PHILADELPHIA – Billy Corgan had a night off from the latest Smashing Pumpkins tour and a night out with The Blue Meanie.
No, that’s not the next up-and-coming band with a colorful name, along the lines of the White Stripes or Black Keys.
The Blue Meanie is a professional wrestler – yes, hair and beard dyed cobalt blue to match his worn T-shirt – and Corgan was his tag-team partner for a Friday night road trip to an independent wrestling show in New Jersey.
His next Smashing Pumpkins concert was a night away, and Corgan wasn’t going to miss it.
The musician-songwriter is more than just another celebrity immersed in wrestling as some sort of quirky promotional stunt. Corgan’s childhood fandom of the high-flying moves and outlandish story lines morphed into a serious passion for the craft and real-life drama that goes with it.
For the past year, the Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman has worked as the behind-the-scenes brainchild for the Resistance Pro Wrestling promotion out of Illinois. He teamed with R-Pro owners, brothers Gabe and Jacques Baron, to raise the diminished expectations that usually come with a typical weekend indie show and make the company a smashing success over the first 10 cards.
Stretched out in a Philadelphia hotel room, Corgan explained he’s in the wrestling business for the long haul.
“I like that it makes people uncomfortable,” Corgan said. “I like that it’s not an easy thing to explain. I like when it’s great, it’s amazing; when it’s bad, it’s really, really bad.”
As R-Pro’s creative director, Corgan consults with wrestlers and maps out old-school story lines with a modern twist to keep the promotion strong.
R-Pro isn’t quite the behemoth of World Wrestling Entertainment. But it’s not the typical low-budget show held in the local high school.
“We want to be able to expand to where we’re a national brand and can run pretty much anywhere in the country,” Corgan said. “My name and my access to certain things help get us there, but it doesn’t mean we’re ready for that. We’re better off being a little bit more conservative.”
Corgan and the Baron brothers have no interest in running a typical indie show stocked with old-timers and highspots with no true story advancement. Corgan wants episodic events where the next show builds off the last one.
He knows well the feeling shared by the prospects willing to fight in any dingy ring for a shot at performing for WWE or TNA Wrestling. Corgan remembers those dues-paying, 8-hour drives in the snow to the next empty club, dragging his own equipment, or performing for small crowds, all for the hope of hitting the big time.
Corgan forged friendships with wrestling personalities like Edge, Chris Nowitzki, Raven, and former WWE writer Vince Russo, and said he was “long past being starry-eyed” about the unique culture of the pseudo-sport. He wasn’t going to dabble in wrestling; Corgan was building a franchise.
The entertainment industry has long tried to wrest its way into the wrestling world. Mr. T and Lawrence Taylor main evented WWE cards. Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock and John Legend have all performed at WrestleMania. Corgan has attended a WrestleMania and participated in an angle for ECW.
“The best minds in professional wrestling are from those who are the biggest fans,” said Brian Heffron, who wrestles as The Blue Meanie. “You can just tell his passion, his admiration and love for the sport and the art of professional wrestling.”
Heffron, a former ECW and WWE wrestler, and Corgan met in 1998 and enjoyed swapping stories about life inside the squared circle. The Blue Meanie was a winner in his match earlier this month with Corgan in the crowd. Corgan, his head shaved just like WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, browsed the merchandise table, and talked to talent.
“It’s not a side project to Billy,” Heffron said. “This is something he grew up living.”
The Smashing Pumpkins just finished a tour, so Corgan hasn’t watched much of the big-league weeknight action lately, but he keeps tabs on WWE’s flagship “RAW” show. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has put down the script and rumbled in the ring more than a few times over the last 20 years. But Corgan has no interest in smashing his guitar over one of his worker’s heads.
“I use my hands for a living,” he said, flexing his fingers. “I don’t even play basketball because I might sprain a finger.”
Still, the common threads of a rebellious spirit, wild excess, and unpredictable fun are why Corgan’s storytelling has worked as well in the ring as on stage.
“Wrestling has a different code of ethics,” he said. “Some of it’s valuable, some of it’s strange and idiosyncratically left over from other eras. It’s a little bit like working in two different stores.”
As for his other gig, the Pumpkins recently reissued their epic, “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.” Corgan broke up the Pumpkins in 2000 before finding a new combination to record and tour again.
“I don’t see a situation where the band would stop existing,” he said. “I think that was a mistake. I think if you don’t want to do it, you just put it down for a while. Breaking up? What good does it do? Everywhere I go, that’s all everyone wants to talk about, this video, this song, this concert. Even when I was out of the band, I was still in the band.”
He can escape, at least for a bit, with R-Pro.