After a short car ride from his stately Highland Park home, Billy Corgan slinks through the door at Madame ZuZu’s, the tea shop he opened in September. He’s tall (about 6'4"), a bit doughy, and he’s wearing a flap-eared winter hat on his famously bald head. Aside from the café, Corgan oversaw the first year of his indie wrestling league, Resistance Pro. In June, the Smashing Pumpkins released their return-to-form ninth studio album, Oceania, and hit the road for an extensive tour. In early December came the lush re-release of the Pumpkins’ magnum opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. He’s also still trying to sell his Gold Coast condo at 1500 North Astor Place, if you’ve got a couple mil to blow. Sipping a cup of Rwandan green tea, Corgan sat down to discuss his busy year.
Getting off the Metra from the city, the silence is deafening out here.
I love it.
The suburban life suits you?
I don’t like the suburbs. I like my home and I like the nature. Like today, I got to see a beautiful red cardinal being chased by seven females. I often have deer on my property and there’s a fox and owls. You’re not going to see that in the city. But I’m not big on suburban culture. I grew up in the suburbs and basically associate the suburbs with cultural death. I remember living near Wrigley, I never thought of coming up here for anything other than to go to Evanston’s Vintage Vinyl. There’s almost nowhere to go. That was one of the impetuses for [Madame ZuZu’s]. I wanted to create a destination in Highland Park, other than Ravinia, for city people. [Corgan licks his thumb and rubs a stain off the wall.]
Yeah, that’s how we do it around here. [Laughs] It’s the grunge way.
Has running the wrestling promotion been more difficult than you had imagined?
Yeah. The economics are really tough. We didn’t get as much easy translation: Oh, I’m a Billy fan, I’m going to see his wrestling company. Just because they’re fans of my music doesn’t mean they’re going to come. When we played the Allstate Arena, there were 7,000 people there, and I said, “How many people are fans of wrestling?” Probably only a hundred people raised their hands.
The move puzzled a lot of Pumpkins fans.
It’s up there with the most insane things I’ve ever tried to do. Wrestling is one of the last truly rebellious American things left. I would no longer put rock & roll in that category. Wrestlers truly are toys that don’t fit in, and wrestling gives them a place. My special-needs brother, Jesse, is a perfect example. He’s part of the company as a villain-manager. Wrestling still maintains a mercurial, makes-no-sense subversiveness. I don’t see that in rock anymore, and I think that’s why it has lost a lot of steam. Go to your average rock show, you’re not going to have—
A visceral experience?
Exactly. And chances are if I try to give you that visceral experience, you’re going to want it the way you saw it in some MTV video in ’95. I deal with it every night I’m onstage: “This isn’t the Smashing Pumpkins I wanted.” Dude, you’re about 15 years too late.
You’ve admitted you know that, for certain fans, you will never make anything as great as those ’90s Pumpkins records. Is that difficult?
It’s frustrating, but I feel worse for them. You’re cheating yourself out of the experience of moving forward. I’m not responsible for the fact that you lost your virginity to this song. It doesn’t behold me to something. I meet young people to whom the old records don’t have that emotional connection but Oceania does.
The Melon Collie box set is divided by Morning Tea, High Tea and Special Tea. It all comes back to tea.
That’s Pumpkins humor for you.
ZuZu’s serves pumpkin bread. More humor?
No, that’s just really fucking good.