Billy Corgan was going to get used to Havelock North; more important, Havelock North was going to get used to Billy Corgan! The former Zwan front man and on/off Smashing Pumpkin had been awarded a prestigious Artist in Residence spot at Havelock North’s public library. He would be there for three months. He would teach some local musicians the latest batch of songs and there would be a concert at Black Barn winery. This was to be the comeback; the celebration of all that stirred in the soul.
He very quickly learned the way around the village. He would sometimes go for a stroll to the hot bread shop for a chai latte and perhaps a muffin. Sometimes, in a dress; they might look at him a little funny to start with but he’d disarm them with a smile.
It was going to be good. So good. He could finish the novel. And the autobiography. And complete the new solo album. Well, it was more than an album, it was a multimedia experience. Songs would make way for stories. Stories would lead on to interpretive dance. The dance would pulse and probe and strobe lighting would keep the audience’s attention as guitar howled with feedback. Mirrors at the back of the stage would catch the glare and reflect everything back to the audience. For that was what it was. A reflection. A set of reflections. It was all reflection.
Outside of that he had to give a couple of lectures. Talks, really. Just talks. Words of wisdom. And, not that there was any difference, poems also.
There was some confusion though as he thought he was to speak to the National Youth Drama School but when he followed the map all he could find was a school for young ladies known as Woodford House. Same thing, Corgan figured. And delivered the presentation – “The World Will Listen When You Tell It To” – at what he figured was a rather impressed contingent of well-behaved, well-adjusted, well-dressed school girls.
Rehearsals were more troubling. He had been given an existing quartet, Hawke’s Bay’s finest wedding band he was told. The drummer looked like he last had a haircut in 1993. He wore a black singlet and white gumboots. The guitarist was still playing one of those headless things. The lead singer, unhappy with her role now, reduced to tambourine and backing vocals, kept crowing about Billy writing a song for her. The bass player wore sweat pants!
They kept warming up with a song that Corgan eventually found out was called April Sun In Cuba. He did not like this song. He did not like sun. He did not like Cuba. He had no feelings either way for April as a month – but it did make him think of April, the girl who had laughed at the first song, The Inevitable Brilliance of the Soul. So, actually, in that sense, he did not like April.
He suggested Dancing In The Moonlight for something approaching common ground. The eventual meeting point was The Boys Are Back In Town.
There were times when, a glass of pinot gris in his hand, some polenta chips cooked in truffle oil, thoughts flowing down through his pen into his diary, Billy could figure Havelock North as the place for him. A waiter was sure he heard him say, of one day in particular, that it was in fact the greatest day he’d ever known.
“You’re Billy Corgan”, he half-asked, half-stated.
“Truth”, Corgan replied.
The waiter returned with a piece of paper and a pen. When Billy asked what the name was, the waiter pointed out that he just needed a credit card signature for the room-charge docket.
The Gleaming Void was the name of Corgan’s latest volume of poetry. And it was a small, almost appreciative audience that turned out for Thursday night’s reading as part of the library’s late night, closing pushed back to 8:00pm.
“I built a house/around your heart/you changed the locks/I bang at your door/where I had been banging before/Irony, I hate you/Ivy, I love you/Though you’ve poisoned my soul/Sweet demented intoxication/I sleep outside/Hammer in hand/Constructing my alienation”.
Billy decided to read another:
“Everything I gave you has now been twisted around/You are not capable of making a decent sound/Without me/I have your tongue/Inside a box/Shhh! Don’t speak/That’s right/You cannot!”
A seven year old girl started crying, her face pressed against her mother’s leg. Corgan approached quietly and told the mother that she needed to take the child home. The mother nodded, smiled a mouth-only smile and tapped her daughter softly on the shoulder. The buried face came up for air. They made their way to the door.
“Next time, teach the girl some fucking manners”, Billy Corgan screamed. “Goddamn you people. Today is meant to be my birthday!”
The next day, standing in the middle of the Havelock North village, Billy Corgan received a phone call. He was standing next to a sprawl of tables that seemed not be owned by any one cafe in particular. He was wearing a black trench-coat. The weather was warm. The voice on the other end of the line was asking if he would like to star in a reality TV show, Despite ALL My Rage.
His three month residency at the Havelock North public library had been and gone. It was a time of tumult. There had been a disastrous first poetry reading. The second had not been better. He was prepared. He was sure of that. But the people in this town. Where did they get them? Presumably the majority of them had Sebastian somewhere within their name, or Aloysius; such was the sense of entitlement. Talk about ideas above their station. Gee-wiz!
There Billy stood. Ready to deliver. All around was silence. Always with the threat of violence. With that, obviously, it was time for poetry.
“Everything I am/I took from you/The air that you breathe/I took that too/I built you a room – a room with a view/I forgot to punch holes in the plastic/Now at least it’ll be a room for two/I must find another”
The audience halved.
Four people remained. Well, three – and Corgan.
“I am a catholic teapot/Overwrought and devout/This arm is my handle/My gee-tar is my spout/I’m a jazz guitarist now/Watch me spray solos all over the place/You can’t hide from the sound/I would rather that you drown/As I jazz right in your face”
From there the details are less specific. But a woman wearing white pants in public – in the public library – told Billy Corgan to leave. He wanted to tell her that VPL was not okay. But before he knew quite what was happening she walked up and shut The Gleaming Void he held in one hand. He wanted to tell her that the skank-stamp was not charming even if it did look like the cover to Mellon Collie. Not cool. Not when you’re 45. But before he could she disconnected the microphone and began coiling the lead. In white pants!
This was not the low-point.
The readings were only part of the puzzle. The full jigsaw included a gig. A new album. And the memoir. A draft was expected before Corgan could leave Havelock North. He had started referring to the memoir now by the working title, Motel California.
The performance at Black Barn winery was a disaster. The venue was a cave; nothing more than a cave. A cellar cut into the hillside. A bunker. When Billy stood on stage he had to hunch his shoulders and the light caught his pate. He couldn’t turn to see the drummer. But that was just as well. I mean this guy didn’t even wear shoes when he played.
The bass player was in trackpants – still. And the guitarist was still playing a headless axe. And he chopped at the chords like you would when splitting a cord of firewood. Except, it’s fair to say, when he sliced, he sliced like a fucking hammer.
The new songs were supposed to work on drone, on feedback, there were supposed to be moments of improvisation, of dissonance. Every time the music dropped down and Billy would try to wring something from the neck of his guitar he would catch a wave of drunken roar. The audience had decided to sing lyrics themselves. Something about “woah-ooooah-oooh” and then a question screamed out as a statement, “why does love do this to me!”
A guy vomited. Wiped it aside with a fling of his hand and took another sip of wine. His pinky finger extended away from the glass, all delicate like. A slick of residue dangling from the nail of the pinky finger. Dribbling, slightly.
It was all too much. Billy Corgan had to do something.
“You people don’t deserve me!” he screamed. There was an instant booing. A loud boo – louder even than at any point during the songs. “You people don’t deserve to live”, Billy tried. “And what is this life anyway? All you do is talk to each other about the fuckking weather”.
And then he saw stars – the only kind they have in Hawke’s Bay; the dizzying kind. And he woke with his insides feeling like a wet cardboard box. Whoever she was, she had hit him very hard. His jaw jutted and had a heartbeat. His eye throbbed. Every cough was a wince, was another tiny, internal kick. And it felt like the bruises were ganging up, spreading.
So when the call came offering for Billy Corgan to star in a reality TV show he flipped. It was time to get out of Havelock North. He was supposed to stay there and complete the projects. But he could not live like this. Not with these animals. And yet, Corgan thought, notwithstanding the anger they were just enclosed vermin. In that sense he did understand.
But then he saw a man in shorts and jandals, a man of nearly 60, chewing gum, wearing a baseball-type cap that said My Other Hat’s A Stetson. And Billy knew he had to get out. He had to leave any chance he could. He had to check out.
So the agent explained that the TV show, Despite ALL My Rage would be all the rage. All of it. A chance for Corgan to vent. And it would be funny too. The viewer would see him in different situations, fish out of water.
Wonderful, Billy thought. I can do this. Finally, I can be me. And people can see the real me.
“We’re going to send you to a fun little town in Australia to start with”, the voice down the phone explained. “It’s a fun place. It’s full of nice people. It’s called Kalgoorlie”.