."

It's the final night of the tour, and Smashing Pumpkins have invaded (or is that "rock invaded"?) Cincinnati. Now, with a few hours to spare before showtime, Iha – in search of that elusive "sad country feel" – is braving the arctic conditions to pop into a record store and snag a used CD of the Eagles' greatest hits. He also purchases Boston's first album, but it is clearly the California suburban cowboys that are giving him the most pleasure. Between speaking of his now-waning penchant for sleeping until midafternoon every day ("I just really like to sleep"), his incessant list making ("Sometimes I write lists that say: 1. Work on band songs. 2. Work on James' songs") and the fact that his father, an engineer, designed the Chamberlain garage-door opener, he speaks of the difficulty involved in walking in Don Henley and Glenn Frey's shoes (although because he says he would love to meet them someday, it is clear he is speaking metaphorically).

"I just want some positive vibes," explains Iha, who seems to be doing his part for the cause by substituting the phrase cool beans for any and all affirmative answers (sample question: "Hey, James, wanna get a cup of coffee?" Answer: "Cool beans"). "I'd rather read about old bands than ones today," Iha says. "I wish all these bands with the great indie attitude would just write songs. I don't get anything from them sometimes but attitude. Alternative music just bums me out in general."

Which brings us to a critical juncture. Turnabout being fair play, the alternative community has spent years being bummed out by Smashing Pumpkins. Even the new album by the uber-indie stars Pavement takes a swipe at the Pumpkins ("I don't understand what they mean," Pavement sing. "And I could really give a fuck").

"A lot of them probably don't like what Billy has to say," says Iha of Corgan's unrepentant and very verbal criticism of his peers' cliquishness. Iha pauses and laughs. "And a lot of them probably don't like the music."

Not even Corgan's current close friendship and past romantic affair with Courtney Love (predating her relationship with Kurt Cobain by the narrowest of margins) brought Smashing Pumpkins closer to the indie inner circle. Which may just cause a problem or two when the Pumpkins spend their summer vacation hanging out with the popular kids from the indie-rock school of thought. Of course, Lollapalooza is supposed to be about the melting and marriage of all different sounds and attitudes. And sure, this year's roster featuring the Pumpkins, Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, the Breeders and a slew of other groups is arguably the best lineup yet. But when Corgan addresses the alternative scene – "I think there's plenty of bands with amazingly talented people who will never reach fruition because they attach themselves to a persona and try to keep up some public posture" – it's obvious that Lollapalooza '94 might not necessarily be a feel-good-fest.

Then again, pose this quandary to anyone in the Cincinnati mob now clamoring for the Pumpkins' brand of alternative melodrama, and it's a safe bet no one cares one lousy bit.

Problem is – even though Corgan admits, "I know the mentality. I used to sit around and argue about who was a better guitar player in Judas Priest, K.K. or Glenn. That's where I come from" – he also constantly contradicts himself when speaking of his connection with his fan base. First, there is the Billy Corgan who, quite correctly, is a self-confessed "pretty nice, considerate guy with a good heart." This Billy Corgan looks out at the crowd and says: "It just brings back that flood of memories. To know what it meant to be on that floor, what it was like to be 15 and unsure and awkward. It's powerful to me."

Then there's the other Billy Corgan – one who, we are sure, shares the identical DNA with the first – who utters the following: "My whole life has been about trying to establish some dignity and some independence and autonomy from what's been put on me. So just because I step onstage, does that mean I have to be your monkey? Does that mean I have to jump like you want me to jump and play the songs you want to hear? To me, it's that sentiment that gives me the power that made me do it in the first place."

It's no wonder that Iha is on a quest for "Peaceful Easy Feeling"; or that Chamberlin is hoping to get a Tuesday-evening jazz combo together; or that D'Arcy, because she has nothing nice to say, is not saying anything at all. Backstage in Cincinnati, the final show of the tour looming, quite literally, just overhead, Smashing Pumpkins show absolutely no animosity toward one another. On the contrary, there is a warm, upbeat atmosphere. There is, however, very little interaction of any kind. Band members glide around each other like relatives putting aside their differences for the sake of a holiday celebration.

"They're such weird people," Corgan says with a laugh, when asked to assess each of his Pumpkin siblings. "D'Arcy is one of the hardest people to understand. I just do not understand how her mind works. But she really understands the artistic side of it. I feel really aligned with her on why we go to such great lengths to be artistic. With James, our friendship has gone through some really weird times over the last few years. I feel like his component is to bring some other element of music because he's really the only other musical contributor. And Jimmy just has the ability to translate his human energy into raw, physical power. I don't even think he understands it. I can do anything I want to do dynamically because I have him."

Corgan pauses, and his voice gets slower, more methodical. It sounds, for a split second, as if he were choking back tears.

"I don't like the notion that people automatically think the band is stupid because I do a lot," Corgan says. "Some people in the band just aren't as driven as me. D'Arcy's point is that she doesn't need that. She's comfortable in her life. But people automatically assume that they're stupid or I'm controlling them. They are not stupid people. We're not a stupid band."

He stops again.

"For a long time it was 'You don't understand, fuck you,'" Corgan says. "It's not really like that anymore. But then again, I don't leave a lot of stuff out for debate. I'm really ultimately defensive about the inner workings of the band because I have done the bulk of the work, and that can't be taken away from me. I don't want to defend why I did what I did. The Pumpkins wouldn't be if I hadn't been a fucking ass at times. But maybe now we're older and have some confidence, and maybe that'll create a different situation."

And with that, Corgan stands, walks down a long hallway and climbs the stage stairs for two and a half hours of musical apology.

This story is from the April 21st, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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