Some will say that Scott Weiland lived many years beyond what was expected, given his hard and fast lifestyle as one of the biggest rock stars of the 1990s. It didn’t make it any less sad when the former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver singer was found dead Thursday in his tour bus at the age of 48, just hours before he was supposed to take the stage.
Having been born in 1988 myself, it would be easy to assume that I missed out on the prime of Weiland’s career — but this wasn’t the case. I had two older brothers that I shared a tiny bedroom with and therefore their musical tastes became mine. I can recall with vividness the first STP song I ever heard, “Creep,” from their debut album Core. I remember seeing the music video on MTV regularly. The chorus of “I’m half the man I used to be” was very easy to learn, especially given the rate it got played on Bay Area radio station LIVE 105 at the time. I’m pretty sure it was an album that my brothers and I picked from one of those Columbia House “buy 12 albums for a penny” deals that my dad got.
“Dead & Bloated,” “Sex Type Thing,” “Plush,” “Crackerman,” they were all songs that were a bit of a departure from what was the norm at the time: grunge. Weiland’s raspy and mercurial vocals sure stood out from the rest. In Billy Corgan’s eulogy posted on Facebook, he said Weiland’s voice stood along with those of Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley as the best of the generation, and I’d say he was right on the money.
I remember going to the public library with my grandma and borrowing the album Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop and listening to it on the family stereo system over and over. I remember my younger sister singing along to “Big Bang Baby,” one of the catchiest rock songs of the ’90s bar-none. The album was a departure from their previous two, much more loungey and classic sounding than their previous work. Though Weiland was deeply into heroine and cocaine at this time, his star was still rising with three songs reaching #1 on the mainstream rock charts. “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” remains one of my all-time favorites. A line from that song became the title of his 2011 memoir “Not Dead & Not For Sale,” which I purchased as soon as it was released.
“Sour Girl” from album No. 4 is easily my favorite STP song. It’s a miracle Weiland was able to sustain success for so long after his personal life went off the rails, but it spoke to his immense talent both as a lyricist and vocalist. The song — about the dissolution of his first marriage — strikes a heavy chord, perhaps never moreso than in the acoustic version that found its way onto the radio regularly as well.
It’s even more incredible that Weiland found success later in his career as the frontman of the supergroup Velvet Revolver. While many supergroups tend to fall flat, this was even greater than the sum of its parts. That he sold multi-millions of records as the frontman of two different bands is a testament to his legacy.
I never got the chance to see Stone Temple Pilots with Weiland at the forefront, or even Weiland at his peak. But this year I did get to see Weiland with his new band The Wildabouts.
The first time I saw them perform was at this year’s SXSW — my first trip out there. Performing at the UMG showcase at Palm Door on Sixth, Weiland’s band performed under a tarp in the side yard of the venue as light rain began to fall. A few hundred people were gathered out there, most of them closer to my older siblings’ ages than mine, but the new tunes were well received. Weiland played a handful of old STP tunes and I couldn’t even begin to describe how full my heart got when he launched into “Big Bang Baby” midway through the set. I worked my way all the way to the front of the stage and was five feet away from this rocker that I grew up being very fond of. It was a crazy and surreal moment for me.
After his set, I found him in the back VIP section and mustered the courage to tell him thanks for all the great music. The conversation was brief but he was really nice and thanked me for the continued support, especially after I said I dug the new tunes.
A few months later I would see him at BottleRock Napa. After getting sucker-punched in the eye the day before, I was given some backstage wristbands for the trouble. I wound up watching some of Weiland’s set from sidestage before heading to the front of the VIP section where it sounded better. The set was entertaining and it was fun sharing in it with some people who had seen STP in their heyday. Months later they were to headline Bardot’s It’s a School Night, but the show was canceled last-second when guitarist Jeremy Brown was found dead of an overdose.
Tragedy and turmoil has always seemed to follow Weiland around. I’ve read some “hot takes” on Weiland and his drug use, but I wonder how many of those people are aware of just the kinds of things he dealt with in his life. In his book, he detailed how he was raped as a 12-year-old by a high school senior. He was diagnosed as bi-polar. He introduced his younger brother to alcohol and drug culture, which would lead to his unraveling and death. This isn’t to say Weiland didn’t cause many of his own problems: he certainly did. He had a bad habit of putting other people in harm’s way — from domestic abuse charges to driving under the influence
Still, I have sympathy for Weiland as my own best friend was undone by his demons and addictions. It’s not as simple to beat as some make it out to be.
But Scott Weiland never stopped trying. While some allowed themselves to fade away to obscurity where they could deal with their vices more quietly, Weiland always tried climbing the mountaintop again and again. Most times, he succeeded. He never seemed afraid of failure, as evidenced by his artsy solo endeavors (his first — 12 Bar Blues is an underrated gem in parts).
“I’m a tenacious drug addict,” Weiland wrote in his memoir. “But I’m also a tenacious recoverer. I never quit trying to quit. That counts for something.”
It sure did, as it kept Weiland alive much longer than many people predicted. Hopefully now he’s found the peace he was always searching for.
Words: Mark E. Ortega