Billy Corgan, Wrestling King of Chicago: Despite All His Rage, He Is Still Just a Rat in a Cage Match
Billy Corgan is a pro wrestling boss in Chicago. If I’d seen that news from an unknown online source first, I’d have probably sworn it was an Onion article mistakenly picked up as real news. But I trust Bloomberg Businessweek enough to know this isn’t a parody. Say it again with me, folks—Billy Corgan is a pro wrestling boss in Chicago.
Let’s back up for a moment and ponder some details of this absurdity. As we all know, in both his appearance and his prospects for musical relevance, the ghoulish Billy Corgan resembles a forgotten item on a gravedigger’s to-do list. It’s been true for many years, but we certainly saw confirmation of Corgan’s artistic oblivion in his odd collaborative (and rumored, at the time, to be romantic) flirtation with, uh, Jessica Simpson a couple of years ago. Simpson is no longer in the mix, presumably, but Corgan’s fascination with the physicality of tanned, oiled-up beasts continues unabated. Once again turning his attention away from grinding up the bones of nameless Smashing Pumpkins bandmates and making records no one cares about, Corgan has now taken the reins of a small Chicago wrestling league called Resistance Pro. He acts as an unpaid consultant, offering guidance on character story lines, marketing, and even the specific details of individual wrestling matches.
My scorn is motivated not so much by that news itself, because in a way what Corgan’s doing is pretty cool in how it defies expectations (even if Bob Mould did it first). Instead I’m reacting to Corgan’s ridiculous, as in worthy of ridicule, posturing in the Businessweek article. Chiefly, this little nugget:
In my 25 years of playing in music, I’ve seen where rock & roll has really been codified in a really lame way. It’s ruled by a bunch of nerds with laptops. So I’ve been attracted to wrestling more in the last 10-plus years because it still gives me that feeling of anything can happen, where in my business, it’s fucking boring.
In at least a couple of ways, this is self-serving, delusional claptrap. First, even if we agree to go back to high school and buy into some sort of “jocks vs. nerds” dichotomy, Billy Corgan once achieved cultural relevance only by being firmly on the “nerd” side of that spectrum. Surely the young Billy Corgan, as he dreamed of one day starting a band with a verb and a type of squash in its name, chose music, art, and creativity as his way of rebelling against the adolescent male orthodoxy that perpetually produces epithets such as “nerd.” It’s sad, and telling, that Corgan now takes the orthodox approach—desperately boosting himself by deriding as “nerds” those musicians who have done Corgan no harm other than being more creative and more relevant than he is.
Corgan’s view of how rock & roll has been “codified” is also stupid and flat wrong. If anything, the opposite is true for anyone who’s really paying attention. Rock & roll and other popular music forms are more democratized and heterodox than ever. There is simply more of everything now—more sonic variety, more cross-pollination between genres and scenes, more ability to make high-quality recordings at low costs, more distribution channels and therefore more accessibility for fans, more outlets for both publicity and journalism/criticism—than there was during Corgan’s Alternative Nation heyday. And talk about something that was “codified”—how about the blasting guitar distortion, traditional rock-band lineup, and top-down control of accessibility that were markedly dominant in the mid-1990s, “commercial alternative” rock scene that Smashing Pumpkins epitomized?
That is the world that begat Billy Corgan, though, and he seems utterly incapable of seeing or operating in today’s world with any different viewpoint. What really bodyslams Corgan’s “codified” argument is the fact that there are still quite a few hugely successful old-school “alternative” rock bands out there, many of whom date back to the era when Smashing Pumpkins was one of them. Corgan seems to forget that Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Green Day, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Flaming Lips, and a handful of others are still making pretty well-received rock records and raking in some fairly decent ticket returns. Bands younger than the Pumpkins such as Coldplay, Kings of Leon, and Black Keys have blown up in the 2000s. Popular but still nominally “indie-rock” bands such as Arcade Fire, Spoon, Death Cab for Cutie, the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, the Shins, and Grizzly Bear have all had Billboard Top 10 album debuts in recent years. Rock may no longer dominate the charts or the zeitgeist as it once did, but clearly, there is still room for guitar/bass/drums/vocals rock bands in the commercial arena, revealing another way in which Corgan’s “nerd-laptop hegemony” thesis is completely false.
Corgan’s ego won’t let him see what is really going on, which is really pretty clear—Smashing Pumpkins haven’t aged successfully and remained relevant in today’s music universe because Billy Corgan hasn’t made a decent record since Bill Clinton was President. Instead of addressing this problem, Corgan rages against the “nerds” and their machines to boost his fragile ego. But now, despite all his rage, he is still just a rat in a cage match, and if blaming the system’s perceived injustices is how he addresses his diminished importance in the music world, then his career is truly down for the count.