Billy Corgan on “Today”, “Try, Try, Try”, “1979″, “Thirty-Three”, “With Every Light” and “Stand Inside Your Love”
How is everyone? Welcome to VH1′s Storytellers…
“Today”: This next song um, was written in a very difficult period of my life. We had put out our first album Gish in 1991 and we did a tour for [applause] -yes, the tour- we did a tour for about 14 months and I think the longest we’d been on tour was about 20 days. So for all of us it was a very mind-numbing experience. It was great, but at the same we really were sort of fighting for our music and what we believed in, which in 1991 and 1992 was not as easy as it seems today. Um, so after we sort of built up all this momentum to tour on our record, um, we came back to Chicago and I was living in this very bad apartment with bad heat with a bad hippy. And I entered into probably the worst writing slump that I’ve ever had. I probably couldn’t really reasonably write a good song for about 8 months. And um, also being in public in that particular period of my life brought out a lot of feelings I had sort of repressed from childhood you know, sort of this weird, abused-child syndrome where I locked everything away and figured “Well, I’ll never have to deal with that again.” Then suddenly I found myself confronted with all these demons that I thought I had locked away, and I entered into this very horrible period in my life. I eventually ended up um, even at one point sleeping on D’arcy’s floor. I lived in a parking garage for a while, um, and I was completely obsessed with killing myself. It became my primary preoccupation I guess. Taking away songwriter, I became like a suicidal maniac. And um -you can laugh it’s funny- and um [chuckles]…so out of the depths of this despair I sort of bottomed out and um, it literally came down to a simple decision at least in my mind at that time which was um, either kill yourself or sort of get used to it and work and live and be happy and so i wrote this song [applause] -yes- as you can see i chose another form of death which is rock and roll. But um, that being said, I wrote this song at this sort of critical juncture in my life and not only did these songs not only give me hope for the future but um, they certainly changed the band’s lives. And um, one other sort of ironic point about this song is um, although the main lyric is “today is the greatest day,” [applause] no, it’s not the song you think it is. It’s a different one. Um, it’s pretty much like a joke song about how I want to kill myself but of course nobody ever gets that cos they get very fixated on the positive lines but if you actually listen, there’s way more negativity. But of course, at this point in my life, it is a positive song because you know, it’s about survival and um, certainly our survival as well.
“Try, Try, Try”: Hmmm…I don’t know what this song’s about. Honestly [chuckles]. That’s the problem. Make it up? Yeah…well, I can tell you that um, we were working on the album and uh it started to go really crazy. The album was proving to be a little more difficult for lots of different reasons. So we um, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Long Island. [chuckles] I never in my life would’ve thought I would take a vacation to Long Island that’s all I can tell you. We’re out near [?] or- [James: Dude, you gotta go to Long Island more often!] We were jumped by a stoner and he stole my guitar and um, but we were staying in a sort of a– we were in the wrong hotel, I can tell you that. I mean, the closest people to our age were about 30 years older. So we were sitting out by the beach and I’m playing guitar and I started playing the riff, and I started singing like, the bullshit lyrics, “Try to hold on, try to hold on.” And um, my girlfriend turned to me and said “Must every song you write be so sad?” and I said “No, it’s not ‘Try to hold on,’” it’s like, “go ahead and try to hold on to me.” [laughs] If you know what I mean. “Good luck,” that’s what I meant. It’s more of a good luck, good luck at trying to hold on to me. Um, or anybody for that matter cos as we all know it’s impossible to hold on to anybody because if you set them free, and it returns, then it was meant to be, and if it doesn’t, it was meant to be free. [James: Have you ever been to Long Island though?] So somewhere in between the very obvious lines of “Try to hold on” there’s these really existential lyrics which I think roughly, um, approximate the way that I normally feel. Um, I know I’m not supposed to go on the Internet but I do occasionally [laughter and applause]…[chuckling] DON’T EVEN…please, it’s so embarrassing. It’s sort of that high school thing, you know, where you really wanna know what all the bad kids are saying about you. So one sort of interesting criticism that I’ve seen recently about the songs that I’m writing is um, people say “the songs don’t seem as personal as they used to” and um, they don’t seem as dramatic or emotional. And what I would say about a song like this is that I agree, but that’s because I feel colder in my life. Everything that’s happened to me in my life has made me feel more distant from my feelings and so when I write a song like “Try,” I am expressing the way I feel, it’s just people don’t understand it. So, this is the cold version of me.
“1979″: I feel very naked telling all these stories. Um, 1979 was the last song written for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. And um, as the story goes, um, the idea had been kicking around for a while. It didn’t have any words except I believe, “Shakedown 1979.” [chuckles] It’s always the one line. And uh, we really were getting down to the end of the album and uh, there really wasn’t a lot of time left and we were sort of checking the list to see if the songs we still had to work on and Flood who was producing the album, I said “I really think this song has a lot of potential” and he said “well, you’ve got basically 24 hours to make it happen, so either come in here tomorrow and make this song happen or, or it’s not going to be on the album.” So I went home that night and um, and I spent that night and the next morning writing the lyrics. I did a demo at home, I came in the next day and we did an acoustic version um, with a slightly different arrangement but basically the same song. And um, it’s just one of those moments where you know that the song is a special song. And um, I can’t really say why I picked the year 1979, I mean, it’s as good as any other year I suppose, um, plus it sounds good in a rhyme scheme. But um, sometimes when I write a song I see a picture in my head. For some reason it’s this sort of obscure memory that I have and the memory I had for this particular song was I was about 18 years old and I was driving down the road near my home and it was really heavily raining as only it can seem to rain in a gloomy way in Illinois. And I remember just sitting at a traffic light and um, and that’s the memory. And I don’t know why that memory sort of stayed but that’s the memory I wrote the song from. That sort of feeling of um, sitting in a car at a traffic light. I know it doesn’t sound very glamorous but it emotionally conotates something for me, sort of a feeling of waiting for something to happen and not being quite there yet, but it’s just around the corner. And um, little did I know that I was right so um, this is 1979.
“Thirty-Three”: It’s very strange talking so much. I’m not used to it. I used to talk a lot then I made a deal with the band that I would shut up. A long time ago. I just um, the year was um, 1994 and I just moved into -no clapping for the year? [chuckles] It was a good year. [laughs] The year was 1994 and I just moved into a new house. What was eventually going to be a purple Victorian house in Chicago. And um, I was like “ok,” you know, “it’s time to write this record” y’know, this record that was going to be called Mellon Collie which I think it was going to be called that then [applause]-yes, grievous clapping. Um, and this is the first song that I wrote for that album. And um, this song really embodies the spirit of that time. I had just gotten married, I’d just moved into a new house, the band was achieving the kind of success that people only dream of and I was really hopeful with the idea that I was eventually and someday –and it looked like it was going to happen– actually have a happy life. Um, [chuckles] didn’t quite work out that way. But I don’t think that’s what I really want to emphasize about this particular song. Um, you know, hope is really the key component in life because one must have hope and faith to actually get out of bed and do anything in this world. And um, you know, in my mind at that time, I think I was 27 years old, I thought that I had arrived. I supposedly had everything one would want: the wife, the cat, the house, the car, and the money and the –oh yeah, the fame. And um, but I think what I’m really trying to say here is all I ever really wanted was a happy home. To sing this song now, it doesn’t bother me because I really went into those situations with the best intentions and when I found out they weren’t really for me, then of course, I changed those things. The other sort of component and people often ask why I call this song 33, actually um, [applause] yes the number 33, it is a good number. Um, I actually had hoped to write three songs: 33, 66, and 99. Um, I never wrote 66 and 99…that’s for the Internet, but um [chuckles]…um, the reason I was attracted to the number 33 at that particular time was um, I had a friend read my tarot cards and the person said that “When you’re 33 years old” –this is when i was 27– “When you are 33 years old, your life is going to completely change.” So um, as I sit here today at 33 years old, my life is going to completely change at 33. So, this song serves both as prophecy and um, sort of a hope/unhoped…or unwished, maybe that’s better. So this is “Thirty-Three”.
“With Every Light”: The next song we would like to play for you is called “With Every Light” and there’s uh…um, for a while me and James and D’arcy at the time were working out with a friend of ours, a trainer in Chicago. We were building up our muscles to once again tour the world with rock and roll. And uh, I think Jimmy was working out too. [Jimmy playfully shakes his head "no"] He was working out something. [laughs] So um, one day I was having a conversation with our friend and she was talking about how her mother passed away at roughly the same time as my mother. And she said “I have a friend who’s a psychic,” um, although the friend doesn’t like the use of that word so we’ll call her an intuitive. “She’s an intuitive and she can possibly communicate with your mother.” So I became intrigued with the idea that maybe I would talk with my mother um, somewhere on the other side, as they say. For those of you that don’t know, my mother passed away about [pauses to think] 4 years ago. So um, and actually there’s a whole other story, but my mother did actually try to contact somebody and left messages through this other sort of intuitive woman so it wasn’t sort of out of my frame of reference that my mother would be able to communicate from the dead, so to speak. [chuckles] It gets stranger. So I went to see this person who’s become a very close friend of mine, and really in that particular afternoon so many things about life and um, the thing that I believed in were sort of confirmed for me in general way. And I became sort of in a rare moment of happiness, really content with the world, and the first thing I did when I got home was I picked up a guitar and I wrote this song. And the meaning of the idea “With Every Light” is that we basically are everybody that we meet and the energy that sort of comes into our body becomes part of who we are, and in some ways, it’s not just an acknowledgement of my mother somewhere and um, everything that goes on in my life, but an acknowledgement of the fact that everything that I’ve become in my life is you know, both from enemies and from friends has become a part of me. And um, also you as well, so I give you that.
“Stand Inside Your Love”: Every once in a while, a song comes and it comes so fast that you can’t even almost remember how it happened. And you almost feel kind of guilty because you almost feel like you don’t own the song. Of course you still take credit but um…[chuckles] Uh, this song Stand Inside Your Love, um, I had written the music. The song was a little different um, it sort of was more new wave if I can show you really quickly, it was more like um [plays short, new wave version] and I envisioned it as a new wave song. And um, when the band first came back together to record the Machina album, within about maybe the second or third rehearsal that we had, I sort of threw this up as an idea I had. We tried to play it the new wave way and it didn’t work and suddenly it just mutated into what I would call “Classic Smashing Pumpkins” in the sense that it sounds like it could come from any album. And um, we immediately arranged the song top to bottom so the song that you hear on the album is basically the same musical arrangement, but I didn’t really have a melody and I didn’t have any words. And I went home that day thinking “Well, I should really should try to write some words for this song, I really like it.” I woke up the next morning and I was reading a book and um, all I had for this song was the line “Who wouldn’t stand inside your love,” which I can’t say I really knew what that even meant at that particular moment. And um, it’s the strangest feeling because all of sudden it’s like a faucet opens up in my head and suddenly I can understand the whole song, I see it all. So, the lyrics to the song were –and I’m not joking when i say this– were literally written in ten minutes and I have the sheet of paper that I wrote the lyrics on. And um, there’s, not one word is different, not one word was ever changed. It all just came out in a stream of consciousness. To talk about what the song is about, it’s probably one of the only rare…it’s probably one of the only love songs I’ve ever written. I dedicate it to my friend and partner Yelena. [applause] Um, she doesn’t like me very much right now so –it’s true. [chuckles] No, but what I– the reason I say that she doesn’t really like me right now, is when I sing this song, it reminds me of how precious love is and how important love is in all of our lives. And even though I wrote this song for a person, I would say to anyone who likes this song, that I also write it for you in the sense that I’m trying to express that that feeling, that, that, when you really try to explain to somebody how much you really care about them. So this is um…maybe she’ll forgive me.
Thank you, thank you…thank you everybody! Thanks a lot, thank you, thank you…God bless. This concludes our regularly scheduled program.