When I saw that Scott Weiland had died, I wasn’t really expecting to feel much, and I didn’t. I have honestly been expecting to hear that he had died for the last fifteen-plus years, since over that time period I’ve to see a lot more headlines about his arrests and stints in rehab than about his musical output. I stopped reading articles with Weiland’s name in the headline a long time ago for that exact reason. But I always turn up the radio when “Vaseline” or “Interstate Love Song” comes on.
I always thought STP got a bad break critically, initially due to the misfortune of releasing “Plush” as one of their first singles right when Pearl Jam was blowing up and, let’s be honest, he sounded a LOT like Eddie V. on that track.
So they got lumped into the grungepile despite the fact that by their second album they showed themselves to be a much more versatile band than that categorization allowed. They often eschewed big guitar solos, went in for interesting song structures and really had an ear for a good, tight pop song. This versatility gave us some of the great rock singles of the mid-90’s and at the same time probably denied them from the long-term super-fans that their nemeses Pearl Jam got by finding their formula and riding it into the flannel-hued sunset. They lacked the consistency of sound that brings those fans that will buy your albums unheard.
Those that paid attention also discovered that Weiland was quite the vocal chameleon, able to do that Veddery moan but also the punk sneer, the Morrison-esque croon, whatever the DeLeo Brothers’ compositions required. Plus he had that dangerous, who-kn0ws-what-he’ll-do quality that really good frontmen often have. Part of that was natural talent; part was stagecraft. And part of it was the drugs.
The drugs. I am probably sticking my hand in the fire here but fuck it, it’s not like I have advertisers to worry about. When it comes to music, for the most part I adhere to Bill Hicks’ controversial but difficult-to-deny theory that drugs and art go great together. They’re not essential or even useful for everyone, they don’t excuse anything, but they’re as intertwined with rock and roll as Gibson Les Pauls and ridiculous haircuts. Sometimes they’re a key component. Perry Farrell hasn’t released a listenable piece of music since he got sober, and now he doesn’t even have drugs to excuse the fact that he’s an intolerable twat. Aside from the obvious fact that one is a musical genius and the other couldn’t songwrite himself out of a paper bag, there are at least three other reasons why Keith Richards is a far more interesting person than Gene Simmons: Jack Daniels, Marlboros and heroin. Would Johnny Cash have become the Man In Black without the Dexedrine? Would Sgt. Pepper exist if Dylan hadn’t smoked out the Beatles? One of David Bowie’s most critically acclaimed albums was recorded when he was so fucking zooted on cocaine that he literally cannot remember a single second of making the goddamn thing.
There’s no need to feel guilty about enjoying that music, and thus condoning that behavior. We’re not built to take the weight of individual stranger’s problems onto our shoulders; I’m not talking about shirking our duties as a neighbor or a citizen, I’m talking about not involving our psyches in the life choices of some person you will almost certainly never meet whose record we dig. If you deny yourself the pleasure of engaging with art made by anyone who does drugs or makes poor life choices or does unpleasant things or is simply an asshole you’re just going to spend your life trying to enjoy really shitty art.
I don’t know the exact ups and downs of Weiland’s attempts at sobriety and how it coincided with his various musical projects over the last couple of decades and that doesn’t really matter; I don’t need to know and I don’t need to care. I’ve never listened to a Velvet Revolver song and I had no idea he even had another new band until I read his obituary today. And honestly, anyone who’s a genuine music fan has to admit that the only reason anyone gave a shit about Velvet Revolver was that it gave them a chance to hear two good musicians do fucking SOMETHING even though they couldn’t do what we actually wanted them to do, which was be in the great bands they started out with. That or they were mildly curious to hear about the latest drug-fueled escapade that Weiland got himself mixed up in. That second part IS something to feel guilty about if you participated in it, because that’s about celebrity schadenfreude bullshit, not art.
I don’t know what any of this means. The last new good thing I can remember hearing from him was a track called “Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down” and it was released in 1998. I liked that song a lot. It was Weiland in Morrison mode, a sloppy drunken waltz with a string section and accordions and all kinds of kitchen sink shit, plus a nice late-Beatles nothing of a chorus. It wasn’t a hit, but it was a good track and I listened to it a lot back then. He was talented, and he apparently did a lot of drugs, and he was in a really good band twenty years ago. Now he’s dead. I don’t know if he was a good person at heart; that’s for the people that actually knew him to celebrate or contemplate as the case may be. For me, I’ll still turn up the radio when “Vaseline” or “Interstate Love Song” comes on. What else should I do?