Billy Corgan: "When Kurt died, I cried because I lost my greatest opponent"

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins performs at Hordern Pavilion on April 19, 2023 in Sydney, Australia
(Image credit: Don Arnold/WireImage)

Billy Corgan's got news for anyone who thinks he might be running out of steam after the Smashing Pumpkins dropped new triple album ATUM; he hasn't even started!

“If god gave me talent then the competitive spirit in that would be that I want to win the Superbowl but not at the expense of someone else. I want a fair fight and if I beat you, I beat you," Corgan told Zane Lowe in a new interview for Apple Music that you can watch below. "When all is said and done, I want the Pumpkins standing on the top of the heap of our generation. If that means I got to write 800 songs to do it, I’ll do it. I ain’t shy about that. I will go down always as saying, Kurt was the most talented guy of our generation. Kurt had so much talent. It’s like frightening. It was like a John Lennon level of talent, where you’re like, ‘How can you have all this talent?’ Or Prince, right? But Kurt’s not here, sadly. So I looked around, I was like, ‘All right, well, I could beat the rest of them for sure.’”

His competitive spirit from the '90s is still very much in evidence it seems. Though whether the Pumpkins recent output backs up his claims is open to debate. Corgan wasn't done with the subject of Kurt Cobain either. 

I want to beat the best

“When Kurt died, I cried because I lost my greatest opponent,” Corgan added. “I want to beat the best. I don’t want to win the championship because it’s just me and a bunch of jabronies, to use a wrestling term. It’s like, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sports competitor I’ll ever see in my lifetime — I mean, you want to talk about an alpha. That guy wanted to win the valet tip. You know what I mean?”

Healthy competition never did Lennon and McCartney any harm. But where do you see Corgan on the Mount Rushmore of alt rock? Zane Lowe was clearly happy to fawn over "his hero" in the interview above. So who does he rate as a today's true alternative rockstar?

"The beautiful thing about the way the business works is it really should be artists supporting other artists," begins Corgan on the subject. "For example, we just did the World Is A Vampire [tour] in Australia. Amyl And The Sniffers, I don't know if you know that band? This is classic, right, I hear all of the hype; 'She's [singer Amy Taylor] the new Iggy Pop, she's the female this…' I'm thinking, I've heard this so many times. It doesn't mean I was doubtful but I'll wait until I see it with my own eyes. I looked at her for ten seconds onstage and I said, 'Holy mother of god, this is a true rockstar'. Great band and that's the power of rock n' roll."

"That's the problem with comparisons. There's only one of her," Corgan added. "She's not anybody, that's why she's a star – she's one of one. I think that's what people really are after."

And yet Corgan admits modern music plays "very little" part in his life now. After talking about his love of classical music – especially Bach – he explained why.

"I have a theory which is [that] it;s easy to get grumpy if you listen to modern music and you go, 'I don't get it, it's not speaking to me," Corgan began. "But I've come around to this otherside which is, kids, twenty-somethings making music; they're making music which is reflective of the world they're looking at. Well, if the world is insane and vapid and cruel and hollow, and not very nice, well that's how they end up making music that sounds like that. Do they feel that or are they reflecting that environment?

Now that's the kind of keen observation with a sweeping generalisation that we expect from Corgan. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.