Billy Corgan Looks Back on Kurt Cobain ’Frightening’ Talent, Recalls Giving Advice to Bono About U2 Classic

While appearing at the recent edition of Zane Lowe’s show on Apple Music, The Smashing Pumpkins frontman and leader looked back on the best days of grunge, particularly Kurt Cobain’s immense influence. While talking about Kurt and his band Nirvana, Corgan had nothing but praise to offer about the late musician. Looking back at the 1990s and the grunge scene at the time, he said (transcript via Consequence of Sound):

“I want the Pumpkins standing on the top of the heap of our generation. If that means I got to write 800 songs to do it, I’ll do it. I ain’t shy about that. I will go down always as saying, Kurt was the most talented guy of our generation.

“Kurt had so much talent. It’s like frightening. It was like a John Lennon level of talent, where you’re like, ‘how can you have all this talent?’ Or Prince, right? But Kurt’s not here, sadly. So I looked around, I was like, ‘All right, well, I could beat the rest of them for sure.’”

Kurt Cobain tragically passed away in 1994 when he took his own life. The loss of the grunge legend was lamented by not only other rock musicians and fans but the entire music world. Reflecting on this sad event, Corgan said:

“When Kurt died, I cried because I lost my greatest opponent. I want to beat the best. I don’t want to win the championship because it’s just me and a bunch of gabronis, to use a wrestling term.

“It’s like, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sports competitor I’ll ever see in my lifetime — I mean, you want to talk about an alpha. That guy wanted to win the valet tip. You know what I mean?”

During the interview, Corgan went on to discuss a variety of other topics and artists. But one story kind of stood out regarding his relationship with U2 and Bono. As The Smashing Pumpkins frontman recalls, back in 2000, he ended up hanging out with Bono. And, interestingly enough, Bono asked Billy for advice about the ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind‘ album that came out in the fall of that year. He recalled:

“So, I’m over in Dublin, circa 2000, and I go to visit Bono at his house. We stayed up all night, and in the morning, for some reason, me and him are the only people up, and he says, ‘I want to play you something. We’re going to have to go out in the car, because I don’t want to wake the house up.’”

U2 - Beautiful Day (Official Music Video)

“So it’s me and him freezing in the driveway, and he pops in and he’s playing me what became the ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ album, and it’s not all the way there, but sort of there. And he goes, ‘Tell me honestly what you think.’ I’m like, ‘You really want me to give you my opinion?’ And I told him what I thought, and they actually used my advice, and he let me know later, ‘Hey, we used your advice.’”

Going back to last year, during the interview with Rick Beato, Corgan also praised Kurt Cobain’s work. He reflected on it while discussing his own band’s music, particularly the “Gish” album, and how they stood out with the material that included more than the usual amount of lead guitar parts for the era. He said:

“At the time when [‘Gish‘] came out in 1991, all the reviews were [saying we sounded] like throwback psych, hippie crap, jam band, Grateful Dead…“

The Smashing Pumpkins - Siva (Official Music Video)

“I think it was so not what people thought music would be that they just grasped at comparisons. I mean, there’s reviews that were like, ‘They sound like a cross between REM, The Black Crowes, and Jimi Hendrix… it didn’t even make sense. Like, the DNA splices they would put together to try to describe our music was so off.”

Nonetheless, Billy still had the urge to play guitar solos. He added:

“When people reacted to us, it was almost as if we were heretics or something; it was strange to us. And there was also the whole thing of playing solos, which was verboten in alternative circles at the time, you weren’t supposed to play solos.

As for Kurt and Nirvana, their lead parts were mostly “ironic” as Billy explained:

“And if you even think of Kurt [Cobain] on Nirvana [songs], he would play ironic solos, but they weren’t real guitar solos…

Kurt Cobain - Guitar Solos

He also added:

“Kim Thayil [of Soundgarden] would play solos, but they weren’t solos played by people who were necessarily trying to play like Richie Blackmore. I was trying to play Ritchie Blackmore. My father was a guitar player, so I came from that route of, like, if you’re gonna play a solo, you better play a good solo.”

Photos: claudia.rahanmetan (Billy Corgan with The Smashing Pumpkins 2008-02-18 (2)), P.B. Rage (Nirvana around 1992 (cropped))

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.