Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan has spent most of the past decade sharing his most intimate secrets with his audience. The only problem was in the translation: The language was one only Corgan could fully understand.
But Corgan said that on an upcoming episode of VH1's "Storytellers" program, he will for the first time reveal the inspiration behind some of the Chicago band's most beloved, but admittedly cryptic, songs. (Sonicnet.com's parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.)
"I've given it a lot of thought, and I've pretty much decided I'm going to tell the truth," Corgan, 33, said during rehearsals for the long-running series in which songwriters alternate live performances with explanations of their compositions. The singer added that while he has purposely kept his fans in the dark about the dramas behind his often intense, emotional songs in the past, the show's format will allow him finally to pull back the curtain on his creative process.
"I think in a way I'm attracted to [revealing the stories] because I think people will be really surprised where a lot of this stuff comes from," Corgan said. "I know exactly where everything comes from, and I know the context, so it will be really easy to talk about."
As a preview of some of the untold tales fans can expect on the show, tentatively set to air Nov. 4, Corgan discussed the eerily prescient origin of the song "Thirty-Three" (RealAudio excerpt).
The bittersweet tale, which features the lines "As the cluttered streets greet me once again/ I know I can't be late, supper's waiting on the table/ Tomorrow's just an excuse away," is from the band's 1995 double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
"When I wrote that song I was just moving into my house, I had just gotten married, and in some ways the song talks about me entering a new phase in my life," he said. "But it also talks about how I don't really necessarily trust that part of my life. Obviously it has more relevance now that I'm divorced and I'm out of my house. ... So the song has a different poignancy for me now, both because I foreshadowed the future and I was also hopeful that that sort of future was going to work out."
Media Provoke Silence
Corgan said that while he was open to interpreting publicly his band's songs early in the Pumpkins' career, he began to clam up after he felt one of his most personal efforts got corrupted in the press. The soaring rock song "Spaceboy", from Siamese Dream (1993), was written about Corgan's disabled younger brother, Jesse, who has a rare genetic chromosomal disorder.
"In the beginning I was really willing to explain everything; then it started to turn against me, and that's when I stopped," he said. "I revealed that that song was about my brother's disability and growing up and watching him struggle with life, and [the story] got so bastardized that it started ruining my brother's life. People started saying he was crippled. ... You know how things happen in the media. By the 18th interview he was mangled and dead and it became very, very painful [for both of us]."
The Pumpkins whose lineup also includes guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur announced in May that the group's decade-long career would come to a close at the end of the year. The "Storytellers" show might be the last chance U.S. fans have to see the band, according to Corgan, who said a final U.S. tour is not currently planned.
While fans are excited about what may be their last chance to see the Pumpkins live, they are even more eager to hear Corgan explain his complex lyrics.
"Pretty much every [other fan] I've talked to is unbelievably excited," Maria Krajewski, 19, of New York said.
"Some of those questions we've always wondered about should be answered," she said. "Just to see whether his lyrics might mean something different to me than they do to him will be interesting."
It's Not Over Yet
In addition to planned farewell shows in Europe, South Africa and South America, Corgan said he plans to unveil in December the complicated concept behind the band's most recent studio album, this year's MACHINA/the machines of god.
"There's more surprises coming, more music, more stuff, more surprises," Corgan said without elaborating, hinting at the ongoing recording sessions chronicled on the band's Web site.
One of the immediate surprises is the graphic director's cut of the video for the MACHINA love ballad "Try, Try, Try," available on the band's Web site (www.smashingpumpkins.com) in its uncut form. The eye-popping clip, directed by controversial video auteur Jonas Akerlund (Madonna, the Prodigy) centers around a homeless, drug-addicted couple in search of the next fix.