Smashing Pumpkins Frontman Billy Corgan Talks His Brother, Wrestling and a New Reality TV Show in the Works

Billy Corgan is making his own news as he turns his attention toward something close to his heart -- his half-brother Jesse Andersen and his ongoing mission to raise awareness for people, like his brother, whom are living with disabilities.
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Chances are, you've heard from Billy Corgan recently. Maybe it's been at SXSWi where he was in a one-on-one fiery conversation with author Brian Solis or at the Metro last month when Smashing Pumpkins headlined the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert just days before the alterna-rock group's hyped album Oceania dropped. But, in between the Pumpkins headlines, Corgan's making his own news as he's turning his attention toward something a bit more under-the-radar and just as close to his heart -- his half-brother Jesse Andersen and his ongoing mission to raise awareness for people, like his brother, whom are living with disabilities. Corgan talks candidly about growing up with Andersen, inviting him into the ring of his wrestling venture Resistance Pro and a new reality TV show he's got in the works.

It has been a year since your brother, Jesse Andersen, was robbed and attacked on the CTA Red Line train while he was on the way to work. I know that you took to Twitter and were outraged about this. A year later, how's he doing?

You know he's gone through some interesting changes. Part of what happened was that, you know, he got, let's call it negative attention, which is he's on the news because someone did something terrible to him. Then he got positive attention which is a lot fans reached out to him through his Facebook and it kind of brought him out more into the world, and there's a mixed blessing there of course because not everybody is a good person and not everybody is necessarily interested in him, they might just be interested in him because he's my brother. But it's also been part of his maturation process because, like many special needs people, he wants to be in the world. You know, he doesn't want to live on the edges of our society, he wants to be squarely in the middle and have a very real experience and I've seen a transformation in him in the past year where he's sort of wrestling, for lack of a better word, with what it means to be who he is naturally against who he can be publicly, and being my brother is part of that struggle where he has to figure out who he can trust and all those types of things. So, it's been interesting for him and it's sort of opened up something that he's still kind of figuring out.

Is Jesse at the same job and does he still ride the 'L' down to work?

Oh yeah. That's probably one of his greatest sources of pride. I think he's held that job down maybe 17 or 18 years. You know, you've got to remember with my brother that when he was born, we were told as a family he would never walk or talk. The doctors at the time recommended that he just be put in a state home. The horrible term that they used back then for kids like [my brother] was that they called them vegetables, which is horrible in hindsight to think that's what they would refer to these kids as. We didn't want that for him; we kept him at home and we fought hard to bring him into real life as much as we could. My [older] brother and I didn't treat him with kid gloves. We beat him up just like we beat each other up. He was raised to be a normal boy, but, of course, not everyone in the world sees him as a normal boy; and hence my song "Spaceboy" on "Siamese Dream," because here's this kind of kid who comes from some other planet and he's had to figure it out for himself as he's gotten to be a man.

You seem to be very protective of Jesse. Growing up, did you feel compelled to look out for him?

Yeah. I essentially raised him. Our father was out of the house and his mother, my stepmother, worked a lot as a stewardess, so I raised him in a way and I watched him go through a lot. I saw him be teased and I'd have to get up in somebody's face and say, 'You're not going to talk about my brother like that.' The worst part of the experience was probably the adults who would stand there, five feet away from him, and talk about him like he couldn't even hear what they were saying. They would call him all sorts of names that they didn't think were names -- words which are now considered inappropriate in our culture. It was very, very hard to watch because my brother has a great intellect. He's got a great mind and is very charismatic and charming in his own devious way. It's hard to explain because he's his own person, but somewhere in there he needs a bit of a buffer. It's a complicated thing and the best way I explain it is that he's like a Rain Man type of character. He's got certain things probably greater than someone else and he's lacking in a few things that most of us just take for granted.

I understand that you recently wrote Jesse into a script and he made his wrestling debut at Resistance Pro's 'Taken by Force' event last month. What was it like to have your brother in the ring? I heard he was an active part of the storyline that you wrote.

It was interesting. He really wants to be a bad guy (laughs). We can peer into that psychology; I think he likes the empowerment of a bad guy. He's lived his whole life sort of being picked on and neglected and here -- he obviously understands it's fantasy -- he gets to go in the ring and kind of misbehave. You know, go on a little bit of a tear. In this particular storyline, he turned on Chris Nowinski who's very publicly known for his work with concussion issues. Chris has testified in front of Congress, and is in many ways singlehandedly changing the culture of sports as far as how concussions are affecting athletes, which is a very serious issue. (He's helped change Illinois State policy and Chicago school policy.) Chris used to be a professional wrestler in the WWE, so here you've got Chris in the ring with my brother and this part of the storyline is that Jesse turns on Chris, and part of the reason that he turns on Chris is that he wants to screw me, so now my brother and I are at war in Resistance Pro.

Did he like it?

He loved it. He had three things that he had to pull off: he had to be endearing, he had to be naïve and then ultimately, he had to be the bad guy. He hit every note that he had to hit and even improvised a bit. He aligned himself with this bad guy in our promotion. There's a bad guy manager called Rinaldo Piven and as he was leaving the ring, my brother announced through the microphone that his name was now Jesse Piven (laughs).

Do you plan on bring Jesse back into the ring?

Yeah, oh yeah. He's going to be part of a longer storyline. Part of the storyline that we're going to be working is he's aligned with this manager and they're not going to start blowing all my money.

I'm especially curious about the script-writing process in wrestling. How do you come up with the storylines and does it draw a parallel at all to songwriting?

It's similar in that you're definitely thinking beginning, middle and end -- where you want it to end up -- so you need to take that into account. And, the process, I don't want to say it's complicated, but it's a little tricky because you have to deal with peoples' strengths and weaknesses, much like a baseball manager would or something. You have to know who to put in what position. You can't just get into your mind that you want the tough guy to wear a ballerina skirt just because you think it'll be funny. If you go that route, there has to be some reason for it, and you have to know the inner dynamics of the wrestling business -- the political aspects, and how people view their characters from within -- it's a little bit tricky. It's not as simple as writing like a theatrical script where you just find people to play those roles. You almost have to take the characters that you're given in the promotion and then write storylines for them. Kind of like you'd write if somebody's given the Diehard 4 script -- you're inheriting this Bruce Willis-type character. You have to write off that character.

Just curious. How did you get interested in wrestling?

I was into it when I was a little kid. Actually, I'm sure Jesse was probably forced to watch with me. There used to be wrestling on TV in the '70s that we would watch and there were very larger-than-life characters; guys with names like The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser and Baron von Raschke who played a Nazi wrestler; think of that in the 2012s, it wouldn't get very far. And so we would watch this and, just like rock 'n' roll, it kind of connected with me -- the craziness, the larger-than-life aspect. It's funny because the two things I was really fascinated with, well, actually three things; I was fascinated by sports, particularly baseball, wrestling and music and I've dabbled in all three now. So yeah, it's kind of funny when I look back on it now.

Gabe Baron (facial hair), Billy Corgan and Jacques Baron. Photo courtesy of Cathy Pusateri

Who is your all-time favorite wrestler and who's Jesse's? I admired Randy "Macho Man" Savage and would sit near the ring as a kid back in the days of the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena). Even got hit by a bit of spit one time.

Oh very good. My favorite wrestler was Ric Flair. I don't know if Jesse's necessarily a wrestling fan. He started coming to the shows and I remember the first time he came to a show, he was just kind of sitting there, and the next thing you know, he's leaning over the railing screaming at a bad-guy wrestler telling him to go to hell or whatever and I thought, 'Wow, he's really enjoying it' and then not long after he was attacked, I thought it would be interesting to put him in the ring and let him sort of play out because I knew behind-the-scenes he felt -- like many people whom have been victimized -- a real sense of rage and at times powerlessness, because something's happened to you and you want to get, not necessarily revenge, but you want to put that energy somewhere, so that's sort of where this was all born.

I hear that you've got a reality TV show in the works about what it's really like behind the scenes to run a wrestling organization. Can you let me in on what we may expect to see, and will your brother be involved with this new venture?

You know, it's interesting I hadn't thought it through as far as whether he would be involved. We're just trying to kind of capture the spirit of an independent wrestling company, which has never been explored on reality TV and I think, even if somebody ran out and made one tomorrow, I don't think they could bring what I could bring to it because you're talking about the ability to mix in all different walks of life; whether it's Hollywood or sports figures. I can draw in lots of different people for different reasons to our promotion. I think my brother would make a fascinating character as part of the reality show, if we could get it made. You know, what goes on for a special needs person in everyday life is it's a struggle and anybody who has special needs people in their family, they know it's a real commitment for everybody involved. When they're born they don't hand you a manual, you have to kind of make it up as you go along. And that's why I love the term special needs because every special needs person needs something special and different. There's no cookie cutter way and growing up around my brother and the programs he was involved in, I grew up surrounded by a lot of other special needs kids. I met this kid the other day, he's a fan -- I don't know what his condition is, but wheelchair bound, some kind of palsy where he has no control over his limbs, yet he's a writer. The ability for people to take what they're given and transform it into something more powerful and in my brother's case, he's not necessarily an artist like I am or his older brother, my brother Rick, I think it's his life that's his thing. He's starting to have a really rich life and make friends and part of the beauty with him being a part of Resistance Pro is that he's made new friends and gets to have a different set of relationships for a different set of reasons. In this case, he gets to be part of an ensemble. In wrestling, it's a different vibe; everybody pulls in the same direction. So, as part of Resistance Pro, he becomes part of a much larger family at any given time. It's almost like joining a theatre troupe or something.

Is the reality TV show still in the works or has the deal been inked?

No, no, it's still in the works. I've had to get a crash course in how reality TV gets made these days. There's so much competition that you can't just go in with a pitch and get a show made. You've got to kind of figure out how to put together a video package or they call it a sizzle reel. So, we're still in the process of configuring what kind of show because you get asked, 'Well, is this a competition show where wrestlers are vying for a job?' They go back to forms that have already been used and I've insisted that Resistance Pro, if it becomes a reality show, would be very much more like a documentary type of thing, where you really capture what goes on because when you've got like 25 or 30 people at any given time in an ensemble, there's always drama and always somebody mad at somebody. There's an incredible amount of politics and everybody in wrestling is pretty much just crazy. I think that's pretty much a given. Unlike one of these Bachelor shows where you get all the girls drunk, so they'll say what they're really thinking, in wrestling, everyone's always talking about what they're really thinking. It's just part of the gig.

Between Resistance Pro, a reality TV show in the works, your new album Oceania dropping last month and an ambitious international tour, your schedule is pretty hectic. How do you keep it all together?

I'm a fairly spiritual person, sober. I believe in things most people believe in; you know, family. I've got two doggies and two kitties that need me. Put it this way, I live a very simple life. I don't live the life most people would imagine a person in my position would live. I live a very simple life. I have a beautiful home in Chicago and I just work. Most of my insanity is in my musical creativity or the wrestling creativity. When it comes to my life, actually I go the opposite direction. I think I figured that out in the '90s or the early '00s that you couldn't do what I was doing in the world if you didn't have some kind of stable life at home.

Anything else?

I think the beautiful thing here is that wrestling embraces what makes a person different, and I think that's the beauty here. What makes my brother different and special is exactly what makes him fit in. Maybe on the surface something like that would seem to elicit a snicker, like you're trotting out somebody because they're different, but that misses the point. My brother longs for a place he can belong and not because he's quote unquote a freak, as is no one with a special need. It's more the opposite, we want to put him in this position to show that he's just like everybody else.

The next Resistance Pro event, "Fair Warning," featuring former WWE wrestler John "Morrison" Hennigan, will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 27 at Teamster Auditorium; 328 S. Marshfield Ave. Tickets are $20-$35 and can be purchased directly from Resistance Pro.

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