At first I thought it’d be a cheap shot to include Billy Corgan in this issue—don’t we already know he’s one of the most ridiculous figures in Chicago’s music scene? But then I decided that his apparently obsessive desire to remain in the public eye at any cost was just too offensive to ignore. I’ve never liked any of his music, and Steve Albini’s notorious 1994 dismissal of Corgan’s most famous band (in a letter to the Reader) rings truer than ever: “Smashing Pumpkins are REO Speedwagon (stylistically appropriate for the current college party scene, but ultimately insignificant).” If you claim to love the band’s music, be honest: Without a nostalgic attachment to it, would you really be able to stomach Corgan’s whine on “Today”?
But even putting aside the Pumpkins’ legacy (or lack thereof), Corgan has pulled plenty of spurious shit—most recently, he’s started asking us to call him William Patrick Corgan. To which I say: He can run, but he can’t hide. He’s defended Trumpist ideals, and in May 2016 he appeared on the YouTube channel of InfoWars, the media property run by right-wing conspiracy kook Alex Jones, where he ripped on Bernie Sanders for his socialist views and complained that raising taxes on the rich would “completely disempower the innovators.” Because Corgan seems obsessed with pro wrestling—he bought the moribund National Wrestling Alliance through his production company this year—his bizarre antics sometimes put me in mind of Andy Kaufman, but I have no reason to believe that anything he does is a meticulously crafted put-on. Some of his stunts—in March 2014, for instance, he played an eight-hour ambient set for modular synthesizers to accompany a recorded reading of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha at Madame ZuZu’s, his Highland Park “tea shop and art studio”—are so simultaneously terrible and self-serious that I can’t imagine he’s somehow being tongue-in-cheek. Corgan isn’t stupid. He’s just so hungry for attention and has such lousy taste that he ends up vomiting all over Chicago at regular, merciless intervals. v