I’m sure you’re probably tired of talking about it, but do you mind if I ask you a few questions about Caillou?
Billy Corgan: Not at all. Go right ahead.
Can you tell me a little about how you first came to be involved with the show?
BC: Sure. Back in ’96, around the time we were touring for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I was approached by PBS Kids with a proposal to create an educational half-hour animated series based on my childhood. I didn’t really know what to make of it at first, but I got on board once I met with [show creators] Christine [L’Heureux] and Hélène [Desputeaux] and they explained to me the specific narrative conceit behind the show.
BC: That it would be a painstakingly accurate recreation of my experiences as a four-year-old.
So all of the plot lines on Caillou are taken from actual events?
BC: Yes, without exception. Everything you see on the show literally happened to me, exactly in the manner depicted, including the dialogue.
And are the characters based on real people as well?
BC: That’s correct. Everyone from my little sister, Rosie, to Gilbert, the cat I had when I was a kid who had a mutant patch of blue fur around his eye for some reason. The producers even insisted that we only ever refer to my character by my given name, Caillou, rather than the odd-sounding “Billy Corgan” stage name I’ve been using since my twenties.
Did that cause any confusion? Did audiences have trouble identifying Caillou as you?
BC: No — I think everybody made the connection from day one. The physical resemblance between Caillou and me is obvious, and the show’s casting director went to great effort to model the way Caillou speaks on the somewhat distinctive sound of my singing voice. Not to mention that most people know that when I’m offstage, I only wear clothes that are red, yellow, blue, or green.
Did everyone you knew growing up dress like that too?
BC: Yes. Also, all of the buildings, cars, and everyday objects in the town I lived in were exclusively those colors as well.
Is that a Midwest thing?
BC: I believe so, yes.
And what about the narration on the show?
BC: That’s true-to-life too. I’ve been told it’s uncommon, but when I was younger, the disembodied voice of an old woman narrated every aspect of my life in the third person.
And how long did that go on?
BC: It stopped for the most part when I was twenty-six or twenty-seven. You can actually hear it very faintly in the background on some of the tracks on Gish and Siamese Dream. [Affecting old woman’s voice.] “Caillou loved to play guitar. Caillou and his friend James would play guitars all day long.” And so on. It still happens occasionally, but these days we’re able to record around it.
Did you write the Caillou theme song?
BC: Of course.
Do you ever perform the song live?
BC: All the time — it’s a staple of Pumpkins sets. Everybody in the band loves it. Sometimes an audience member will call out “Hey! Play the Caillou song!” and we’ll start playing it, even if it’s the song we just finished playing.
Do you feel that there is any thematic overlap between your songwriting and the ideas and stories presented in Caillou?
BC: Absolutely. My music deals a lot with topics of disaffection and alienation — the indifferent rejection of an equally indifferent world and the inexorable decay of love and joy into misery and madness and darkness — which is also pretty much what the show Caillou is about, when you think about it. Caillou, notwithstanding his boundless imagination and the love and encouragement he receives from his family and friends, is clearly just another rat in a cage, so to speak. That’s why he whines so much.
One last question: The series ended its run back in 2010, but you’ve stayed active with a number of other musical and creative endeavors. What’s next for Caillou?
BC: Well, at the moment I have a few projects that I’m —
Narrator: Caillou was happy that the interview was almost over. He was feeling sleepy and wanted to take a nap with Teddy and Rexy.
I guess that answers the question!
BC: [Laughs.] What can I say? [Singing.] I’m Cai-llou!
BC: That’s me!