I was expecting a sullen Nosferatu in a high black turtleneck and an elaborate hoop skirt to pop up on my screen that morning in late January. Billy Corgan’s reputation as a daunting and argumentative interview precedes him (“I was always told I was the second-toughest interview behind Lou Reed. It’s a great compliment,” he would proudly divulge during our chat). But instead, sitting across from me through the vast tunnel of Zoom was a rather genial William Patrick Corgan, wearing an off-license kelly green Chicago Cubs baseball hat pulled down low on his head, a black sweatshirt with white script (no, it did not say ZERO), a faint hint of a blond mustache and accompanying beard, and an impish smile that played on his lips. His posture was perfect, none of that tall-man slouch people always mention, and he was constantly in motion, whether biting his clean white nails, taking off his cap and replacing it, or gesturing with his sturdy-looking hands, which seemed to have a will of their own—always at the ready to illustrate some smart point—alternately looking like he is palming a basketball or explaining an aggressive cold front in front of an invisible TV weather map. He possesses a grave sort of beauty, or maybe just an attractive menacing allure; at 55, the Smashing Pumpkins leader has grown into his looks. Details magazine wrote in 1996, “Billy is the kind of guy whom other men mistakenly regard as homely, and whom women of all ages immediately want to meet.” I was pleased to finally do so.

One of rock’s bigger thinkers, he is intimidatingly intelligent, an autodidact, like Benjamin Franklin, Frida Kahlo, Gustave Eiffel, and Iggy Pop, which accounts for the fully realized three-act sci-fi thriller-cum-album Atum, released at 11-week intervals and explained in great depth on his weekly podcast 33. All master numbers in numerology, because if anything, Billy Corgan is relentlessly metaphysical. For well past our allotted time together, I was given free rein to pick his brain in a wild and wayward discussion on rebirth, revenge, soulmates, and how Gene Simmons tried to pick up his stepmother.

Jaan Uhelszki: I think the role of the rock star, when it really works, is to be a wayshower for us. When I grew up, it was that whole idea of: They teach us how to live. They go first and leave a trail for us in the lyrics. Anyways, I’m gonna shut up...


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