Shiny + Oh So Bright!
by Alexis Fasseas | Aug 09, 2018
Catching up on All Things William Corgan. His outspoken animal advocacy, his new family and his reunion tour with the Smashing Pumpkins
It’s been four years since William (Billy) Corgan last appeared on the cover of PAWS Chicago magazine and what a four years it’s been! From critically-acclaimed solo albums to fatherhood to now reuniting with iconic Smashing Pumpkins for a new album and tour, our 20th anniversary issue presented the perfect opportunity for an update on one of PAWS Chicago’s most vocal supporters.
Corgan and partner Chloe Mendel welcomed their son Augustus Juppiter Corgan to the world on November 16, 2015. The couple continues to advocate for and support PAWS Chicago and homeless animals with every venture – Corgan with his rock star celebrity status, now embarking on a momentous tour, and Mendel with her new innovative fashion company
FIRST COMES LOVE
Corgan’s latest chapter began at a social dinner party in 2012, though it was not an obvious pivot at the time. Chloe Mendel had moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute, wanting the experience of moving to a town where she knew nobody. “When we met, there was definitely an immediate connection that we would make good friends,” Mendel said. “It definitely took time for our friendship to develop into a relationship. We simply got along great.”
Corgan echoed the sentiment: “What happened between us was very casual, peaceful, and serene, and over six years later that remains how we are. The decision to start a family was an extension of that.”
ADDING TO THE PACK
As animal lovers, neither Corgan nor Mendel were new to parenthood when Augustus was born. He came into a home that was bustling with life. Just a few months earlier, Angelface and Diamond Baby (see sidebar on page 35) had been adopted from the PAWS Chicago North Shore Adoption Center. Senior Mr. Thom, adopted from PAWS in 2004, was the Feline patriarch ruling over the house, which included Chin Chin and Ling Ling, two Lab-Shar Pei mixes Mendel had taken in from a friend.
“Honestly, life hasn’t changed much since Augustus was born,” Corgan said. “Except perhaps a restructuring of my priorities, which I don’t mind at all.” Mendel agrees. “A lot has stayed the same, except I wake up at 6 am daily, which is not any easier than it was before I had a child. But it’s totally worth it!”
Both parents agree that life is brighter with Augustus. As a young child, he radiates a unique combination of serenity, curiosity and love of people. And, like his parents, seems to love dogs and cats.
BALANCING BABY AND PETS
Bringing an infant home to a house full of pets can be a stressful situation for all parties, but Corgan and Mendel managed with both care and ease. “We let Augustus figure out his own relationship with the pets while very closely monitoring any behavior that was over the line regarding their space or well-being,” Corgan said. “He learned with them what was appropriate. But the pets seemed to know he was a baby and were very patient.”
“It’s important to still make time for the pets while allowing them to create their own relationship with the child,” said Mendel. “The pets are fully aware of the new baby in the home. It’s important that they know they are loved and a part of the family and that it is their job to welcome in the new addition as if it were their own.”
Both parents emphasized the importance of always monitoring children when they are with animals. “But we make sure that Augustus is aware that animals are sacred, and it is our job to love them too,” said Mendel. “He feels unconditional love for the dogs and cats and allows the pets to love him back.”
“He chases the cats and thinks they are the silliest things in the world,” Mendel said. “And the cats are so gentle with him.” As kittens, Angelface and Diamond Baby would sit on Mendel’s pregnant tummy. “I always felt they had a strong connection with Augustus before he entered the world,” she said.
Corgan senses that the dogs initially were concerned they would be pushed aside by the new baby, “but now they are quite sweet about it all and love that Augustus is messy and willing to give them treats,” he continued. “I’m proud of how patient they’ve been as he has grown and learned how to be gentle with Chin and Ling. The cats have also been remarkable with allowing Augustus to figure out what is appropriate behavior.”
BALANCING BABY AND CAREER
Creative energy and inspiration runs deep into the bloodline for Augustus, and he is already a part of all the action, not sitting in the stands.
Corgan started his first tour since Augustus came into the world. And he seems to be in a place of professional grace. “It’s been nearly 19 years since James, Jimmy, and I recorded together, so we’ve just completed eight songs with producer Rick Rubin,” he said. “Off the heels of that we’ll be doing our first tour in 18 years, so it’s probably one of the sweetest times in the band’s long, winding history. For time has certainly shown me the deep appreciation I have for our friendships and musical family.”
He is eager to see how Augustus takes to the road. As to be expected, he’s been exposed to the music scene since infancy, going to his dad’s shows when he was too young to know what was happening. “He watches my music videos every day now, so I’m excited to see how he adapts to tour buses and arenas full of people,” Corgan said. But he has a feeling the apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. “My guess is he’ll very much want to come on stage to say hello or sing.”
While his father has been writing the next chapter of his music history, Augustus’ mother has been busy launching a creative enterprise of her own. Commuting frequently to New York City with Augustus by her side, Mendel is blending her family’s age old craft with a fresh and more inclusive approach to appeal to the modern shopper. Maison Atia, Chloe’s new luxury faux fur collection, launched in November 2017, building upon the fine crafting and expertise of the House of Mendel, of which Chloe is the sixth generation, but shifting from real to faux fur.
“I loved how my parents included me in their day-today lives, and I want Augustus to experience that with me,” Mendel said. “One isn’t exclusive to the other. Everything is integrated, and I think the best lessons in life are learned through experience and observation. Hopefully he will see what we do, and only improve it one day!”
“We are very family oriented, and I love that Augustus can be a part of my work-life and his father’s,” Mendel said. “Not many babies go to fabric stores in the day, then music studios at night.”
It is still far too early to tell if Augustus will be generation seven, taking the fashion world by storm, or perhaps follow his father’s footsteps on stage, performing in front of adoring fans. But we know one thing for sure: Augustus will carry forth his parents’ animal-loving traditions.
A TRAUMATIC INTRODUCTION TO PET HOMELESSNESS
While looking to adopt his first cats in 2004, William was exposed to the horrible conditions in which animals lived and died in open-admissions shelters. His experience mirrored that of Paula and Alexis Fasseas, whose experience in witnessing the terrible conditions at both public (city pound) and private (humane society) open-admissions, high-kill shelters in 1997 became the catalyst for starting PAWS Chicago.
William’s first visit was to a large private open-admission, high-kill shelter in the city. He recalls that “the cages were ancient, the animals were not cared for, and the people were indifferent to adopters.”
The worst part was that William felt his decision about which cat to take was one of “life and death for the others.” It felt wrong and he left, calling the experience traumatizing and terrifying. And even now, when he drives past this facility, “those emotions still return.”
A friend suggested that he consider adopting from PAWS Chicago.
FINDING SAMMI AND MR. THOM
William’s search for the kittens that would become his beloved companions and muses took him to PAWS’ first storefront shelter at 2337 North Clark Street.
“The difference at PAWS was night and day,” William says. “There was a special feeling in the place – you felt the love of the staff toward the animals. It is what a shelter should feel like.” The volunteers he met were “personal and attentive. They did not use guilt but emphasized the importance of this decision and made me realize the incredible responsibility I was taking on for another life. Their questions made me think through the decision. They helped me with what to consider.”
William fell in love with a litter of four stunning sleek black kittens. After they were spayed and neutered, Sammi and Mr. Thom went home with him, while William’s sound engineer, Bjorn Thorsrud, adopted the other two kittens and named them Isis and Darko.
When either William or Bjorn was traveling, the cats would stay at the other person’s home. The siblings acted like strangers each time they met, but by the end of the week, they “would be sleeping together intertwined as if they were kittens again,” William recalled.
William said that although he didn’t know it at that time, adopting Sammi and Mr. Thom had a profound impact on him: “Making that commitment and taking that leap to take someone home and give them a better life is an experience that is rewarded a thousand times over. What I learned from them changed my life.”
For William, relating to the kittens was more “pure in its essence.” It was not messy or complicated by celebrity, money or status. Instead, “simply watching them play -- jumping up onto the table and dancing around can be profound because it is so pure. It can force you to have perspective,” he said.
And the cats’ intuition required no language and demanded no quid pro quo. For example, while Sammi was generally standoffish, when William was in pain, she would know he needed comfort, and would “come and sit on my chest.”
BECOMING A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS
Over the years, as Corgan’s interest in animal rights and the No Kill movement have deepened, he has spent hours with PAWS Chicago founders Paula and Alexis Fasseas discussing the organization’s philosophy and initiatives. One conversation that stuck with him was about the love people have for their animals, regardless of their financial situations. “A lot of people can’t afford spay/neuter without some assistance. PAWS helps, they don’t judge.”
William says he likes to tell people who ask about PAWS about a dog that was unable to use his hind legs. “This story sums up PAWS in one anecdote,” he says. “PAWS worked with this dog for three-and-a half years. Their commitment to animals whose lives would otherwise be snuffed out is complete. They are true believers in the power of this work – they live it and walk the walk.”
William says PAWS has never asked anything of him. But he is inspired by the Fasseases’ commitment to “being all in.” This positive message extends to all aspects of the organization. “Paula sets this tone for the community that everyone can come to the table and help by contributing what they can -- it’s truly a community thing,” he says. “The organization does not rely on preachiness or guilt to get people aboard. If what they are doing is attractive to you, you will join them.”
For William, charity means more than giving money to get your name on a donor list. “It’s about helping to change the social construct. All of us feel we are helping change the world.”
“William’s involvement has always gone far beyond the financial. He has embraced No Kill, and fights like we do to help animals that others would just abandon,” Paula said. While he has raised and given large donations to PAWS, Paula points to his work speaking out and inspiring others. “William uses the platforms he has developed in the public sphere as an advocate on behalf of PAWS and its mission,” she says. “Spreading that message is crucial to saving animals across the country.”
Read this story on page 30 of the Special 20th Anniversary Edition of PAWS Chicago magazine.