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Remembering Scott Weiland
When someone famous dies, it becomes the standard practice for the media and fans to do two things; talk about how much of a shame it is to lose such a great artist before proceeding to discuss everything but the artist. It's a harrowing, borderline sickening process that I've grown tired of. When Perro Aguayo Jr. died earlier this year due to a freak accident in Mexico, I think I finally just had enough about the process. People could spend hours and hours on end talking about Rey Mysterio and how he either was or wasn't at fault, how dangerous wrestling is or this and that or this and that. You know what they didn't talk about? That a person had died tragically and that his family was going to miss him, not to mention glossing over the things that made Perro someone to remember anyway.
Scott Weiland, who died last night at the age of 48, is about to be the next one to get this treatment. Though the cause of Weiland's death is still unknown, it's clear the speculation today (and from this day forward) will be that the former lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots (STP) succumbed to a high profile drug addiction that plagued most of his adult life. In fact, this narrative is so strong that when I broke the news of Weiland's passing to two friends last night, both weren't surprised in the slightest (and one even seemed surprised that Weiland wasn't already dead). I'm not trying to say that the narrative is wrong; Weiland was a man with demons and to deny that those demons didn't catch up with him would be foolish. What I don't want to see is the story begin and end with that. There's little doubt in my mind that the story of Scott Weiland's death will become nothing more than another cautionary tale on drugs and Weiland will become just another dead rock star, all before disappearing while we return to trivializing, arguing and missing the point on numerous other stories and tragedies around the world. And just like all those things that came before or that are coming, Scott Weiland deserves better. He wasn't just another cautionary tale, and he sure as hell doesn't deserve to be remembered as another "dead rock star."
It's easy to forget now that we live in a era where music is basically manufactured club noise, watered down indie rock and even more watered down rap music, but once upon a time Scott Weiland was one of the most famous musicians in the world, and not just because of his demons. A product of Southern California, Weiland first broke into the music world in 1992 when Stone Temple Pilots (a band formed six years earlier when Weiland and bassist Robert DeLeo met at a Black Flag concert and bonded after realizing they were dating the same girl) released their first album Core. A grunge album arriving during the height of the biggest alt rock movement ever, Core made STP overnight sensations, even as critics and fans called them a wannabe Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Little did they know that by the time STP broke up for the first time in 2002, the band would've released four more albums (Purple, Tiny Music...Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da) and become critically and commercially acclaimed thanks to their ever evolving change of styles, (whereas Core and Purple were grunge through and through, Tiny Music...was a modern day psychedelic record, while No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da mixed the grunge and psychedelic influences together with surreal and alt metal influences) and a tight musical lineup led by the underrated guitar work of Dean DeLeo (Rob's brother).
Oh, and then there was Weiland. As tight as DeLeo was on guitar and as consistently excellent as his brother and drummer Eric Kretz were in the rhythm section, the band's heart and soul resided within their enigmatic lead singer. Blessed with a voice that could seemingly change styles whenever called upon and boatloads of charisma, Weiland can only be described as a force of nature (especially during those early STP years). Whereas most superstars of the grunge era seemed to either loathe their fame (Kurt Cobain) or used their charisma in a shy way (Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam), Weiland reveled in his, prancing around the stage like Freddie Mercury with a trademark dance that was somewhere between convulsing and something you see at a strip club. Just as notable was the chameleon like way Weiland changed his look. During the Core years, he alternated between a grunge version of Justin Timberlake and Fred Durst (check out the "Sex Type Thing" music video if you don't believe me); by the time No. 4 came out, he was spiking his hair and prancing around shirtless while Sarah Michelle Gellar danced around him. In a time where flannels and angst ruled the day, there was Weiland appearing to have the time of his life. If anything separates him from his contemporaries, it was that; Cobain, Layne Staley and others seemed to hate being rock stars. Weiland loved it.
What made him even greater is that he was all of that while still having something to say in the same and having the same pain many of his contemporaries did. Credit again goes to Weiland's chameleon esq ability to adapt; he could be a sex symbol and the man railing against rape in songs like "Sex Type Thing" and "Lady Picture Show". He could be the Freddie Mercury one moment, and be "half the man he used to be" in the next ("Creep"). In songs like "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart" (a dreamy psych rocker powered by Weiland's vocals and DeLeo's amazing guitar), Weiland would seem like the energetic force of nature he was, whereas songs like "Big Empty" painted him as a dark Rivers Cuomo figure, alienated by the fame and driving faster in his car to escape it. Whatever you want to call it, it's pretty clear that Weiland was a deep man, a man whose demons growled and roared their way to life in every track, no matter whether he was doing his trademark dance or rocking back and forth alone on the floor. It was that pain that made Weiland great and likely that pain that broke him in the long run.
Then again, maybe it's the fact that no one was listening anymore. The truth is that Weiland hasn't been in the news in years, aside from the coverage of his drug problem. His stint as the lead singer of Velvet Revolver (a supergroup consisting of Weiland, former Guns N' Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum and Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner) briefly revitalized his career, but aside from songs "Fall to Pieces" (a song detailing Weiland's drug struggle) and "Dirty Little Thing" (a brilliant hard rocker where Weiland's vocal abilities shine on full display), the group's run was little more than a watered down tribute to 80s hair metal. Stone Temple Pilots would reunite shortly after Velvet Revolver's demise, but their self titled album was met with little to no reaction and band tensions (mostly brought upon by Weiland's issues) led to him being fired in favor of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington. Indeed, no matter how much Weiland kept busy with side projects or solo albums, the life of the party that was the 90s ultimately faded away until he was all gone. It's the unfortunate pattern that follows rock stars. Unless you're the Rolling Stones or you die tragically at a young age (like Cobain, Staley, Jimi Hendrix, Andrew Wood or Janis Joplin), the chances are your contributions will be forgotten or tarnished (see Billy Corgan) until you're nothing more than a cautionary tale about the price of fame and superstardom.
Scott Weiland deserves better than that. I'm not saying to treat him on a level of a Cobain, a Hendrix, a Zeppelin, a Bowie or a Pink Floyd; smarter people than me can determine that. And certainly, I'm not advocating that Weiland played no part in the demons he had and the struggles he ultimately couldn't overcome. But my goodness, if we can remember Kurt Cobain as one of the greatest ever, why can't we remember Weiland in the same vein? Why can't we look past how he died and what he might've been and look at the great things he did do musically? I don't know where Scott Weiland ranks in the halls of all time lead singers and what not. I just know that I'm going to remember him as a talented man in an age of unbelievable talent who rose and fall with his demons. I think that's better than just remembering only the demon.
So with that, so long Scott Weiland, you wonderful, troubled, brilliant man. May we carry you in our hearts and souls and fists.