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From the Archive: Billy Corgan Interviews Eddie Van Halen in 1996

From the Archive: Billy Corgan Interviews Eddie Van Halen in 1996

That's so strange, because a studio devoted to the band seems like such a positive thing.

That's what I would've thought. But I was trying to take the band in a direction that I thought was appropriate, and Roth was trying to take the band in more of a Las Vegas direction. And there he is.

You did what you felt was right and it succeeded. I ran into similar obstacles recently. I met with a lot of resistance when I wanted our newest album [Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin)] to be a double CD. Many people thought I was going to ruin the band by doing it. But it proved to be the right thing.

You have to follow your heart. But don't ever get cocky and say to yourself, "Hey, I was right." Just do what you feel. Do you understand what I mean?

Yes, you can't gloat.

Right. When "Jump" went Number One, I was almost embarrassed. You did this double album because it's what you wanted to do, not because you wanted to prove anybody wrong or make money.

In the beginning, though, I have to admit that I did have a chip on my shoulder. I did want to prove everyone wrong. But after I went through the process and came out the other side, I realized why I had to do it. It wasn't about anyone else. In fact, the deeper I get into my life as a musician, I'm discovering that it becomes less and less about other people, and more about what I want to do. And that's a good place to be. So I can understand what you're talking about. There are all these fish swimming around you, and their motivation is not necessarily to make sure that you're playing great or that you're going have a great show that night. Instead, it's, "Are there people in the fucking seats?"

The thing is, after 20 years it doesn't change! I hope you're prepared for that. [laughs]

I read in Van Halen II's liner notes that you guys once parachuted into a stadium show. [laughs] What was that all about?

That was one of Roth's big ideas. I'm not even sure why, but he said, "Let's parachute into the stadium." Of course we couldn't do it ourselves, so we hired four professional sky divers to jump out of an airplane right before our set. The idea was that we would wear identical gear and run on stage and pretend it was us that jumped out of the plane. So there we were, wearing these crazy, heavy outfits, sweating our balls off, waiting for the sky divers to come down so we could jump on stage. It was so silly, and it almost turned into a complete catastrophe, because while we were trying to get out of the gear, AI severely twisted his ankle and had to play the show with practically a broken foot.

I guess that's why Dave's in Vegas. He saw playing music as show biz, and it's not show biz to me. I should've known when Roth said, "Let's say we're two years younger than we really are." And I'd say, "Why? I'm only 22. What's the difference?" That still causes problems for me to this day. I'm 41, and people think I'm 39.

But in a positive light, it sure made things interesting in an incredibly dull period of music.

Hey, we were young and crazy. We were trying to do all the things that Led Zeppelin did -- throw televisions out the window, and so on. We used to drive people crazy. For example, very early on, we were on a tour supporting Journey. They would never give us soundchecks and treated us like shit in general, so we liked to fuck with them anyway we could. So while they were on stage we would sneak in and destroy their rooms -- we'd use fire hoses and extinguishers, whatever we could get our hands on.

What really drove them crazy was that at the beginning of the tour no one knew who we were. The audience would say, "What the fuck is this?" But by 30 dates into the tour, we were the ones selling the tickets. In fact, halfway through the tour we wanted to bail, and despite all the shitty stuff we did to them, they begged us to stay on. Needless to say, we didn't. [laughs]

Here's another good story from that tour: We were in Madison, Wisconsin, and while I was out of my room, AI and David snuck in and grabbed my table and chairs, took out the screen and threw them out the window. When I came back to my room I was like , "Where the hell is my table?" So I looked out my window and there, seven stories down, were my chair and table lying in the snow. The screen had totally disappeared.

I figured it must have been Roth, so I went down to the desk and said, "My fucking years. I've taken them! There's a plaque on our wall that says we've sold over 65 million albums, and I don't feel I've accomplished anything. I feel like I'm just getting started.

That's the artist in you speaking. Even in your guitar hero days, you were never vainglorious of it. The band has never appeared snooty or snotty. And I think that's why your fan base is big. You guys never went through that "sick period" that a lot of bands who've recorded for 20 years often go through, where they hit rock bottom with their fans. Even around Diver Down, which admittedly is not your strongest effort, people were still there for you. And I think that says a lot about you personally. That you care, you want to have a good time, and you want others to have a good time.

And I think there's a certain amount of honesty and heart and soul that goes into it that people can feel, even on Diver Down.

That's why you'll always have people on the other end for you.

Music is for people. The word "pop" is simply short for popular. It means that people like it. I'm just a normal jerk who happens to make music. As long as my brain and fingers work, I'm cool.

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