Those who consider themselves knowers of music never paid much attention to Scott Weiland in his prime. His voice, not great. His lyrics, predictable. His moves, borrowed. His career, too long. But now that we’ve lived in the future long enough, we know there was no one better.
Kurt Cobain was too beautiful and broken to be approachable.
Layne Staley happened to be the guy you’d meet at a party and thought “he’s cool” for about 19 minutes until you realized he wasn’t going to quit till he took you all the way down with him.
Shannon Hoon just sat in the back of art class and doodled with potential.
Bradley Nowell hung around, drank 40s and smoked weed on your back porch. He made you wonder how he ever scrounged enough for something to eat much less write something as transcendent as: And then she pulled out my mushroom tip, and, when it came out, it went drip, drip, drip. I didn’t know she had the G.I. Joe, kung-foo grip …and get it on FM radio.
Andrew Wood, Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace were too good to stick around.
Along the way this generation also bid early goodbyes to Lynn Strait (Snot, car wreck), Stefanie Sargent (7-year Bitch, asphyxiation), Eazy-E (NWA, complications from AIDS), Mia Zapata (The Gits, murdered), Chris Acland (Lush, suicide), Kristen Pfaff (Hole, heroin), Ingo Schwichtenberg (Helloween, threw himself in front of a train), Jonathan Melvoin (Smashing Pumpkins, heroin), Jason Thirsk (Pennywise, suicide), Bobby Sheehan (Blues Traveler, overdose), Aaliyah (plane crash), Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez (TLC, car wreck), Chi Cheng (Deftones, cardiac arrest as a result of a car crash), Elliott Smith (knife wounds—self-inflicted or otherwise), Adam Yauch (Beastie Boys, cancer) and Michael Hutchence (INXS, autoerotic self-asphyxiation).
There you have it: All my CD’s are full of scratches and ghosts.
But no loss to date has been as strangely profound to me as Scott Weiland’s resonantly quiet passage from this life in his sleep aboard a tour bus somewhere in Minnesota this week.
At 48, Weiland had already outlived his black-and-white giant record store poster eligibility.
If those who knew him best are to believed, he was chased by demons and beat them handily for three decades. But demons don’t ever leave. So there they were, finally having their day. They caught Weiland unawares in his slumber. Ha. An ironic and vengeful little succubus took him. He was pronounced dead in the parking lot of a Country Inn & Suites at the Mall of America. Fuck.
In the wake of Weiland’s two-decades-belated exit, there have been a handful of tributes worth reading: This one from Billy Corgan who I’m assuming is now at the concessions looking over at Courtney Love and shrugging. “And not only was the knight up front freshly handsome to a fault, but he could sing too,” he wrote.
Or this stuff-left-unsaid open letter from the rest of his Stone Temple Pilots: “The memories are many, and they run deep for us. We know amidst the good and the bad you struggled, time and time again. It’s what made you who you were. Part of that gift was part of your curse.”
In the same way every girl sounds like Taylor Swift in the shower, every guy’s voice is Scott Weiland. He made it look so damn easy you didn’t just want to be him, you were convinced you could be him.
I was one of one million undergrads wandering around campus in SilverTabs and an Eddie Bauer flannel who thought I might possess that same something Weiland did. A fledgling goatee. A sharp jaw. A piercing gaze with something doleful and ironic simmering beneath a curtain of bangs. Ultimately, I didn’t have it. None of us did. None of us could replicate it.
Who we wanted to be: Weiland in a rusty Cadillac backlit in purple wearing a pink mohair jacket with a cowboy hat molded to his head sailing across the desert, voice trailing in the dust cloud of his wake. Off to that somewhere land of possibility that rock and roll brought to life for generations. Those of us out of frame can only cover our faces in embarrassment over what our lives went on to become. Ear buds in, spreadsheets open, standing limp like an impassive groomsmen, blinking back at our monitors.
Take me back there one more time.
When I go, I find those old STP albums have become consequential. Try to resist singing along with every track of 1992’s Core. You can’t remember what slide three was supposed to say for your one o’clock presentation with your manager, but you magically know all the lyrics to Wicked Garden.
Next road trip, throw on 1994’s Purple after the first rest stop and lose all awareness of the number of times you let it play straight through. The trip will be over before you can snap into that emergency Slim Jim.
Give 1996’s Tiny Music a spin this week at work. The band had already broken up and gotten back together over Weiland’s love of cocaine. On the eve of ultimate dissolution, they decided to hunker down at a ranch in Santa Ynez and give it one more go. They created a radio-unfriendly portrait of men’s lives on the cusp of commitment where there is no clear direction.
Listening to STP now, I find myself trying to remember why they were so easy to ignore back then. That’s most people’s reference of the past, I reason.
STP was bigger than it should have been. At his best Weiland was better than he ought to have been. Bands don’t bother to attempt to sound like that anymore. And lead singers can’t pull off the rock star thing without having to suffuse irony. Music has grown and changed and not entirely in a glum way—there’s just a million more specialized vines stretching out from the fresh-dug grave of Weiland.
Ultimately, it’s a reasonable end.