If you wanna mine gold, you gotta dig through the past. The Rolling Stones couldn't charge $400 a ticket and not play "Satisfaction." Nor could Motley Crüe sell out Coors Amphitheatre without "Home Sweet Home." Increasingly, aging rock stars rely heavily on their greatest hits-songs written two, three, even four decades ago-in order to fully drain the teat of their cash cow.
But not 38-year-old Billy Corgan. One of the most recognizable names from '90s alternative rock isn't ready to embrace nostalgia for a few million dollars-at least not yet.
"I've drawn a pretty hardcore line in the sand," Corgan says. "I'm not going to play Pumpkins music unless I'm with the Pumpkins."
And he means what he says. Corgan hasn't played "1979," "Disarm" or "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" live since Smashing Pumpkins' Dec. 2, 2000, farewell show at Chicago's Metro. This is why he can only charge a measly $35 for his Soma show (trust us, you won't be getting those prices at a Pumpkins reunion show).
Corgan has been making overtures about reviving his most famous band. The same day his solo debut, TheFutureEmbrace, hit stores, he took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune announcing he wants to revive the Smashing Pumpkins. But it's probably going to be a while, if it ever really happens. After years of infamous infighting, relations are strained at best. (Corgan publicly blamed guitarist James Iha for breaking up the band and called bassist D'arcy "a mean-spirited drug addict.")
Plus, Corgan's got his new album and the accompanying world tour to keep him busy.
After a month in Europe, the Chicago native has spent the last few weeks trekking across the states playing selections from TheFutureEmbrace and a few choice covers (with not even a Zwan tune tossed in). But so far so good, he says.
"The fans have actually been really supportive about it. There have been a few gigs where some drunk will shout out some song title and the entire audience will turn around and tell him to shut up.
"I think they understand what I'm trying to do. It's really not about the fun-time revue thing. It's new music and it's music that I've made for myself."
TheFutureEmbrace certainly is new. After eviscerating his fellow Pumpkins and Zwan both in the press and on his myspace.com blog, Corgan has made his rebirth very public. Out with the Pumpkins' distorted guitar blast, in with the gothic synth-pop. Fans who like the change can thank Corgan's psychic unrest and his brief stint as New Order's touring guitarist.
"Playing with New Order really changed the way I look at music," he says with more than a hint of reverence. "I always figured that those guys would be more heady or pretentious, and they weren't at all. They really taught me that you have to go for whatever you feel and stop apologizing about it."
New Order had been together 25 years before they started playing tunes by their former incarnation, Joy Division. If they had relied on that back catalogue, Corgan suggests, they would never have come up with the original music that made New Order a legend in its own right.
So Corgan followed their example and set out to create music that was wholly his. Almost two years after the fall of Zwan, he finished TheFutureEmbrace.
Wanting a tour as unique as his album, Corgan put together "an experience" for his fans, setting his slow, brooding music to a surreal, high-tech LED light and image show.
"It's all about putting yourself in a position where you just have to deal," he explains. "If the concert isn't going well, I'm not going to pop "Today' in to make everybody happy and get off my case. Instead, I've got to stand there until I make the material work. When you do that, you really learn something."
Corgan, nothing if not ambitious, says he wants to create exceptional art. He wants to stay relevant by creating new relevance.
"What makes me crazy about the concept of the past or the concept of what people expect of you," he says, "is that people forget how you get great music in the first place-by saying no to all the things that were acceptable for the time.
"When we were making music in late '80s and early '90s, people weren't going, "Yeah this is perfect.' They we're telling us we were insane. "Why are you playing so loud?' "Why are you playing so aggressive?' "Why is your voice so whiny?'"
All the things that people initially criticized the Pumpkins for were what ultimately made the band so distinctive, says Corgan. And he wants you to at least consider that before you turn to your buddy at Soma and complain that he didn't play your favorite tune off Gish.
Billy Corgan plays with Doris Henson at Soma, 7 p.m. on July 11. $35. 619-226-7662.