Billy Corgan has a lot to say, and it will all be spelled out in a memoir this year, just before the new Smashing Pumpkins album to be released in 2014. Working on the memoir for the past three years, Mr. Corgan spends six to seven hours a day writing his life story. I met up with Mr. Corgan in Highland Park at Madame Zuzu’s Tea House, which the rock star opened last fall.
Finishing the memoir is at the top of Mr. Corgan’s bucket list – and it’s the only thing on it. “If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, my only regret would be not finishing my book,” he says. “I have nine albums, toured the world 18 times, dated crazy insane beautiful women, and now this is the most important task at hand.”
Just how personal will it be? Mr. Corgan says, “It’s my life from a spiritual perspective, as opposed to a celebrity perspective; it’s all about my family and background – the nuts and bolts, rather, the warts and all.”
Mr. Corgan continues, “People have read that book, ‘I was nobody, then I became somebody, then I struggled, then I made my way back to the top.’ That story is played out in American life. I’m more interested in stories that involve what people learn on their journey and whether or not I can apply it to my life. And I would read a book like that whether or not someone was the best high wire [tight rope] walker in the world. To me, it’s about mastery and then the spiritual journey of mastery that I’m fascinated with. Each individual is given a set of circumstances and, in most cases, they’re difficult. Whether or not you can chemically turn lead into gold or, in my case, turn lead into gold into lead into gold. So that’s the book that I’m trying to write. It takes a lot of skill and and effort. I spent seven hours on it today. I don’t know if that’s wise, but that’s what I’ve done.”
Writing a memoir versus writing lyrics has to be on the opposite side of the spectrum. “I think the beauty about writing lyrics is that you can dip your toe into big concepts without having to go all the way in,” shares Mr. Corgan. “Writing a book, you’ve got to dive to the bottom of the ocean.” That must be difficult. Mr. Corgan replies, “Yes, because it requires a level of organization that rock n’ roll doesn’t necessarily need. If you look at the mystical poetry of Bob Dylan, you can say really big things by skimming the surface about things. There is a beauty in that. If you look at the great writers, they really go to the bottom of the subject. Dickens would spend three pages talking about a room, there’s a real joy there, but you have to have an eye for detail and then the ability to organize it into something meaningful. I’m not sure I have that skill, but I’m trying.”
Focusing on writing a memoir takes a lot of concentration and discipline with so many distractions these days, but Mr. Corgan has a secret: “I like certain music to put me in the mood. It opens up my thinking channel, feeling channel and sensory channel. I stick to classical music. Today I was listening to Gershwin playing piano rolls while I wrote.”
Everyone has a different image of Mr. Corgan as a wild rocker, that seems to be in the past. When I asked him about his current style he described it as being ‘poor,’ and not as in poor taste, but as in a lack-of-resources poor. His favorite fasion splurge is a good sweater.
Mr. Corgan visits the Chicago Botanic Garden regularly, spends down time at his home Highland Park with two cats and two dogs and watches old movies, preferably from the 1930s. His favorite is the 1932 original The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund and starring Boris Karloff.
Aside from writing and running Madama Zuzu’s, Mr. Corgan co-owns a pro wrestling team where both men and women compete for title matches. Mr. Corgan points out that, “we don’t do the T&A stuff. The women are tough with a nice combination of feminity. The women don’t sacrifice their beauty or dignity. I’m most proud of this.”
Speaking of women, Mr. Corgan shares, ” I admire women who are strong and don’t sacrifice the root of their power. I love women who are comfortable with themselves.” Yes ladies, Mr. Corgan is 6’4″ and very easy on the eyes, in a sexy rock star way.
I found one question that no one has ever asked the rock star (he has been interviewed a million times) – “What do you feel sexiest in?” No response, just a good chuckle.