William Patrick Corgan, Jr. (born March 17, 1967 in Elk Grove Village, Illinois) is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and occasional poet. Corgan is the vocalist and lead guitarist for alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. When the band broke up in 2000, Corgan went on to form the short-lived Zwan with former Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. After releasing a solo album and a collection of poetry, Corgan reformed The Smashing Pumpkins with Chamberlin in 2006. Chamberlin departed the band in March 2009, leaving Corgan as the only original member.
Childhood and formative years
Corgan is the oldest son of William Corgan Sr., a blues guitarist, and Martha Louise Maes Corgan Lutz. His parents had one more child, Ricky, before divorcing in 1970. William also fathered a half-brother, but Corgan has never found out who he is. 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's half-brother, Jesse, was born in 1976. Jesse had cerebral palsy, Tourette syndrome, and other disabilities, and Corgan spent a good deal of his youth taking care of and defending him. The two remain close - Jesse joined The Smashing Pumpkins on stage in Chicago in December 2008. 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 West High School in Glen Ellyn, 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 imitation Gibson Les Paul. Corgan, Sr. steered his son stylistically, encouraging him to listen to Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix, but refused on-hand instruction because he was skeptical of his son's dedication. Billy Corgan would later claim he is a self-taught guitarist. His musical interests in his formative years included hard rock like Guts by John Cale, heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, and mainstream rock like Queen, Boston, ELO, 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. One band was called Lex, with guitarist Mike Subrt, bassist Dan Shaw, and drummer Pete Sallis. They performed in a few back yards, garages, and the high school variety show and played two songs - "Bastille Day" by Rush, and "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne. Corgan 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.
Main article: Smashing Pumpkins
Corgan met guitarist James Iha while working in a record store, and the two began recording demos, which Corgan describes as "doomy 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. Soon after, the Smashing Pumpkins were formed. The trio began to play together at local clubs with only a drum machine for percussion. The band would soon recruit drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to secure a show at the Metro, in Chicago, where they played for the first time as a quartet on October 5, 1988.
Billy Corgan in 1992.
The new band fused diverse threads such as psychedelic rock and heavy metal into a distinctive sound on their inaugural album, Gish (1991). Gish fared better than expected, but the follow-up, Siamese Dream, became a huge hit. The band became known for internal drama during this period, with Corgan frequently characterized in the music press as a "control freak" and a perfectionist because he was said to have often rerecorded Iha and Wretzky's guitar and bass parts on Gish and Siamese Dream. 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 nine times platinum in the United States. The song "1979" was Corgan's biggest hit to date, reaching #1 on Billboard's modern rock and mainstream rock charts. Their appearance on Saturday Night Live on November 11, 1995 to promote this material 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, Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed in a hotel room. Chamberlin survived, but Melvoin did not. The Pumpkins made the decision to fire Chamberlin and would continue as a trio. Their next effort, 1998's Adore, was undertaken with drum machines and studio drummers, and consisted of more subdued material than the band's previous efforts. Adore earned high praise from some critics and many fans, but other critics and most of the more casual listeners thought the band had strayed too far from its strengths, resulting in a significant decrease in album sales (it sold 1.3 million discs in the U.S.)
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. At the end of 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 released Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music for free over the internet.
The Smashing Pumpkins split up later in 2000 and played their last show on December 2 of that year at the Metro.
Corgan began writing revealing autobiographical posts on his website and his MySpace page, commenting, "I no longer want to protect the people I tormented." On February 17, 2004, Corgan posted a message in which he blamed guitarist James Iha for the breakup of The Smashing Pumpkins four years prior. He also referred to bassist D'arcy Wretzky as "a mean spirited drug addict." On June 3, 2004 he posted an apology of sorts to Iha, writing that "I love him very, very much...the depth of my hurt is only matched by the depth of my gratitude". In another post, Corgan insulted his former Zwan bandmates, claiming they had been self-conscious about their "indie cred" to the point of hurting those around them. Poking fun at their indie stance, he called them "poseurs" and declared them to be "filthy", opportunistic, and selfish. 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. It was one of the first books ever written by a rock-star artist that ever got in the list.
In 2004, he began a solo music career, initially performing acoustic folk songs related to Chicago history. He abandoned this style in favor of an electronic/shoegaze/alternative rock sound for his first solo album, The Future Embrace. 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.
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 Reyes (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 #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". The band is currently working on new material; however, it will move forward without Chamberlin, who left the band again in March 2009.
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, comprised of ex-Catherine member and "Superchrist" producer Kerry Brown, 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, and Brown headed back to Chicago to begin work on the new Smashing Pumpkins album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.
Billy Corgan has struggled with depression for much of his life, including bouts of self-injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal thoughts. Corgan attributes this to the abuse he endured as a child, as well as his personal anxieties and issues. While he believes he is far more stable now, he still occasionally battles depression and has become an advocate for support networks.
Corgan dated Courtney Love prior to her courtship and marriage to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. In 1993, he married his longtime on-again, off-again girlfriend, museum book restorer and artist Chris Fabian. They were married at a small ceremony at his house in Wrigleyville. Rumors circulated that Corgan and Love rekindled their romance during the Pumpkins' 1994 Lollapalooza tour, after Cobain's death. Corgan and Fabian separated sometime in 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 had contributed to several Smashing Pumpkins videos and album art. The 2000 Smashing Pumpkins hit "Stand Inside Your Love" was written about her. He continued to date Yemchuk until around 2004. According to Corgan, his breakup with her contributed to the themes of his 2005 solo release, The Future Embrace. 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 early 2006, Corgan moved in with Courtney 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 2009, he was spotted on several occasions with LA weatherforecaster, Jackie Johnson, fueling rumors that the two were dating.
His mother Martha died in December 1996. The song "For Martha", from Adore, was written in her memory. In the early 2000s, Corgan would name his label Martha's Music after her as well. A picture of Martha as a little girl sat on a fake moon at Riverview Park is featured on the flipside of the Siamese Dream booklet.
Corgan is an avid sports fan. A childhood fan of the Cubs, he later commented on that team for WXRT DJ Lin Brehmer. 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 Chicago Bulls and Chicago 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 in an ECW pro wrestling wielding an acoustic guitar as a weapon. In 2008, the Pumpkins song "Doomsday Clock" was used by Ring of Honor for promotional videos. 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.
He incorporates elements of Catholicism and Buddhism into his spiritual philosophy, even though he has not publicly aligned himself with any one faith. On 9/9/09 Billy 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. He also has got a lot of notoriety for the Smashing Pumpkins song 'Superchrist.' http:www.everythingfromheretothere.com/
While Corgan typically avoids discussing US politics, he said after the 2008 presidential election, "I'm very proud of my country right now for doing the right thing." In 2009, he posted a transcript of a webcast by Lyndon LaRouche to the official Smashing Pumpkins forum. 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 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 #1 modern rock hit. He also acted as a consultant for Marilyn Manson during 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 (Pink Floyd song). He has performed vocals and guitar for Tony Iommi, Blindside, 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.
Recently, Corgan has worked on several collaborations ? Courtney Love's Nobody's Daughter, Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson's debut solo album, and Scorpions' Humanity - Hour 1.
Corgan has often mentioned or developed projects that remain commercially unreleased. During the press junkets for 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, he claimed that the band were planning on an MTV Unplugged appearance and album. In 1998, he spoke of his hope to release a solo acoustic album, a sequel to Vieuphoria, and a comprehensive boxset of live Smashing Pumpkins recordings. Around the time of the Pumpkins' disbandment, Corgan explained plans to reissue every Pumpkins album complete with bonus tracks, which has not yet happened. Also at this time, Corgan hoped to record an instrumental progressive rock album with Jimmy Chamberlin and Mike Garson. The final Smashing Pumpkins concert before the 2000 breakup was recorded professionally, and a DVD of this performance had been mentioned frequently after the breakup but never materialized (though one song from the concert, "An Ode to No One," was later released on the DVD Greatest Hits Video Collection). Meanwhile, the Glass and the Machines of God animated series, a tie-in to the Machina albums, was never completed, though several apparent cuts of episodes were leaked in 2003. Also that year, Zwan recorded "tons of music" outside of their Mary Star of the Sea album, possibly including an entire second album as the "Djali Zwan", but neither the album nor the footage were released (and won't be released until Corgan "can stomach it"), and Zwan soon broke up. In 2004, Corgan publicly acknowledged that he was writing a novel, via the "About the Author" section of Blinking with Fists. It is not known whether the novel was finished, but no portion has been made available. His life story, The Confessions of Billy Corgan, was also published at this time, but was apparently never completed. Also in this era, he gave several interviews promoting a ChicagoSongs DVD/EP, a release of several songs related to his native Chicago, which was apparently shelved when he and Jimmy Chamberlin began work on Zeitgeist.
Musical style and influences
Corgan performing in 1995.
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 fucking 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 USA" were included on their list of the top guitar solos of all time. His solo for "Soma" was #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.
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", and is also a fan of Pantera. Pantera producer Terry Date would later be brought in to produce the Smashing Pumpkins' Zeitgeist. Other favorites include Rush, Metallica, Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, and Spiritualized.
His literary influences include William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick.
Billy 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 used to have 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, finished in black with Seymour Duncan 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 another Fender Strat in red, a Gibson Tony Iommi signature SG and his Schecter C-1, However the Schecter is only used on the Zeitgeist song United States.
On May 24, 2007 at den Atelier, Luxembourg City.
2005: The Future Embrace (#31 US, #67 GER)
2005: "Walking Shade" (#74 UK)
1997: First Love, Last Rites ("When I Was Born, I Was Bored")
2000: Any Given Sunday (Corgan is credited on "Be A Man" by Hole)
2004: National Treasure (Corgan is credited on writing "Forget It")
2006: Dance of the Dead (Masters of Horror episode)
2007: When a Man Falls in the Forest (three previously unreleased songs)
1991: Sparkle (by Catherine, The EP is produced by Corgan)
1994: Songs About Girls (by Catherine, The song "It's No Lie" is produced by Corgan)
1994: Chante Des Chanson Sur Les Filles (by Catherine, The EP is produced by Corgan as "Johhny Goat")
1994: Sleepy EP (by Catherine, The EP is produced by Corgan)
1996: Guitars That Rule the World, Vol. 2: Smell the Fuzz:The Superstar Guitar Album (by Various Artists, Corgan is credited as writer and performer of "Ascendo")
1997: Starjob (by The Frogs, The EP is produced by Corgan as "Johhny Goat")
1997: Troublizing (by Ric Ocasek, Corgan is credited as writer of "Asia Minor" and playing guitar on "The Next Right Moment", "Crashland Consequence", "Situation", "Fix on You" and "People We Know")
1998: Celebrity Skin (by Hole, Corgan is credited as writer of "Celebrity Skin", "Hit So Hard", "Malibu", "Dying and Petals")
1998: "I Belong to You" single (by Lenny Kravitz, Corgan remixed the second track "If You Can't Say No (Flunky In The attic Mix)")
1998 Mechanical Animals by Marilyn Manson, Corgan performed backing vocals on Speed of Pain, although not credited, he is thanked in the album credits.
2000: Iommi (by Tony Iommi, Corgan is credited as writer of and vocalist on "Black Oblivion")
2001: Get Ready (by New Order, Corgan is contributing voice on "Turn My Way")
2002: Kissin' Time (by Marianne Faithfull, Corgan is credited as writer of "Wherever I Go", "Song for Nico" and "I'm on Fire")
2003: "Lights Out" single (by Lisa Marie Presley, Corgan is credited as writer of "Savior")
2004: We Are Not Alone (by Breaking Benjamin, Corgan is credited as writer of "Follow", "Forget It" and "Rain")
2004: The Essential Cheap Trick (by Cheap Trick, Corgan is playing guitar on the live recording of the track "Mandocello")
2004: About a Burning Fire (by Blindside, Corgan is playing guitar on "Hooray, It's L.A.")
2005: Life Begins Again (by Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, Corgan is contributing voice on "Loki Cat")
2005: Blue-Sky Research (by Taproot, Corgan wrote the track "Lost in the Woods" and co-wrote the tracks "Violent Seas" and "Promise")
2006: ONXRT:Live From The Archives Volume 9 (A compilation CD from the radio station 93 WXRT in Chicago features the live recording of the track "A100")
2007: Humanity Hour 1 (by Scorpions, Corgan is contributing voice on "The Cross")
Guitar Hero appearance
Billy appears as a playable character in Guitar Hero: World Tour.