Today, the second in my series of interviews from the 2009 Canadian conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music.
Name: Marlie Centawer
School: Brock University
Program: Masters in Popular Culture
Title: “Re-claiming autonomy: Billy Corgan and TheFutureEmbrace (2005)”
The short form: Centawer’s paper explored Billy Corgan’s re-embrace of goth and new wave discourse on his 2005 solo album, TheFutureEmbrace. Discussing particular songs, instrumentation, and lyrics, coupled with a visual analysis of the album’s photography, she argues that the record represents Corgan’s re-clamation of self, image and autonomy as a musical artist.
McNutt: Perhaps it’s a self-evident question, but what’s so interesting about Billy Corgan – from a scholarly perspective, that is?
Centawer: He’s a good example for me because I’m able to combine my interest in popular music with my interest in the Pumpkins and Corgan, but I find it fascinating how he disseminates his approach to popular music and his ideas. I’m really interested in Corgan terms of performance as well, and how he presents himself in contemporary rock discourse. His approach keeps shifting but it keeps coming back to that auteur position. It’s always about Corgan, one way or another
McNutt: The idea of your presentation seemed to be that, more so than a lot of thing Corgan’s done in his career, TheFutureEmbrace was deliberately positioned as a statement of self. What are some of the evidence and examples you give as to why it seems so authentically “Billy Corgan”?
Centawer: Something that really struck me when I first experienced the album – well before I thought about writing it – was how he positions himself in terms of pose and performance in the photography. That’s what really struck me. Then the lyrics on this album are this self-revelation, a dialogue with this imagery. Then there’s how he reveals his birthmark, which I take as this sign of difference which he finds empowering…the way that the songs are positioned too, with “All Things Change” and so-forth, acknowledging this shift in his career. But it’s an interesting shift because he then reverts to the Smashing Pumpkins moniker.
McNutt: So what do you make of the subsequent resurrection of the Smashing Pumpkins, and how does that either fit within or complicate the narrative you lay out with TheFutureEmbrace?
Centawer: It definitely complicates it because he’s positioning himself on this solo album in a new direction, but it’s almost like it’s negated to go back to the confines of that moniker. But at the same time, The Smashing Pumpkins as Corgan’s recontextualized them is just like a band in concept now. It’s devoid of the physically, the band members from before. It’s an interesting direction and I think it sort of reinforces his auteur stance in rock discourse, but I really don’t know what to make of it, to be honest. Because Corgan, as much as you want to interpret and analyze him, is this being unto himself. It’s just hard to crack the “Corgan Code,” but I’m fascinated by his approach to making and promoting music.
McNutt: You’re obvious writing about an artist that you have a great respect and admiration for. How do you go about achieving the right amount of distance between your appreciation of his work on a personal level and judging and interpreting it on a scholarly one?
Centawer: For me, I’m really interested in writing about things that I’m passionate about, and I want to bring that into my work. But there needs to be a combination of passion with a critical distance. There’s also critique inherent. For example, with TheFutureEmbrance, I can acknowledge what he’s doing in a positive way on a fan level, but in a scholarly level I want to take it further and deconstruct what he’s doing and offer a critique at the same time.