William Patrick "Billy" Corgan Jr. (born March 17, 1967) is an American musician, producer, lyricist, writer, and poet, best known as the frontman and sole permanent member of The Smashing Pumpkins. Formed by Corgan and guitarist James Iha in Chicago, Illinois, in 1987, the band quickly gained steam with the addition of bassist D'arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The band's direction has largely been driven by Corgan through his confessional lyrics, grandiose production values, and virtuosic musical interplay, notably with Chamberlin. In three years, The Smashing Pumpkins had transformed themselves into a major label success. Strong album sales and large-scale tours propelled the band's increasing fame in the 1990s, while Chamberlin's drug problems escalated until he was fired. The Pumpkins continued as a three-piece until Chamberlin rejoined the band in 1999, then broke up in 2000. Corgan started a new band with Chamberlin right away, called Zwan, and after their demise, he released a solo album (TheFutureEmbrace) and a collection of poetry (Blinking with Fists) before setting his sights on reforming the Smashing Pumpkins. He has also assisted Breaking Benjamin in making their album We Are Not Alone.
The new version of the Smashing Pumpkins, consisting of Corgan, Chamberlin, and a revolving tour lineup, released an album in 2007 and followed it with extensive touring over the next year and a half. Chamberlin left the band in March 2009, while Corgan has continued to record and tour with a new lineup.
1967–87: Childhood and formative years
Corgan was born in Elk Grove Village, Illinois as the oldest son of William Corgan Sr., a blues/rock guitarist, and Martha Louise Maes Corgan Lutz. His parents had one more child, Ricky, before divorcing in 1970. His father was soon remarried to a flight attendant, and Corgan and his brother went to live with them in Glendale Heights, Illinois. During this time, Corgan alleges he was subject to much physical and emotional abuse by his stepmother. Corgan also developed a protective bond with his younger half-brother, who had special needs as a child. When Corgan's father and stepmother separated, all three children would live alone with the stepmother, with both of Corgan's birth parents living separately within an hour's drive.
Corgan, who grew much faster than his fellow students, was a strong athlete in elementary school. In addition to being a member of his Marquardt Middle School baseball team, he collected baseball cards (amassing over 10,000) and listened to every Chicago Cubs game. However, by the time he began attending Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, Illinois, he had become only an average athlete. He decided to start playing guitar when he went over to a friend's house and saw his friend's Flying V. Corgan gave his savings to his father, who bought him a used Les Paul knock-off. Corgan, Sr. steered his son stylistically, encouraging him to listen to Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, but offered little other support, and the younger Corgan taught himself to play the instrument. His musical interests in his formative years included hard rock like Guts-era John Cale, heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, and mainstream rock like Queen, Boston, ELO, Rush, and Cheap Trick. In high school, Corgan discovered alternative rock through Bauhaus and The Cure.
Corgan performed in a string of bands in high school and graduated as an honor student. Despite grant and scholarship offers from a number of schools, including the University of Michigan, and a tuition fund left by his grandmother, Corgan decided to pursue music full-time. Not finding the Chicago music scene to his liking, he moved from Chicago to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1985 with his first major band, The Marked (so named for the conspicuous birthmarks of both Corgan and drummer Ron Roesing). Not finding success in St. Petersburg, the band dissolved; Corgan moved back to Chicago to live with his father.
1988–2000: The Smashing Pumpkins
Upon his return to Chicago, Corgan had already devised his next project – a band that would be called The Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan met guitarist James Iha while working in a record store, and the two began recording demos, which Corgan describes as "gloomy little goth-pop records." After recording their first two demos that Corgan wrote, Iha decided to write one for himself. After looking over it, Corgan criticized it. Iha took this very seriously and did not talk to Corgan for about another two months, until one day they just decided to make some more demos. He then met bassist D'arcy Wretzky after a local show, arguing with her about a band that had just played, The Dan Reed Network. Soon after, the Smashing Pumpkins were formed. The trio began to play together at local clubs with only a drum machine for percussion. To secure a show at the Metro in Chicago, the band recruited drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and played for the first time as a quartet on October 5, 1988.
The addition of the powerful Chamberlin drove the band in a heavier direction almost immediately. On the band's inaugural album, Gish (1991), the band fused diverse threads such as psychedelic rock and heavy metal into a distinctive sound. Gish fared better than expected, but the follow-up, Siamese Dream, released on Virgin Records in 1993, became a multi-platinum hit. The band became known for internal drama during this period, with Corgan frequently characterized in the music press as a "control freak" due to rumors that Corgan played all the guitar and bass parts on Gish and Siamese Dream (a rumor that Corgan later confirmed as true). Despite this, the album was well received by critics, and the songs "Today" and "Disarm" became smash hits.
The band's 1995 follow up effort, the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was even more successful, spawning a string of hit singles. The album was nominated for seven Grammy awards that year and would eventually be certified ten times platinum in the United States. The song "1979" was Corgan's biggest hit to date, reaching No. 1 on Billboard's modern rock and mainstream rock charts. Their appearance on Saturday Night Live on November 11, 1995 to promote this material (their second appearance on the show overall) also was the television debut appearance of Corgan's shaved head, which he has maintained consistently ever since.
During the album's tour, the band was plagued by Chamberlin's heroin addiction. On July 12, 1996, touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a drug overdose in a hotel room. Chamberlin was present at the scene but could not revive him. The Pumpkins made the decision to fire Chamberlin and would continue as a trio. This shakeup, coupled with Corgan going through a divorce and the death of his mother, influenced the somber mood of the band's next album, 1998's Adore. Featuring a darker, more subdued and heavily electronic sound at a time when alternative rock was declining in mainstream cachet, Adore divided both critics and fans, resulting in a significant decrease in album sales (it sold 1.3 million discs in the US).
Chamberlin was reunited with the band in 1999, and 2000 saw Machina/The Machines of God, a concept album on which the band deliberately played to their public image; critics were again divided, and sales were lower than ever. During the recording for Machina, Wretzky quit the band and was replaced for the upcoming tour by former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur. In 2000, the band announced they would break up at the end of the year, and soon after released Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music for free over the internet. The Smashing Pumpkins played their last show on December 2, 2000 at the Cabaret Metro.
2001–05: Zwan and solo career
Following a brief stint touring with New Order in the summer, Corgan reunited with Chamberlin to form the band Zwan with Corgan's old friend Matt Sweeney in late 2001. The lineup was completed with guitarist David Pajo and bassist Paz Lenchantin. The band had two distinct incarnations, the primary approach being an upbeat rock band with a three-guitar-driven sound, the second, a folk and gospel inspired acoustic side with live strings. The quintet performed throughout 2002 and their debut album, Mary Star of the Sea, was released in early 2003 to generally positive reviews. In the midst of their supporting tour for the album, mounting conflict between Corgan and Chamberlin and the other band members led to the cancellation of the rest of the tour as the band entered an apparent hiatus, formally announcing a breakup in September 2003.
In 2004, Corgan began writing revealing autobiographical posts on his website and his MySpace page, blaming Iha for the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins, calling Wretzky "a mean spirited drug addict," and criticizing his former Zwan bandmates' fixation with "indie cred" and calling them "filthy", opportunistic, and selfish.
On September 17, 2003 Billy first presented his poetry at the Art Institute of Chicago's Rubloff Auditorium. In late 2004, Corgan published Blinking with Fists, a book of poetry. Despite mixed reviews, the book debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. Around this time, he began posting autobiographical writings online under the title The Confessions of Billy Corgan.
Also in 2004, he began a solo music career, landing on an electronic/shoegaze/alternative rock sound for his first solo album, TheFutureEmbrace, co-produced and arranged by Bon Harris of Nitzer Ebb. Released on June 21, 2005 through Reprise Records, it garnered mixed reviews from the press and only sold 69,000 copies. Corgan toured behind his solo album with a touring band that included Linda Strawberry, Brian Liesegang and Matt Walker in 2005. This tour was not as extensive as previous Smashing Pumpkins or Zwan tours. Prior to recording TheFutureEmbrace, Corgan had recorded some 72 songs inspired by Chicago history for the largely acoustic ChicagoSongs project, which have yet to be released.
2005–present: The Smashing Pumpkins revival
In 2005, Corgan took out a full-page ad in Chicago's two major newspapers (The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times) revealing his desire to reform the Smashing Pumpkins. Several days later, Jimmy Chamberlin accepted Billy Corgan's offer for a reunion.
On April 20, 2006 the band's official website confirmed that the group was indeed reuniting. The band went into studio for much of 2006 and early 2007, and performed its first show in seven years on May 22, 2007, with new members Ginger Pooley (bass) and Jeff Schroeder (guitar) replacing Wretzky and Iha. The new album, titled Zeitgeist, was released in the U.S. on July 10, 2007, and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. Corgan and the rest of the Pumpkins toured extensively throughout 2007 and 2008, also releasing the EP American Gothic and the singles "G.L.O.W." and "Superchrist". Chamberlin left the band in March 2009, and Corgan elected to continue under the name.
In summer 2009, Corgan formed the band Spirits in the Sky to play a tribute concert to the late Sky Saxon of the Seeds. He then toured with the band, composed of ex-Catherine member and "Superchrist" producer Kerry Brown, the late Electric Prunes bassist Mark Tulin, Strawberry Alarm Clock keyboardist Mark Weitz, frequent Corgan collaborator Linda Strawberry, flautist Kevin Dippold, "Superchrist" violinist Ysanne Spevack, new Pumpkins drummer Mike Byrne, and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, playing covers and new Pumpkins material at several clubs in California. At the end of the tour, Corgan, Byrne, Tulin, and Brown headed back to Chicago to begin work on the new Smashing Pumpkins album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. The lineup at the time which included new bassist Nicole Fiorentino, toured through much of 2010, then spent 2011 recording the "album-within-an-album" Oceania and mounting tours of the US and Europe. However, Byrne and Fiorentino would later leave the band in 2014.
In 2011, Corgan formed an independent wrestling promotion called Resistance Pro. Two years later, in 2013, he starred in a commercial for Walter E. Smithe Furniture, using the platform to promote his wrestling company. In 2012, he opened a tea house in his native Highland Park called Madame Zuzu's Tea House. He is currently at work on his spiritual memoir, entitled "God is Everywhere from Here to There".
In March 2014, it was reported that Corgan was in discussions with American television channel AMC to develop an unscripted reality series about Resistance Pro. The premise being a behind the scenes look at the promotion as Corgan "takes over creative direction for the independent wrestling company." The show was given the green light by AMC, under the working title of "Untitled Billy Corgan Wrestling Project," the same month. In April, Corgan announced a new solo record of "experimental" recordings he made in 2007, via the Smashing Pumpkins' website. The album, entitled AEGEA, will be released exclusively on vinyl, with 250 copies being made; 200 copies being sold online, through Madame Zuzu's Tea House's online store, 30 being sold at Madame Zuzu's Tea House itself, 10 being sold by way of famed Vintage Vinyl, in Evanston, IL., and 10 being set aside for promotion. The album was released on May 15.
On July 25, 2014, Billy announced that the tapes from his "Siddhartha" show from March 2014 were being transferred for sale, much in the vein of AEGEA. The set is expected to be between 5 and 6 discs.
December 9th of 2014 Billy Corgan will release the Smashing Pumpkins' latest album, "Monuments to an Elegy". The album will have 9 songs. Drummer Tommy Lee, of Motley Crue fame, contributed to all the drumming on Monuments to an Elegy. "Being Beige", is the first single released from this album. So far, feedback of MTAE have been very good. Following in the mid to later part of 2015, the Smashing Pumpkins will release another album, "Day for Night".
Billy Corgan has struggled with depression for much of his life and has endured bouts of self-injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal thoughts. Corgan attributes these problems to the abuse he endured as a child as well as personal anxieties and issues. Corgan has since become an advocate for abuse support networks.
His mother Martha died in December 1996. The song "For Martha", from Adore, was written in her memory. In the early 2000s, Corgan named his label Martha's Music after her as well. A picture of Martha as a little girl sitting on a fake moon at Riverview Park is featured on the flipside of the Siamese Dream booklet.
Corgan is an avid sports fan. A lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, he is an occasional commentator on that team for WXRT DJ Lin Brehmer, and sporadically in interviews. He has appeared at Cubs games many times, occasionally throwing the ceremonial first pitch or singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". He was a devoted fan of the Bulls and Blackhawks in the 1990s, and became personal friends with Dennis Rodman and Chris Chelios.
He is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling and self-described "wrestlemaniac", and appeared at an Extreme Championship Wrestling event wielding an acoustic guitar as a weapon. In 2008, the Pumpkins song "Doomsday Clock" was used by Ring of Honor for promotional videos. On April 26, 2010, Corgan appeared live on the SIRIUS Satellite Radio program Right After Wrestling with Arda Ocal to discuss his love for pro wrestling and the importance of unique theme songs for characters. On August 26, 2010, Corgan took part in a professional wrestling storyline with wrestlers from the Mexican promotion Asistencia Asesoría y Administración, during a concert for MTV World Stage. He also runs his own professional wrestling company called Resistance Pro based in Chicago. As far as other entertainment, Corgan once commented that all he watches on TV are "sports and Three Stooges." In March 2008, he was spotted in the crowd at the final day of the cricket test match between New Zealand and England in Wellington. In early 2014 it was rumoured through many wrestling news sites that AMC were picking Resistance Pro up for a backstage and in ring look at Corgan's promotion.
He incorporates elements of Catholicism and Buddhism into his spiritual philosophy, even though he has not publicly aligned himself with any one faith. In 2009, he launched Everything From Here to There, an interfaith website that is devoted to "Mind-Body-Soul" integration. He mentions praying each morning and night to be able to see through Christ's eyes and feel with his heart.
While Corgan typically avoids discussing United States politics, he said after the 2008 presidential election, "I'm very proud of my country right now for doing the right thing." He has since said that he has been disappointed with Obama's presidency and lacks faith in both major political parties. In 2009, he posted a transcript of a webcast by political activist Lyndon LaRouche to the official Smashing Pumpkins forum. He has also voiced his admiration for radio host Alex Jones. On March 10, 2009, Billy Corgan testified in front of Congress on behalf of the musicFIRST Coalition. Corgan spoke in favor of H.R. 848, the Performance Rights Act, which gives musicians and artists their share of compensation when their music is played on music radio stations.
In 1993, he married his longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend Chris Fabian, art conservationist and artist. They were married at a small ceremony at his house in Wrigleyville. Rumors circulated that Corgan and Courtney Love rekindled their romance during the Pumpkins' 1994 Lollapalooza tour, after Kurt Cobain's death. Corgan and Fabian separated late 1995, and divorced in 1997. Corgan refused to discuss the subject in interviews, saying "There is not and will not be any public record on my marriage – that's one thing I have to draw lines around." He nevertheless described the circumstances of his marriage in his online Confessions, in 2005.
In late 1995, he started dating photographer Yelena Yemchuk, who later contributed to several Smashing Pumpkins videos and album art. He continued to date Yemchuk until around 2004. According to Corgan, his breakup with her contributed to the themes of his 2005 solo release, TheFutureEmbrace. In 2008, Corgan said, "I've had a bad marriage and seven bad girlfriends in a row", a perspective he attributes to his dedication to music.
In 2005, Corgan dated musician Emilie Autumn for a number of months. The pair collaborated on multiple occasions during this time, with Autumn providing vocals and violin on his solo album and costume for a supporting music video.
In early 2006, Corgan moved in with Love and her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. According to Love, he had his own wing in her new Hollywood Hills mansion. Two years later, Love criticized Corgan publicly over the latter's alleged refusal to attend Frances' sweet 16 birthday party. In March 2010, Corgan stated in an interview in reference about Love "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" and said he parted ways with her. Shortly after, when Hole's Nobody's Daughter was released, Corgan unleashed on his Twitter a set of anger-filled tweets against her in reference to including two songs he wrote, "Samantha" and "How Dirty Girls Get Clean", that ended up on the new album without his permission. Love then wrote an apology to him on her Facebook, but things heated up. Corgan took to Twitter again in six tweets, attacking her again. Love responded to Corgan's tweets, saying "All i am is nice about you so if you wanna be mean be mean i dont feel anything. i have too much to feel dear."
In 2009, Corgan was linked with pop star Jessica Simpson. He started dating Jessica Origliasso from The Veronicas in 2010 and was still dating her until early June 2012 when the pair broke up. "It's one of those things. It's really difficult when you spend so much time apart", said Origliasso of the split.
Corgan is a pescetarian since 2013, which he mentioned on the official Smashing Pumpkins website.
In addition to performing, Corgan has produced albums for Ric Ocasek, The Frogs, and Catherine. He shared songwriting credit on several songs on Hole's 1998 album Celebrity Skin; the title track became Corgan's second No. 1 modern rock hit. He also acted as a consultant for Marilyn Manson during the recording of the album Mechanical Animals. He has produced three soundtracks for the movies Ransom (1996), Stigmata (1999) and Spun (2002) in which he appeared as a doctor. Billy appeared at the 1996 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. He inducted one of his biggest musical influences, Pink Floyd. He played acoustic guitar during the ceremony with Pink Floyd, when they performed their song "Wish You Were Here". He has collaborated with Tony Iommi, Blindside, David Bowie, New Order and Marianne Faithfull. Corgan would also guide and collaborate with three bands in the 2000s—Breaking Benjamin (during sessions for 2004's We Are Not Alone), Taproot (for Blue-Sky Research, 2005), and Sky Saxon. Corgan appeared as a guest vocalist on the song "Loki Cat" on Jimmy Chamberlin's first solo album Life Begins Again and Chamberlin played drums for the song "DIA" on Corgan's solo debut, where Robert Smith from The Cure teamed up with Billy Corgan to do a cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody". Corgan has worked on Courtney Love's Nobody's Daughter, Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson's debut solo album, and Scorpions' Humanity - Hour 1. In 2010, Corgan featured on Ray Davies' album on a mash-up of the tracks "All Day and All of the Night" and "Destroyer".
Musical Style And Influences
When asked in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview about his influences, Corgan replied:
Eight years old, I put on the Black Sabbath record, and my life is forever changed. It sounded so heavy. It rattled the bones. I wanted that feeling. With Bauhaus and The Cure, it was the ability to create a mood and an atmosphere. The air gets heavier. With Jimi Hendrix it was the ability to translate this other level of guitar. Cheap Trick – it was a vocal influence. Although Tom Petersson once told me that Rick Nielsen called us 'tuneless and nonmelodic.'
Although Corgan is not widely recognized for his guitar playing, it has been praised numerous times. Allmusic said "Starla" "proves that Corgan was one of the finest (and most underrated) rock guitarists of the '90s", while Rolling Stone called him and his Smashing Pumpkins bandmates "ruthless virtuosos". Within guitar circles, he has assumed a position of respect. He wrote six articles for Guitar World in 1995, and his solos for "Cherub Rock" and "Geek U.S.A." were included on their list of the top guitar solos of all time. His solo for "Soma" was No. 24 on Rolling Stone's list of the top guitar solos. He is a fan of Eddie Van Halen and interviewed him in the late nineties for Guitar World. Other guitarists Corgan rates highly include Uli Jon Roth, Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Leslie West, Dimebag Darrell and Robin Trower.
His bass playing, which has featured on nearly every Smashing Pumpkins album, was influenced by post-punk figures like Peter Hook and Simon Gallup.
Corgan has praised Radiohead, saying "if they're not the best band in the world, then they're one of the best". He is also a fan of Pantera. Other favorites include Depeche Mode, Rush, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Dinosaur Jr., Breaking Benjamin, My Bloody Valentine, and Spiritualized.
He has listed his artistic influences as William S. Burroughs, Pablo Picasso, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac, and Philip K. Dick.
Corgan played (during the Gish-Siamese Dream era) a customized '57 Reissue Fender Stratocaster equipped with three Fender Lace Sensor pickups (the Lace Sensor Blue in the neck position, the Lace Sensor Silver in the middle position, and the Lace Sensor Red at the bridge position). It also has a five-position pickup selector switch which he installed himself. This battered Strat became his number one guitar by default. He owned a '74 Strat that was stolen shortly after Gish was completed.
Corgan also used a wide variety of guitars on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. On "Where Boys Fear to Tread", Billy used a Les Paul Junior Reissue, and on "Tonight Tonight" he used a '72 Gibson ES-335. He is also known to use a '74 Strat that has since then been painted baby blue. That guitar was used on the recordings for "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and also "Muzzle", because the heavier wood gave it the basic Strat sound with a bit more bottom.
During the recording and tour of the album Zeitgeist, Billy used a Schecter C-1 EX baritone, finished in black with Tony Iommi signature pickups.
Corgan also endorsed Reverend Guitars in his Zwan era, most notably playing a Reverend Slingshot.
In 2008 Billy released to the market his own Fender Stratocaster. This new guitar was made to Corgan’s exact specs to create his famous mid-’90s buzzsaw tone; the instrument features three DiMarzio pickups (two custom for this instrument), a string-through hardtail bridge and a satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish. When playing live he uses both his signature Strats as well as two other Fender Strats, one in red with a white pick guard and one in silver-grey with a black pick guard; a Gibson Tony Iommi signature SG; and his Schecter C-1 (only used on the Zeitgeist song "United States").
A video called 'Stompland' on the official Smashing Pumpkins YouTube channel is informative on Corgan's choice of guitar pedals. On the video he reveals many pedals used throughout his career with the Smashing Pumpkins, these include the Big Muff and the Bloody Finger.