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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!

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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