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On the Hill, He's Simply Smashing

Billy Corgan went into Washington geek mode for more than three hours of testimony on the Performance Rights Act. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Billy Corgan -- one of us!

The Smashing Pumpkins frontman dialed back the rock-star charisma -- waaaaay back -- while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday in favor of radio payouts to recording artists. Conservative gray suit. Gray-and-white tie. And as he sped through his statement in a nasal tone, consonants spitting static into the mike, the Voice of the '90s could have been any old D.C. think-tank geek.

And dude, that's a compliment.

Because this was a tricky issue for a celeb-lobbyist. For all the causes that enlist entertainers to make their case on Capitol Hill (Richard Gere and LeAnn Rimes, here this week for Tibet and psoriasis, respectively), the Performance Rights Act is one where entertainers are the cause, and the beneficiary. The bill would require radio stations to pay royalties to singers and musicians, not just songwriters -- upending a revenue system that goes back decades. Patti LaBelle, Sheryl Crow, Will.I.Am and Herbie Hancock flooded the Hill last month for the same cause.

Soooo ... how to make the case without sounding like a rich rock star who wants to get richer? Talk like a wonk. Corgan nattered knowledgeably about the rise of download culture, "stair-step payments" and how "erosion of the revenue base" has caused music's creeping conservatism.

"You're not seeing as many new stars created" as in the '60s, he said, though far more artists are striving to make it.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) praised his testimony as "perhaps the best I've heard" on the topic. Said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "I expected to hear the testimony of an artist, but I heard the testimony of a businessman."

Unlike a rock star, Corgan stuck around for more than three hours of testimony. Like a rock star, he was whisked out quickly -- sorry, plane to catch, no time for questions.

By The Reliable Source  |  March 11, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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