Billy Corgan leads the Smashing Pumpkins Oct. 14 at the Gibson Amphitheatre
in Universal City, Calif. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Billy Corgan is as busy as he was 20 years ago, maybe busier.
He's recorded a new album with the Smashing Pumpkins, "Oceania," one of the most acclaimed under that moniker. The restaffed quartet has been trotting the new material around the world all year -- South America this summer, Asia early this fall. It might as well be the mid-'90s: "Siamese Dream" just came out, and "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" is due Dec. 4 (amid the string of expanded Pumpkins reissues, which Corgan oversees). Somewhere in there, he started his own pro wrestling group in Chicago and last month opened a 1930s-style tea salon in Highland Park.
The band launched a North American tour this week -- shows are featuring the entirety of "Oceania" plus a second set of Pumpkins oldies (last fall's Riviera Theater show drilled deep into the catalog) -- and, even after all this time, he still has trepidation about bringing it all back home.
"More than any audience in the world, Americans will cross their arms, stare at you and say, 'OK, whaddya got?' -- no matter how many times you've proven it to them," Corgan told me in a recent conversation about his North Shore retail venture, Madame Zuzu's Tea House. "Then a weird thing happens. Once you've taken enough slugs and punches, they decide they like you. All of a sudden you're revered, just because you're still there. Unless you say something they don't like politically. I just went to see Kiss and Motley Crue, both bands that are past that threshold. It's this weird endurance test, more about survival than art."
He also touched on that touchy subject earlier in the summer, when I caught up with Corgan to chat about his survival tactics, his band's continuing critical disconnect, the old days and, sure, God ...