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(Credit: Billy Corgan)

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The strange Billy Corgan and Soundgarden feud

The Smashing Pumpkins frontman and guitar hero Billy Corgan is no stranger to a feud or two, often extremely willing to offer his two cents when, in reality, he probably doesn’t need to. An incredible musician and songwriter in his own right, these days, his musical legacy gets slightly overlooked owing to his media personality and controversial and often contradictory opinions. 

The list of people he has feuded with is endless. Courtney Love, Radiohead, Pavement, D’arcy Wretzky, James Iha, and even Anderson Cooper had some vitriol thrown his way by Corgan back in 2014. Furthermore, in 2012, Corgan would kick off another feud, one with an old friend that, sadly, would never be patched up.

In 2021, before playing a show in the Phillipines, Corgan told the media outlet Philstar that grunge icons Soundgarden, who famously reunited in 2010, were nothing short of a “nostalgia act”. Corgan kicked it all off by claiming: “There are those bands that are essentially coming back only to make money – playing their old albums, and maybe somewhere in the back of their minds they’re thinking there might be a future.”

He continued: “I am not in that business, obviously. I condemn anybody who’s in that business but doesn’t admit (he’s) in that business. When Soundgarden came back and they just played their old songs, great. I was a fan of Soundgarden, but call it for what it is. They’re just out there to have one more round at the till; same with Pavement and these other bands.”

Although this was quite obviously a slight from Corgan towards Soundgarden, he would take the feud one step further. That same month he appeared on a radio station and claimed that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had actually started the rivalry back in 2007.

This was not the first time Corgan had tried to turn the truth around, as he had done similarly at different points by blaming ex-Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha for the band’s original split in 2000. Although to everyone else, it was quite clearly Corgan who had the definitive say in them calling it quits. In 2005, Iha said: “No, I didn’t break up the band. The only person who could have done that is Billy.”

This seemingly random feud between Cornell and Soundgarden was made even stranger by the fact that Cornell and Corgan had been friends since 1991, and that Corgan had long claimed to have been a fan of Soundgarden since their “2nd EP”. Now, we don’t know what happened away from the public eye, but Corgan’s comments about Cornell do seem a little odd.

He said: “When we’re sitting there having conversations about who is doing what, I am no longer going to shield somebody. I want all of my generation to raise the bar and I don’t appreciate when somebody from my generation who I once considered a friend decides to take a leak in my little corner for whatever reason, right around the same time he’s making the Timbaland album. You know what I mean?”.

Regardless of Corgan’s point about raising the bar, which carries some weight, Cornell wasn’t having any of it from his former friend. A few months later, he told ABC Radio: “When Billy Corgan was completely broke, I got him a movie deal with (director) Cameron Crowe, where he made $40,000. He was very happy about that, and he was specifically happy about the $40,000. So next time you see him, tell him he owes me my $40,000 back.”

Nobody knows for sure what the film was, but many rumours abound that it was Cameron Crowe’s 1992 classic rom-com Singles. Starring other alternative heroes of the day, including Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, it was only fitting that it had an equally as rocking soundtrack to boot. It features the aforementioned artists and the Smashing Pumpkins song ‘Drown’, which has led to it being suspected as the film that got Corgan on his feet again.

Either way, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil would have the most cutting say. Regarding the fact that at that point, all of Corgan’s comments were deeply hypocritical as he had reformed the Pumpkins without any of the original lineup, and Thayil was quick to pounce on this point. 

He maintained: “Here’s how it’s possible to do a bad record. You’ve got one moron who runs the whole thing, and a bunch of guys they hire around him. Now you can make a bad record because your stupid ideas aren’t being bounced around, going to the fucking ether he’d say.”

Thayil was right; the majority of the Pumpkins’ material without the original lineup has been well, pretty forgettable, with it largely resembling a Corgan solo project. Even more significantly, Cornell and Corgan would never make up. The Soundgarden frontman tragically committed suicide in 2017, after battling personal demons for his entire adult life. He left behind a brilliant sonic legacy in which he continues to live on.

In the wake of Cornell’s passing, Corgan told SF Weekly: “I wish I had more answers and I’d done more. I knew Chris, and we had a bit of a falling out and were never able to patch that up. I wish I hadn’t contributed in even the most minuscule way to his unhappiness. I wish I’d have been a force for encouragement, because he influenced me, and I looked up to him.”

A sad end to a life and a friendship. You’d have thought that in the wake of Cornell’s death, it would have made Corgan rethink his strategy, and in some ways, he has. In 2018 his longstanding spat with Wretzky briefly reared its head, as did an Instagram “meme war” with Smash Mouth over the Shrek soundtrack.

In November 2018, he told USA Today: “I don’t comment on any artist. There’s no way to say anything about anybody.” It seems this is true, as Corgan has been relatively quiet on the feuding front ever since. Long may it continue.

Listen to Billy Corgan talk about the Smashing Pumpkins reunion, below.

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