Saturday, December 5, 2015

Scott Weiland - 1967-2015

I was in a bar in Rockford, Illinois the first time I heard "Stone Temple Pilots," and knowing me it was while eating nachos at O'Brien's and drinking some God-awful beer.  I remember that because of the debate that began to rage between another patron and the bartender, and the fact that I had to get involved.  The argument had very little to do with the band itself rather the patron was angry that they were playing such garbage and he went on to argue about how there were no longer any good bands out there performing and as I chimed in I understood the concept of "grunge."

The rationale behind the claim was based on the fact that I immediately understood the idea of the "grunge" movement in modern rock.  It was a genre that was designed to provoke thought and at the same time thumb its nose at the establishment of rock.  Look we're talking about the"establishment" in terms of all of the so-called "hair bands" and the bands that were hanging on after success in the late '70's and throughout the '80's, so in other words it was punk rock in flannel shirts.

The era of grunge was defined that easily, it was an entire movement that was more about anti-establishment viewpoints and worn-out music about women, sex and women some more.  Much like the punk movement its true followers were rabid about the genre and its bands.  Like the spark of a match grunge lit up the music scene literally wiping out "hair metal" in one fell swoop and Stone Temple Pilots did their part.

I was never a huge fan of grunge if I'm being honest but bands like "Pearl Jam", "Alice In Chains" and Stone Temple Pilots were incredible and at times overshadowed by "Nirvana."  Nirvana was a band that for whatever reason was considered the top-of-the-heap of the grunge genre and I would contend that the reason for that would be directly related to their commercial appeal.  It would not be much of a stretch to compare Nirvana to "KISS" or "Metallica" in that respect, both of those bands were massive if not because of their commercial appeal.  That is really the way one can differentiate those other bands based on "commercial appeal."  Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots achieved their position of popularity based on their content, their edge (either with lyrics and/or vocals that set them apart) or even that conquering attitude that they seemed to own.

Stone Temple Pilots really fit that description well.  With a gritty, raw variety of lyrics and musicians that redefined the sound of rock music which was only trumped by the vocals of Scott Weiland.  Weiland had a pain in his vocals, an angst that really seemed to define Stone Temple Pilots.  The band's first album "Core" is possibly one of the greatest albums of all-time, with nothing but incredibly tough, sinewy songs that are simply as brilliant.  When I purchased "Core" it was a simple cassette but inside that plastic vessel contained the magnetic tape that I could never seem to fast-forward through.  Each song was that good, there really was that jagged edge to the music and much like a good book, it was hard to put down.

I think the thing that really added credence to the mastery of that first Stone Temple Pilots album was the vocals of Weiland.  The interesting part about "Core" was the perceived similarities of some of the songs particularly "Plush" to that of one of their contemporaries "Pearl Jam" and Eddie Vetter.  The comparison is unfounded in my opinion, Weiland shows a vocal range in all of the songs on that album that comparisons to Vetter are simplistic, if not jealous finger pointing.  It's easy to find similarities of many different artists on any piece of music produced by any number of bands, but the comparison to Vetter was really poorly conceived.

Weiland had an affinity for writing incredible songs and at every turn he was able to keep his fans amazed at what he truly could do.  Possibly two of the greatest songs that Weiland was involved on were the aforementioned "Plush" but also "And So I Know" and the vocal stylings between the pair are night and day from each other.  Lyrically both songs are brilliant and head scratching good while at the same time they are mind-numbingly intense.  Through it all the consistence between the music was the amazing skill of the musicians and the songwriting skills of Weiland.  Each song showed a depth masked in the scars of his own life and he never seemed to avoid that pain in his lyrics.

The simple truth is that Weiland was a human being and much like every human being we are flawed and we face our own demons, Weiland's was substance abuse.  Weiland had issues with crack cocaine, cocaine itself and alcohol and he struggled on a personal level as well as on a legal level.  In 1995 he was arrested and convicted of buying crack and in 2007 he was arrested and convicted for DUI also completing a stint in rehab.

The problems the Weiland faced were emblematical of other performers and contemporaries but despite the problems in 1995, Stone Temple Pilots was still on a meteoric rise.  Following their first album "Core" the band released three more albums: "Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop" - 1996, "No. 4" - 1999, and "Shangri-La Dee Da" - 2001 (there was another album between "Core" and "Tiny Music" called "Purple" that was released in 1994).  By the end of 2002, Stone Temple Pilots dissolved (their record label released a Greatest Hits album called "Thank You" soon after) but that was far from the end of Weiland.

In 2003 Weiland did something that few performers can do successfully he became the lead singer of a "supergroup."  When Weiland joined "Velvet Revolver" the band that consisted of Dave Kushner (Danzig, Jane's Addiction, Wasted Youth, Suicidal Tendencies etc.), Duff McKagan (Guns 'N' Roses), Matt Sorum (The Cult, Guns 'N' Roses) and Slash (Guns 'N' Roses), exploded onto the scene.  I remember vividly the first time I listened to their first release "Contraband," it was mindblowing.  The album was a conglomeration of some of the best rock performers of the time if not ever.  With Slash at the helm at guitar they had one of the greatest guitar players ever but the performance of Weiland on lead vocals was pure genius.

I'm not sure if you can be certain that you are cognizant if you listen to "Dirty Little Thing" and not move with the beat.  The song is brilliant and vocally Weiland is better than he was with Stone Temple Pilots.  Possibly the best song on "Contraband" is another song that will make you want to dance like Axl Rose (which is weird because he wasn't in the band, EVER) that being "Slither."  That one song is a defining moment for the band and Weiland.  The song felt dirty, gritty and almost like an epiphany as to "Yes!  They are that good."  The album has so many songs that are able to go straight through your soul as if they make sense to you on a personal level.  "Set Me Free," "Sucker Town Blues," and "Spectacle" were some of the best written lyrics Weiland had ever put on paper, eliciting many to call the entire album "Core 2.0" as if it were a sequel to that first Stone Temple Pilots album.

As I went through that record, I found myself drawn to the song "Fall to Pieces" for reasons I could not grasp.  The lyrics were haunting, and the music itself was almost touching me as if I were in some kind of trance.  Seriously.  The song had this hypnotic power unlike any song, I felt dread, uneasy but I couldn't get enough of the song.  I played it over and over, I really do love the song, it is seemingly a cry for help but the lyrics and Weiland's vocals coupled with the music is beautiful and one of my all-time favorites.  When I saw the video for the song the very first time, that uneasy feeling, the dread and that hypnotic trance became blatantly obvious.  The world that I described earlier, the grunge music world (punk rock in flannel shirts) was right there in front of me.

That first time I saw that video I immediately noticed how much Weiland looked like Johnny Rotten of the "Sex Pistols" while wearing that "Ramones" shirt.  That is of serious import for me because both bands were torn apart terribly by substance abuse.  Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols died of a heroin overdose and Dee Dee Ramone fought his battle with heroin as well and as if binding the entire video together replete with those innuendos was the vision of Weiland seemingly shoot up in the middle of the video.  That's chilling to me, not because Weiland has passed away and unlike several news sources I refuse to blame his death on any type of drug abuse but because of the struggle he had throughout his life.

It showed his edge, and it showed his struggles, it showed he was a human being.  If nothing else that video attacked the entire struggle we all face whether it be substance abuse, or any vice we all have an affinity to fail regardless of whatever pedestal that we are placed upon or one we profess to be on.  I think that the thing that video did for me was to show that the man, and many of his bandmates before and after the fact have faced.  We have our heroes that we typically think of as infallible but in that very public arena that is rock music using video, we were able to look into Weiland's darkest depths.  I consider this one song his seminal moment, the moment that proves he laid it out there for all of us to see, in stark reality.  This could be one of the most powerful songs ever, and it is definitely in one of my all-time favorite pieces of music because of all of that.

Scott Weiland died on his tour bus on December 3rd, 2015 in Bloomington, Minnesota while on tour with his new band "The Wildabouts."  At the time this was written a definitive cause of death had yet to be released but despite that the rumor mill, social media and every Tom, Dick and Harry have convicted Weiland and decided that his fate was drug related.  Its unfortunate that "experts" have decided his fate but that is what this society has become.  We need to step back and avoid convicting the man in the court of public opinion despite our desire to know why he left this earthly place.  By condemning the man we are ignoring the fact that Scott Weiland was a brilliant songwriter, performer and despite his flaws a man that laid it all out for us all to see.  Society needs to ignore the desire to know why famous people die.  We must find a way to respect that person, his family and his legacy.

Scott Weiland was 48 years old when he passed away on December 3rd, 2015, he had two children Noah -15, and Lucy - 13 with his ex-wife Mary Forsberg.  Weiland was married three times and at the time of his passing he was married to Jamie Wachtel.  Rest in peace and thank you for the wonderful snapshot of your life you shared with us all through your music.

1 comment: