When you put together a list of the most influential and interesting bands of the ’90s, you have to put Smashing Pumpkins near the top of the list. The band and its charismatic leader, Billy Corgan, took a flair for the grandiose, a generation’s angst, and Corgan’s distinctive voice and parlayed them into a successful career, selling 25 million albums.
Smashing Pumpkin’s songs spoke to certain members of my generation in ways that no other band could. Lyrics like, “The killer in me is the killer in you,” “In spite of my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” and “We don’t even care” reflected a particular spiritual emptiness in Generation X. Whether fans were drawn to that brand of nihilism (remember the Zero T-shirt?) or, like me, just enjoyed the music, there was no denying the darkness at the core of Corgan’s music.
Corgan admits that he had a definite reason for such darkness – he struggled with depression and often harbored suicidal thoughts during the band’s heyday:
“I think I had to hit rock-bottom to even be open to ask for help,” he says of his state of mind during much of the 1990s.
“There were days, months and years where I just stared out the window and felt miserable…”
Corgan’s music was always hailed for its raw honesty but overt spirituality didn’t seem to be part of his earlier life. In 1993, while their second album, “Siamese Dream,” catapulted The Pumpkins to nationwide popular success, Corgan says he felt suicidal.
Throughout that period, Corgan’s maniacally creative genius helped him suppress the unhappiness and emptiness he felt inside as the world seemed to simultaneously hand him the best and worst of everything. Band members’ drug addictions, messy personal relationships and the pressure of living up to expectations of becoming the new Nirvana locked Corgan into a deep depression while record sales soared.
While Corgan hasn’t exactly been inactive since the Smashing Pumpkins’ glory days of the ’90s, he has reemerged in a surprising way – as an advocate for quality music that honors God:
When asked what he was now exploring in his music, Corgan, 46, said bluntly, “God.”
The Illinois native said he believes God is the future of rock and roll, although that concept might not be readily welcomed.
“You’re not supposed to talk about God, even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like ‘don’t go there,’” Corgan said, relating a comment he made to a magazine that failed to print his remarks. “I think God is the most unexplored territory in rock and roll music.”
Corgan has spent the last few years exploring his own relationship with God. The result for Corgan is a personal spirituality that blends Christianity and Buddhism with other mystical ideas. His spiritual journey has changed his entire view of life.
This is the prayer I say almost daily before I wake and just before bed:
May I see the world through Christ’s eyes
May I hear through Christ’s ears
May I feel through Christ’s heart
The same information processed through the beauty of the prayer above is this: Christ IS Love, so to process my fears through Christ’s eyes is to FEEL His perspective. Jesus Christ has a particular vibration, as does Buddha, Mohammed, Quan Yin, and many other avatars/Divine Natures that allow me to understand how my hand is being held with Love.
In an NPR interview last year, he admitted that his search for spiritual truth drives his art – and pretty much everything else these days:
My compulsion is to be a visionary mystic, and music has been of course my most successful form of communication, but I’ve also communicated through video, poetry, and just being a public pain in the rear. That’s part of my function.
As a Christian, my prayer for Billy Corgan is that his search for spirituality will lead him to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but seeing him move out of a nihilistic spiritual emptiness into an honest quest for higher truth encourages me. It’s a huge first step, and I pray it leads him to faith in Jesus.
The re-formed Smashing Pumpkins (essentially Corgan with three new bandmates) released an album in 2012 entitled Oceania. The themes of Corgan’s spiritual journey fuel the content of this record. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to delve into Oceania, track by track, and explore the Judeo-Christian themes that I find in the songs. I hope you’ll come along on this journey with me and unpack some nuggets of truth in some fascinating music.