When TNA wrestling goes live tonight for a special broadcast, it will do so with a new member of its creative team. Billy Corgan, the frontman of rock group The Smashing Pumpkins will be one the minds behind what fans see tonight and going forward on TNA broadcasts.
While the addition of Corgan may raise some eyebrows with both wrestling fans and the music industry, it should come as no surprise that Corgan has become part of the industry. In the early 2000s he appeared on ECW TV and was one of the founders of Chicago-based Resistance Pro until leaving the company in November 2014. A longtime fan, some of his earliest memories stem from pro wrestling.
“I lived with my great-grandmother when I was very little and her and my grandfather watched wrestling, roller derby and hockey — which back then had a lot of fights. I gravitated towards a promotion in Chicago which was interesting because you had talent coming in from AwA from Minnesota and you had Dick The Bruiser from Indiana. I saw a lot of these men in their prime in angles and storylines that none of the rest of the country saw. I saw The Crusher vs. Gagne when I was six or seven years old,” Corgan told the media on a recent conference call. “That formed a lot of my thinking as far as what makes sense on the fundamental level about wrestling. That doesn’t change no matter what the era. The question is can you update those bedrock philosophical points into the future model? Which is similar to what I had to do with music. I learned rock ‘n’ roll from The Beatles and The Stones and The Who and have had to learn how to update that to the modern world which is a fun challenge to take on.”
There are many parallels between the music industry and wrestling, he explained.
“Like any company where you have a lot of moving parts, it is easy that particular talents get overlooked or set aside because of a particular direction that’s happening. I’ve been in that situation with a label where I was coming off of massive success, there was a regime change and they kind of wanted to take the company in a different direction and suddenly I am appealing to somebody that doesn’t see my vision and what I feel made me successful,” he said. “You see a lot of that in the wrestling business where there are unhappy people who don’t feel they are getting their push. Every locker room has its good and bad apples, the question is can you create a talent relationship where you feel you are trying to take in to account everyone’s concerns and abilities and bring that to the benefit of not only them or the company. Can I add to TNA culture where talent feels they have a different opportunity with me there? I hope to provide those opportunities.”
At this point TNA has effectively eliminated its touring house shows, focusing on TV tapings instead. As someone that has successfully built a touring brand with the Smashing Pumpkins, I asked Corgan if that is an aspect of the company he expects to look at improving.
“That is a complex issue to tackle simply. I feel very strongly that TNA needs a developmental system. How that works out and the realities of that are bigger issues than I can carve out on my own. We need to build talent and have situations where the talent can prosper between TV tapings. A lot of the talent works indies, but are they working ‘TNA style?’ If you find yourself asking what TNA style is, that is part of the issue. How do we create a TNA style that when the wrestlers are developing, particularly the younger talent that we acquire, are they working towards a style that brands TNA as a singular company? As far as the live touring product I certainly feel I can help in that realm as a fan and as someone who understands what it’s like to be up there. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to be a performer in the ring but I have plenty of experience relating to what the wrestlers and agents are looking to do. I would hope to contribute to that and get TNA back to a prosperous touring company.”
Having successfully created the Pumpkins brand in music, Corgan is focused on how to similarly brand TNA.
“Overall I feel I have an asymmetrical approach to brand building. Given my time in music and branching into broader entertainment including building my tea house brand. I think I have a pretty good pulse on how to work in the weird space of what is reality and the public’s space of ideas and symbolism. You see it with WWE — wrestling is still trying to get up to speed with the modern era. I feel I can bring some new strategies to re-position the company in peoples’ minds. On a day to day level I am bringing my perspective on how TNA can re-brand itself as a ‘wrestling first’ company. If there is one priority, it is carving out a singular identity for TNA in the marketplace so when people think of TNA they think of its stars and product as being on its own.”
There have been previous rumours about Corgan and TNA, including one that he was interested in purchasing the company. He explained his past history with TNA president Dixie Carter and the road that lead to him joining.
“I have a personal relationship with Dixie that goes back seven or eight years. I pitched to her an idea to combine what I was looking to do with Resistance Pro and a reality show maybe there was a some sort of intersection that might help TNA. She didn’t feel that was a good fit at the time, which was totally okay, and I went in a different direction with AMC,” he said, adding that project was no longer going forward, allowing him to move towards TNA.
“I came off tour and hadn’t realized she had been messaging me. I have to change my number regularly because of fan stuff, she was messaging me on DM on Twitter and I didn’t see them and was getting messages with little sad faces saying, ‘Why won’t you call me back?’ I called her up and we had a conversation and she said, ‘How would you like to come in on creative?’ I pinched myself and said, ‘Um yeah, I would love the opportunity.’ I flew down to Nashville and an hour later I was sitting in on booking meetings. I felt at home from the moment I walked in the door. I had been in the offices before and know a lot of people in the company so I really felt like I was at home and nothing that has happened since has changed my mind on that.
“I am lucky that I am a successful person. The only way I would take this opportunity is if I felt my ideas would have an equal airing at the table. So far everything that I’ve brought to the table has been taken seriously. Where it has been agreed upon it has been acted upon and where someone says, ‘I don’t think that may be right for us,’ I have been told why they don’t think it works. My experience so far is that there is no obstacle, whomever has the best idea wins. I respect the people I am working with and felt the booking meetings were a fantastic atmosphere. Every time I came up with an idea they liked we worked on it together and it ended up better than if I booked it by myself and from where we started from. I have dealt with wrestling politics before on a smaller level but I have been around companies for years and heard lots of talent complain about politics. I have railed plenty of my life at record labels and I still am. There has to be a balance between the front office and talent and I have a different understanding of how the talent might perceive decision making having been in that position many many times.”
One thing you shouldn’t expect is Billy Corgan taking on a similar on-air role such as those that Dixie Carter portrayed recently and that Stephanie McMahon and Triple H currently portray.
“I don’t really see myself in a televised role. I certainly would listen if they felt like it was a place for me to be. I am a firm believer that everything that goes on in the company is about getting the talent over in the ring. I have done stuff in the ring but I don’t really belong in a ring. If there was something there such as an angle or commentary or doing updates online on the product, whatever I can do but at the end of the day I didn’t take this job to make it about me. I love the idea of being a participant in a bigger dynamic. I have plenty of control in my own world. I like the team I am working with and my job is to participate in that process and get the talent over. If we get them over there is plenty of credit to go around for everybody and I would love to share in that.”
Music is an important part of pro wrestling, as a musician Corgan would like to see a shift in how entrances are done.
“A lot of times I think the music in any promotion falls into obvious things, someone comes out to a metal song. As a musician I am not a fan of that. Just like a movie soundtrack a counter piece of music can tell some amazing stories. I remember watching Fedor Emelianenko in the PRIDE promotion and they had falling snow and soft piano music. It gave me goosebumps and brought out an aspect of his character that some jarhead metal song wouldn’t have done that. We did some of that in Resistance Pro with some different music. We got some push back from the wrestlers because they were used to the metal themes. You have seen with other gimmicks a different song can define a character before they make one move to the ring or open their mouth.”
In the past, whether in WCW during the Vince Russo era or during Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff’s run with TNA, things changed overnight. Corgan plans to make a more gradual change.
““It is a little bit like what we are seeing with the Chicago Cubs. They have been building their franchise from the ground up that was going to be successful which has included all sorts of changes. I am not a big believer in waiving a magic wand. You have a company here with a 13-year history, with fans that like the product and fans that have been turned off by the product. Real change comes quickly from the ground up. Even if you handed me the keys to the whole kingdom I would have to build a whole infrastructure. If I am going to affect real change it’s got to be from the bottom up and that is why my biggest part is talent development. Just like a major league franchise would look at how many stars they can make on their own roster. There is not enough oxygen to go around to build young stars that are TNA branded from the bottom up. The success you are seeing with NXT proves this even more there is a lot of excitement about what WWE is doing with NXT because you see a younger fresher opportunity there. TNA can do its own version of that so five years or seven years from now TNA can be a single-branded company. The biggest mistake that has been made over and over again is trying to compete. If TNA builds its own brand from the bottom up there will be fans of the product that won’t have to choose. It will just be more good business for everybody.”
Corgan is working hard for TNA in the lead up to this weeks tapings.
“Right now I am spending probably 60 hours a week on TNA. It is driving my friends in the studio crazy because I am one hour with music then running to my phone. I am still working out those balances. It is a full-time vocation and it is always spinning in my mind how to make the product better. I have to be enough in the company that I am not coming in and always picking things apart. It isn’t easy to flip one switch and expect everything to change. If you don’t understand the thinking behind the decision making it is easy to criticize. I feel I have to be enough in the foundational culture rather than an outsider. I am very used to thinking outside the box in my musical life. I am not a believer in cheap heat, things take a long time to develop properly.”
The challenge then lies in balancing both lives. He hits the road this summer for a series of acoustic shows followed by an arena tour co-headlining with Marilyn Manson. SLAM! Wrestling wrapped up the call asking Corgan about finding the balance between two full-time careers.
“The good news is it is an understood thing from the beginning that being a musician is not going to change. I think the fact that Dixie knows I will give TNA everything I have in the cracks of all that, I will do my best. It will be harder for me to do that when I am not able to travel to a particular taping. For example, I think the date for Slammiversary I am preparing at that time for the acoustic tour. I will probably do something like get up at eight in the morning, rehearse, get on a plane and fly down for Slammiversary and fly home the next day, missing the tapings to do my rehearsals or moving my rehearsals to where the tapings would be so I can be there to work for TNA. I think that shows you the level of dedication I am in for. I don’t view this casually. I didn’t take an opportunity like this to fail. The greatest thing I can hope for is if we talk a year from now you will see I have had a positive contribution to the product and all of these ideas will actually start locking into place and there will be real energy and buzz around the company. Hopefully you will be able to trace that back to me and by extension give that credit to people like Jon [Gaburick, Executive Vice President of Television Production Director of Talent Relations] and Dixie for having the courage to bring someone like me in and listen to a different perspective to try and kick start something that isn’t always easy to do from within wrestling culture. If a year from now it is the same I might tell you a slightly different story about doing things long term towards the future. Hopefully we are telling a positive story a year from now.”
BILLY CORGAN STORIES
Of all the cool things that SLAM! Wrestling has lead to in Jason Clevett’s life, talking to the lead singer of one of his favourite bands as an unexpected surprise. During his brief shot at pursuing a wrestling career Jason used Smashing Pumpkins “Zero” as his theme music. Things really do come full circle.