While visiting The Howard Stern Show recently, Billy Corgan opened up about a lot of different things, from his friendship with Lisa Marie Presley to how he proposed to his fiancée, Chloe Mendel; the Smashing Pumpkins even performed a couple of songs live in-studio.
But in one vulnerable moment, Corgan shared what it’s been like to face criticism inside—and outside—the music industry.
“Even when we were successful, it was just constant criticism,” Corgan said to Stern. “Maybe there was a lot of praise, but I didn’t hear it because when you’re in that mindset you just hear the criticism. It’s like if somebody talks to you for a minute and they say one small critical thing and that’s all you remember about the conversation. So, that may have been my life. People may have told me how great I was every five seconds and I just didn’t hear it. But my memory was like we would get on stage and play to 15,000 people and I’d walk offstage and somebody would be standing backstage saying, ‘You shouldn’t have done that and you shouldn’t have done this and people are mad and you’re such an idiot.’ That’s what I remember.”
The criticism Corgan faced didn’t begin when he became a well-known, successful rock star. As he explained to Stern, the inability to receive praise stemmed from his childhood.
“If your own parents tell you you’re a fucking idiot and then the guy 15 years down the road is [calling] you an idiot and he’s the manager of this band and this band and this band and they’ve had all this success,” Corgan said, “you’re thinking, ‘Well maybe that’s just how it is. What do I know?'”
Stern attempted to praise Corgan and his bandmates as he played a clip of “Disarm” from the Smashing Pumpkins’ second studio album, Siamese Dream. “This song, there’s no greater masterpiece,” he told Corgan. “Listen to this thing.” But Corgan was quick to connect the beauty and power of that song to the continued criticism thrown at him.
Watch the Music Video For the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm”
“I’m the guy who wrote that song,” Corgan said. “I’m the guy who arranged those strings. I did that song when I was about 25 years old. And it was a big hit song. Not once after that song did anybody in my life—anybody—pull me in a room and say, ‘Can you give me more of that?’ Not one time did anybody sit me down and say, ‘Can you write me more of those songs?’ They were like, ‘Give me more of the ones that sell sausages’ … “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was my saying, ‘You want me to be this rat in a cage? Here I am.'”
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Corgan admits that to this day, his fans and critics are still asking for more songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” As he put it, that reconfirms everything he heard from his parents.
“If you’re not this, you’re worthless. You have no value. If you’re not willing to sacrifice in these ways, you’re worthless,” he told Stern as he also shared a bit about the physical violence and verbal abuse in his home.
When you’re a big rock star and you’re making songs like “Disarm” and you’ve gone through all these suicidal periods and you accomplish everything and then you gotta read the review about how much you suck and how horrible you are and then you turn around to your management and they tell you you’re doing it all wrong and you’re getting bad press and you need to shut your fucking mouth and all the things…you understand? You’re trying to fight forward. Who am I? Because they keep telling you, ‘We’re gonna get rid of you. We’re gonna get rid of you. We’re gonna get rid of you. You have no value. You’re only here for a cup of coffee,’ to use the wrestling term. So you go into a different mode, which is survival.
You can see Corgan’s full conversation with Stern about this topic in the video below. Make sure to also check out the Smashing Pumpkins performing “1979” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and “Empires” from Atum: Act Two live in-studio on The Howard Stern Show.