Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan: “When Kurt Cobain died, I cried because I lost my greatest opponent”

“I want to beat the best”

Billy Corgan has recalled his reaction to the news of Kurt Cobain‘s death — explaining that it felt like he had lost his “greatest opponent”.

The Smashing Pumpkins frontman discussed the impact Cobain and Nirvana had on his own success in a new interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, and expressed how he missed the sense of competition he had with the grunge icons.

Reflecting on the numerous influential rock groups of the ’90s, Corgan took a moment to speak on the late Nirvana frontman — explaining how his success challenged the Smashing Pumpkins to continuously improve.


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

He continued: “It’s like Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sports competitor I’ll ever see in my lifetime.”

Both Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana had some overlap during the 1990s, before Cobain died in 1994. The former released their debut LP ‘Gish’ in 1991, although its success was soon overshadowed by the release of Nirvana’s iconic ‘Nevermind’ album, which arrived a few months later.

Smashing Pumpkins
Smashing Pumpkins, 2023. Credit: Paul Elledge.

The supposed rivalry continued two years after, when Corgan and co released their breakthrough album ‘Siamese Dream’ in July 1993, shortly before Nirvana launched ‘In Utero’. Smashing Pumpkins didn’t earn a Number One album until six months after Cobain’s death, when they released their hugely successful and influential ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ in 1995.

This is far from the first time that Corgan has discussed the rivalry between the two bands and shared his respect for Cobain. Back in 2014, the singer-songwriter and guitarist proclaimed that, while they “didn’t necessarily get along”, both he and the Nirvana frontman were the two best writers of their generation, placing “everybody else a distant third”.


He also explained that there would be a lot less “crap music” released if Cobain were still alive: “I like to think a lot of the crap music that followed wouldn’t have existed if he had been around to criticise it,” he said. “Because he had the moral standing to slay generations with a strike of the pen.”

Back in 2017, the frontman admitted that he felt suicidal after Nirvana’s success in the early ‘90s eclipsed that of the Smashing Pumpkins: “The Smashing Pumpkins had put out one album, which was very successful, but as we were out promoting our album, the Nirvana album came out,” he explained.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana performs live
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana performs live in 1990. CREDIT: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

“Everything I had built myself up to be and do was no longer as relevant as it needed to be,” he added. “I went through a very long depression where I could not write songs, and really struggled for a breakthrough… I just really struggled with the emotions I was feeling.”

Following Cobain’s death, Corgan was rumoured to be dating his widow, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love. In 2015, he reacted angrily to a fan who posed a conspiracy theory to him about Cobain’s death — suggesting that it may have been caused by Love.

He has also defended the late grunge icon against rumours that he was a slacker, stating: “Kurt Cobain as a lyricist, as a songwriter, as a visionary was a fucking assassin. He was great at what he did and it’s a shame he didn’t do more of it.”

Earlier this month, Smashing Pumpkins released the third and final part of The Smashing Pumpkins’ rock opera ‘ATUM’ — which was designed as a sequel to their classic double records ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ (1995) and ‘Machina/The Machines Of God’ (2000).

In March, Smashing Pumpkins headlined a new festival in Mexico called The World Is A Vampire alongside Interpol. They later announced a US tour of the same name, which will kick off in Las Vegas on July 28, and run until September.

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