Billy Corgan Says David Bowie Was Treated ‘Horribly’ In The 90’s

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At a San Francisco Smashing Pumpkins VIP pre-show last month, Billy Corgan spoke about evolving in music and expectations, citing David Bowie’s career as an example. Alternative Nation has transcribed part of Corgan’s answer, where he discusses the challenges David Bowie faces in the 90’s as he continued to evolve as a musician.

“I don’t remember what year it was…it could have been ‘93, it could have been ‘95, but I remember Courtney Love saying to me, ‘There’s only about 200,000 alternative fans in the world…and the rest are just posers.’ I think there’s more hipsters than ever and there’s more people listening to… ‘pick your cool band’ but realistically, people who are truly alternative music fans or fans of any band, they’re actually a smaller number than they seem. The people who listen to every release and try to understand everything about them. Most people are just passengers. They come through, like a couple albums and move on. It’s very, very difficult to sustain interest, so at the end of the day… I don’t care what artist you are, you have to negotiate all levels of it.

I got to know David Bowie a bit in the ‘90s. We were on the same label, we would cross paths here and there. He was treated horribly in the ‘90s. It was really hard to watch. As he tried to find, and he did, eventually by taking that journey into whatever he needed to do. Towards the end of the ‘90s, he started dialing back into this other thing, let’s call it the third version of himself…When you’re David Bowie and you’ve had incredible critical and commercial success through the first phase of your career, and don’t forget he had 12 or 13 failed singles before ‘Space Oddity’ became a hit song. He was considered a nobody then he was a somebody. He was somebody through a very interesting period, then at the end of the ‘70s [Bowie recorded] Low and Lodger, went very arty…I might be telling this story wrong but from what I understand he was basically broke at the beginning of the ‘80s and that’s what brought on Let’s Dance. ‘I’m gonna back to the larger than life’ and you know, he was playing stadiums, he was massive again. So, that’s ‘Phase One’ and ‘Phase Two’.

So when you go through that, you can’t just go, ‘Hey, I’m gonna pick up an acoustic guitar!’ The expectations and the weight of your legacy is so immense, this is my own interpretation…[that] struggling very publicly to find a new voice in relation to the old one or find this sort of balance between things, he was treated very, very horribly. What I’m trying to say in my own language is that he wasn’t treated with the respect he was due. It’s one thing to say, ‘I don’t like it,’ but people treated him poorly like they forgot the guy who he was. So it was amazing he was able to go through that and persevere towards the end of his life and make this great music. [To] draw people back to him to where they started realizing, ‘Oh my God, he really is that fucking guy’ and unfortunately that was the end of the story or as much as we know now. Thank God he wound back to it, I can’t imagine what people would say.

What I’m trying to say…let me it in a magic way: If somebody pulls the right card one time, that’s pretty amazing. If they pull the right card 20 times, 30 times, that’s unbelievable. So just because they didn’t pull the thirty-first doesn’t mean they’ve lost something. The dialectic between a voice: a writer, an actor, a musician…it’s so tenuous. Sometimes it really is about right place, right time. It’s about age, it’s our generational values…one year this is the big comedian and then ten years later, you know, it’s a different kind of comedy. Things just move and they morph. This city [San Francisco] is very dynamic, every time I come here it’s like a different city…When you have the interview as an artist of what that relationship is, as someone who is watching an artist well loved and respected like David, I never lost sight. When I saw him struggling, if you can use that word, I saw the struggle as ‘that’s what a great artist does.'” 

  • — J —

    What an idiot. Some albums just don’t sell. Moron. People don’t deserve respect just because they did something great 30 years before.

    Billy Corgan complains about bands playing their old material, then gets shitty because people didn’t respect Bowie in the 90s just based off his 70s and 80s material.

    Shut up dude. You just don’t even know what you stand for anymore.

    • Lingat Philippe

      Who really is the idiot ?

      • — J —

        Billy.

        • eric watkins

          nice to meet you, billy

  • every bloody question is a 2000 word essay. toooooo loonnnnngggg

    • dakotablue

      and soooooo boring. Plus I think Corgan’s really talking about himself–wah! nobody appreciates the great me.

      • spot on luv! lol I couldn’t agree more:)

  • Jane G.

    I think Corgan is right. As a massive fan who stuck with Bowie in the 90’s, I can tell you there were a lot of real classic songs in there and some incredible tours. He was also so much more accessible to his own fans in the 90’s – doing shows at small venues that sold out in a minute, acoustic sets reworking his own songs, incredibly forward-thinking things with the advent of the internet as both a social tool and a music medium. If you missed out on what he was doing then, you really DID miss out. Maybe the albums didn’t hold up as well as previous ones, but go and hear “I’m Afraid of Americans” and some of the stuff from the Hours album…

    • Socrates Wilde

      I agree. There’s a lot of under-rated, unappreciated work from that period.

    • veggiedude

      Buddha of Suburbia and Earthling are great and under appreciated albums.

    • Rômulo Dessotti

      Believe it or not, “…hours” is the album that made me a Bowie fan. I was 13 at the time and I remember so vividly buying that album and listening to it nonstop. Only then I found out about Ziggy Stardust and all the other brilliant albums he put out in the 70s. Still can’t believe he’s gone. 🙁

  • Trovoid

    Billy’s just looking into things too much as usual.. He always seems to preach that artists need constant validation. A lot of musicians don’t get the recognition they deserve. Later on, the albums that critics and fans initially shrugged off become classics.

  • jcal7

    Billy does have a point. Up to Reality he was seen as legacy act maybe not live though. It was the next day album and time away that gave people a chance to catch up. It was Bowie who said you are only as good as your last album… But it’s not just Bowie, it’s typical of every middle age person in the world. It’s like what Louie CK says nobody gives a shit about helping a 50 year old man across the road!

    Y’know I used to get irritated by his comments but I think he is in denial about what happened his success. It went up in smoke with Adore and the following steps he took (not criticising his output, there are a lot of tunes that were quality) I don’t know with this statement is he trying to align himself there. Whatever you say about an artist, whatever they have produced, the world at large doesn’t owe them anything. I say that as someone who has been changed by music but it’s the truth. Artists have to follow their muse or whatever, criticism from people who don’t create is just noise but it’s the art, not the artist that carries through. And that’s why artists like billy stay somewhat relevant even if it’s somewhat more on the fringe than he would like. He has an audience because something endured (and maybe that gives hope that he can do it again) the respect that Bowie did or didn’t get doesn’t matter. It like thinking the sun moves from east to west but really it us moving around it.

  • Felonious Punk

    I think now that he’s gone, people will look back at albums like Outside, Buddha of Suburbia, Earthling and Hours and nobody will have a bad word to say about them. He was still pushing himself creatively and artistically during that decade when nobody but his diehard fanbase were paying attention.

    So when albums like Heathen, The Next Day and Black Star rolled around, it was Bowie having the last laugh because people needed to catch up with him yet again. I’m willing to bet we’ll see some kind of posthumous album that features unreleased recordings from his final 15 years, and it will be held in very high regard.

    • Heather

      I still don’t like most of Hours. But then, I don’t like most of Scary Monsters, and apparently that’s sacrilege. I own both but skip a lot if tracks when listening to them.

  • dakotablue

    Bowie treated horribly in the 90s? His “Black Tie White Noise” came out in ’93 and went BPI gold. And he always got a lot of respect from the artsy crowd, which I think he treasured more than popular mass appeal.

  • Keith Daniel

    My comment on this: I was an super hard core Bowie fan from around 1974-75 up until right after Tin Machine. I saw him 4 times in concert, still have every album, book, magazine, video, etc. during that time period. I quit following him after the 2nd Tin Machine album and put him on hold as I was much older and just got into other types of music. The day he died, it felt like a huge part of my life had just suddenly gone pfffft. (I am now 61 and am amazed at how the death affected me) I had gotten The Next Day and Blackstar and had really enjoyed both of them. Bowie fresh, Bowie pushing an envelope etc. Since then I have picked up Outside, Heathen, Earthling and have found a total new interest in what he had done. I am not just a fan of the top 40’s. My taste goes into his music that the average person has never heard of. He was not one dimensional as a musical artist. He was a writer, composer, musician, entertainer to the max. I think he will stand alone because of that. The guy was a freaking genius in the world of music. From the time he started until he finished. Last note, every single day I can name my favorite album or song by him. The following day both will be totally different and from different periods. Not many artists can lay claim to that.

    • dakotablue

      Tin Machine definitely sounded like a misfire to me. But he’d done so much amazing stuff at that point I was willing to wait and see what would come next. And I knew it would be something different, because Bowie was a restless spirit who liked to spread his wings.

      • Heather

        Tin machine 1 was awesome. 2 not so much. But it was exciting and different from anything he’s done before. And when he got booed at the MTV awards I was passed off.

        • dakotablue

          Well, whattya want from the MTV crowd, anyway. Baaaaaa.
          I agree Tin Machine 1 was better than 2, but both sounded like generic hard rock to me–not Bowie-ish.

  • Laura C.

    There were a few years in the 90’s where I honestly stopped talking to most people about music because everyone was such a dick about it back then. It was like everything was suddenly about winning arguments and proving how cool you were instead of about listening to the music anymore. So if somebody didn’t like “Outside” they weren’t saying “I don’t like that style of music” or “I don’t get those lyrics” anymore, they were saying “This album sucks and Bowie is a has-been loser and I think less of you as a human being for even listening to this.” It was really off-putting at the time and I’m not surprised to read that guys like Corgan and Reznor were pissed off with the way some of their fans kept acting about everything. Bowie himself, I think, pretty much ignored the whole angry-clique scene thing and did what he wanted. He’d been around long enough to know his albums would find their audience in the end.

  • David Townsend Bentley Newman

    When I got into Bowie in 1992 it was off the back of Tin Machine and every man and his dog took any chance they could to slate him as a has been. For many of the hard core fans, we spent the best part of the 90s trying to defend his work.
    All you have to do is listen to the recently uncovered 3 piece Leon Suites to learn just how creative and cutting edge he had become again. Paul McCartney and Paul Weller have done some pretty cool albums over recent years though, other than that, all Bowie’s peers have become embarrassing parodies of their former selves playing 30 and 40 year old hits to keep the punters coming.

    Bowie was torn apart in the 90s by the media, his older fan base stuck in the 70s time warp and young kids who didn’t realise that NIN, Blur, Radiohead, Morrissey and Suede owed almost everything to Bowie!
    Corgan has nailed it on the head in this interview.

  • TSlvRBlkBrwn

    He and Courtney are still perfect were perfect for each-they could be the most attention-seeking gasbag copule of all time.