While sitting in a waiting room early this month, I dug through the pile of old magazines until I found an October Rolling Stone with Keith Richards on the cover. Later that night, at a holiday party, I bumped into a friend of mine who is a longtime music journalist. We chatted about various musicians, some of whom had or have well-known substance-abuse problems. I mused, “You’ve got guys like Keith Richards who seem indestructible, and then you’ve got people like [the late Alice in Chains singer] Layne Staley.” My friend responded, “The problem is that you don’t know which category you’re going to be until you start using.”
A couple of hours later, the news broke that former Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver singer Scott Weiland had died. I had assumed he was in the indestructible category, figuring that surviving the heroin addiction that was the scourge of the 1990s grunge scene and making it to age 48 was a good sign. But, while Weiland might have kicked heroin (as he often said he did), his heart was no match for a last combination of alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy.
I felt really heartbroken by Weiland’s death, even though Stone Temple Pilots were never one of my favorite bands. One of my main memories of them is of NOT attending their 1994 MTV Unplugged taping. But I also vividly remember the first time I heard their 1993 song “Creep.” I was in a frenzy to find out the name of the band, so I could go to a record store and buy that song on tape and listen to it a thousand times, which wasn’t that easy with a tape. (I still listen to that song frequently … now it is purchased from iTunes and easily put on repeat.) Years later, I took my stepson to see Velvet Revolver at Jones Beach — his first rock concert. I went with a friend of mine who brought her son; it was his first concert too. Both boys grew up to be professional musicians. I’ve always jokingly credited Velvet Revolver for that development.
I read through all the Weiland obituaries, waiting for a comment from his ex-wife, Mary Forsberg, the mother of his two children. She’d published a book five years ago that dealt with their marriage and drug use, and I just felt sure she’d have something meaningful to say. She did. Her essay for Rolling Stone, which starts with “December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died,” is devastating, but a must-read.
“Let’s choose to make this the first time we don’t glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don’t have to come with it,” Forsberg Weiland wrote. I thought that was a good point to make, considering how many of the 1990s musicians seemed to gravitate to drugs — particularly heroin — because of who else used. Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen thought Layne Staley was attracted to the “glamour” of the drug. The widow of Bradley Nowell of Sublime said her husband thought it was “very rock & roll.” In a review of Weiland’s own 2011 memoir, Spin noted that Weiland “couldn’t see himself passing up the delicacies that came with being a rock star.”
While promoting his book on Howard Stern’s show, Weiland referred to the behavior of other rock stars — including Richards — so much that Stern got exasperated in that “if they jumped off a bridge, would you jump?” way. The interview is hard to watch; if I’d seen it at the time, I would have been surprised that Weiland lasted as long as he did.
Seeing it now, I was surprised and impressed that Stern was such a great interviewer. He’s not a softball-questions guy. He didn’t let Weiland get away with anything. When Scott complained that his voice was strained by constant touring required to make money for alimony and child support payments, Stern pointed out that Weiland’s smoking and drinking wasn’t helping. Coincidentally, six days ago, the Washington Post ran a story on Stern’s interview skills.
In other grim but recommended reading, MrB’s organization, ProPublica, collaborated with the Marshall Project on “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” I won’t say anything else about it, because you should read it yourself. You won’t be sorry.
You can also read about how the story was reported here. CNN noted how remarkable this kind of collaboration between reporting teams is. Of course, ProPublica has always been about collaboration — a plan plenty of people were skeptical about when MrB became ProPublica’s founding editor in 2007.
On a somewhat lighter note, here’s some good insight into the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which is played everywhere this time of year even though it’s been slammed as “date rape” song. Maybe not, though! This writer gives the song some context, and not the Bill Cosby kind of context that Saturday Night Live did in a skit last night.
Speaking of date rape songs, the band Sublime I mentioned above first attracted attention for a song called “Date Rape,” in which the victim gets her revenge. If you don’t know Sublime, it’s probably because lead singer Nowell overdosed the year before the band’s self-titled album came out, making the original band’s first big hit its last. Sublime was a ska/punk/reggae-influenced band from Long Beach, Calif., and if you listen to them you’ll be reminded of another Southern California band that opened for Sublime in 1995 only to surpass them: No Doubt. In fact, No Doubt’s singer Gwen Stefani and Nowell were friends and did a couple of songs together: “Saw Red” and “Total Hate.” There are several videos on YouTube of Gwen performing with Sublime. Here’s one of them from 1995.
Finally, in case you missed anything on my blog this week, here are the links.
- Monday: Bye, Kitson. I won’t miss you.
- Tuesday: Awards for MrB and Barbaralee, plus my cityscape dress by Zang Toi.
- Wednesday: Fun times in Costa Rica, including ziplining in silver sandals.
- Thursday: Jennifer Hudson’s 2007 Oscar look holds up well. The critics were wrong, wrong, wrong.
By the way, the indestructible Keith Richards turned 72 two days ago. Happy birthday, Keith.