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Interview: Billy Corgan and the Fool’s journey (pt. 1)

Interview: Billy Corgan and the Fool’s journey (pt. 1) (photo)

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In Tarot, the Fool represents infinite possibility, new beginnings, and the often naive exuberance one may feel setting off, wide-eyed, on life’s path. He is a pleasant figure, much more so than the contemporary meaning of the name implies, or what rumor may sometimes suggest. The Fool’s journey is one of discovery and delight. Freed from caution and convention, he passionately pursues the path that he chooses. He does what you, indeed what many, may not always have the courage or disposition to do, he follows his heart — or as Joseph Cambell, popular purveyor of the kindred, Hero’s journey once advised, the Fool might say “follow your bliss.”

Billy Corgan once followed his bliss, but then the world changed, the album died, his band broke up and we were left with rumors about him snorting sea monkeys with Marilyn Manson. But Corgan is back, and in December 2009 The Smashing Pumpkins began releasing “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope,” a colossal 44-song work being put out piecemeal for free online first and as a collection of EP’s. The Pumpkins’ upcoming album within an album, “Oceania,” is part of this larger work, which Corgan has described as harkening back to the band’s “original psychedelic roots.” I talked to him about this new incarnation of the Pumpkins and a short film/music video they did with director Robby Starbuck for the song “Owata.” Our conversation took some heavy turns into his views on spirituality, the world of female wrestling, and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. As such, this is only part one, part two is here.

You’ve said Teargarden By Kaleidyscope” is about “The Fool’s Journey.” Are you willing to play the fool?

Well, all rock and roll is based in artifice. The Ramones were not really the Ramones 24-hours a day. Nor were the Stooges, or even the Beatles. What most people do is try to find a comfortable persona that they’re in alignment with and the public likes and appreciates them for. In my case I don’t mind playing a character that irritates people or makes people question my sanity.

Do you think you’ve been stuck as a kind of character in the public’s mind, or perhaps a different one at different points in time, the Billy Corgan of “Siamese Dream,” the Billy Corgan of “Oceania,” is that something you’re conscious of?

Yeah, but it doesn’t mean anything. You know?

Well, where do you find yourself now, spiritually speaking?

What’s surprised me about having a consciousness about spirituality or a relationship to, let’s call it a higher power, is that it’s a multi-dimensional shift. It’s not one singular destination and I think that does relate to the Fool’s journey in that sense. You’re not gonna conquer yourself, you’re not gonna understand God by sort of, one thing. You’re not gonna figure it out by praying. You’re not gonna figure it out by charity. You’re not gonna figure it out by throwing yourself off a roof and you’re not gonna figure it out by sitting on a mountain. You have to figure it all out, and that’s sort of the point, I think. So if you’re asking where I’m at in my spirituality, I think I’m in a good place, a balance where I have a deeper understanding of myself spiritually, but I’m also more invested in my life. Where for a time, I had a hard time understanding how life could be spiritual. Or being in a very materialistic culture like America, being in a very materialistic business like the music business, it was very hard for me to understand how I could be a spiritual person and still be successful. They seemed counterintuitive to each other and now, I’m at a point now where I don’t see it that way.

That’s wonderful…

Which brings us to the short film [laughs].

Yes for “Owata,” shot on the Red Epic camera, which may be a first for a music video — and this isn’t the first time you’ve been associated with wrestling.

No, my public relationship with wrestling goes back to I think,’99. I was doing stuff with a promotion called ECW out of Philadelphia.

Why now and why female wrestlers?

I’d wanted to do something to do with wrestling for a while. Wrestling has a very fascinating subculture. Most people don’t know that wrestling came out of the circus. I got very disappointed with rock and roll as a subculture in the ’90s when I, sort of felt like I wasn’t having a good time with it. It ceased to be something of fascination for me. I found, somewhere along the way, that I could find the same enjoyment out of this subculture in wrestling, that used to find rock and roll. The same kind of mythic aspects to it without I having to be personally related to me. And then, over time, I got to know people in the wrestling business, and became friends. The lead in the “Owata” video, Melissa — the babyface, the girl in the silver outfit who wins the match — she’s a friend of mine. We were in Vegas, got to talking about how we should do this video I’ve had an idea for, and that was the birth of the whole thing.

Tell me about the misogynistic themes running through it with the male character, you just want to shove your fist in his mouth.

He’s good at that [laughs]. Yeah there’s a tremendous amount of misogyny in the wrestling business. There’s a movement just like there was in the alternative music culture. There’s a movement within wrestling that women want to be respected athletically, physically the same way that the men are. They don’t just want to be cheesecake, tits and ass. They actually want to be recognized for being athletes who have a skill and a craft. You have a similar thing that you’ve seen in many subcultures politically where women are stepping forward and saying, hey, “We’re just not going to accept the role we’re handed to by men. So I was fascinated by that because it reminded me of what we went through with the Pumpkins in the beginning, because we had a woman on bass. I mean we were constantly questioned like as if she was just a prop on stage, giving no credit at all to her craft, the hours that we spent, the travel, everything. It was just like we hired some, you know, model to stand on stage because it would help us sell records. It was very offensive to her and to the band.

Were you into the old school wrestlers like Rowdy Roddy and Andre the Giant back in the day?

Oh yeah, and even earlier than that. Like the wrestlers out of Chicago, Dick the Bruiser, Baron von Rashke, who had a Nazi gimmick, hard to imagine anybody doing that now.

There’s also this Pumpkins clip with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar floating around — whom I once had the pleasure of sitting behind on airplane. I’ve never seen a man make an airplane look small before [laughter]. How did you two hook up?

Actually my best friend, who also hooked me up with Robby [and the”Owata”] video, he met Kareem at Bonnaroo. They became friendly and it was Kareem’s idea! I think that’s really the world we’re entering into, people working together to draw attention to what people have to say. I was really excited to work with someone I really respect. You know, it was a small thing but, it really meant a lot to me.

Wrestling, basketball legends, you’re doing a lot of cross promotion. You’re also giving all the songs completely for free [digitally] on this release. What do you think about the state of the music industry, what’s your strategy?

99% of the people in the music business now don’t have the resources to properly market their music. So if you’re gonna market yourself you have to figure out how. We’re trying to do it with a wink and a nod. But you have to figure out how to generate energy. You have to register some level of creative integrity. The Pumpkins, as a business, is a creative enterprise that’s constantly generating new waves of energy, through music, through cultural fucking-with… through the Tarot [laughter].

In part 2, Billy talks about Lady Gaga, the death of the album as an art form, and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Read it here!

Are you a fool for the Pumpkins? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook!



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.