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Music

Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’Arcy Wretzky on Billy Corgan's fragile ego

@SamWKemp

From the effing and jeffing of the Gallagher brothers to the mutual cold-shouldering of Pixies’ Frank Black and Kim Deal, the 1990s music scene was littered with warring bandmembers. By and large, the passing of time has eased the gulf between these warring factions, but not for former Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’Arcy Wretzky, who seems to despise frontman Billy Corgan just as much as she did when the group initially split back in 2000.

The year before, in 1999, Wretzky had walked out of sessions for Machina, saying that Billy Corgan’s controlling nature had grown too much to bear. According to the bassist, Corgan’s history of manipulation and Kubrickian creative control had been a problem since she joined the band in the late ’80s. The fact that Wretsky was asked to join the band after arguing with Corgan outside a show should have been an indication that the two might not be suited as bandmates, but that didn’t seem to stop her. Speaking to Alternative Nation, she revealed that in the early days Corgan would give her a tape of his songs, “at least 50 songs”, and then leave her just a few days to learn them off by heart. “Then he wouldn’t let me play anyways,” she added.

Everything had to be done Corgan’s way, something Wretsky found difficult to understand. Surely a band was supposed to be a collaborative environment, not a tyrannical regime? So, when Corgan and the band reunited in 2018, Wretsky decided not to join them. Seemingly, a big part of the problem was Corgan’s self-image. As the bassist explained, Corgan would often complain that he felt ugly, comparing himself to her and bandmate James Iha and saying that they had “such great lives” in comparison. “He’d be like, ‘You two are better looking than 90% of the rest of the people on the planet! You have this, and you have that! My life is miserable! Blah blah blah!’ Over and over, and over again! He thinks he’s ugly, so he surrounds himself with beautiful people.”

In Wretzy’s view, this insecurity was what motivated Corgan’s requirement for absolute perfection from his fellow musicians. “He can’t sing for shit, and he knows it, so he makes sure that everybody else in the band is going to play perfectly to make up for it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if his singing is terrible, but if you play a fucking wrong note or anything, there is hell to pay”.

However, more than anything, Wretzky despised the way Corgan loathed his own audience. Smashing Pumpkins always sold themselves as a band for the fans; it was the grunge way, after all. But, according to Wretzy, behind closed doors, Corgan resented them, criticising their followers for not understanding or buying the group’s later albums. “He really loves to humiliate people at shows and stuff with the audience,” she continued.

“He told me that he actually believed that the audience wanted to be like, the way he always used to scream and bitch at the audience and stuff, he told me he really thought people wanted that”. Why Corgan believed somebody would want to be humiliated in front of thousands of people, Wretzky didn’t seem to know. But, then, for her, Corgan was an exemplary narcissist and nothing more.

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