Sunday, 6 December 2015

Scott Weiland: Where the River Goes

On the Third of December 2015 the world lost one of the last great rock and roll front men - Scott Weiland, lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots. Important to note how I have omitted the label of ‘ex-front man.’ Consequently, without Scott Weiland there was no Stone Temple Pilots. 

As it stands a few days later, the evidence currently points to a drug-related death, specifically a cardiac arrest, no doubt accounting to years of previous substance abuse. Tragically what many people had been expecting. Weiland was touring with his new band The Wildabouts, playing small venues and relying heavily on STP material to fill his set. The reception to those gigs had been largely negative with numerous comments on Weiland’s deteriorating health and ability. Over the years his professional reputation had been tarnished, the man who could have had it all, yet threw it all away. The man just desired to play to his fans, regardless of circumstance and a compromise he was forced into when the remaining members of STP dismissed him from the band he started.

Weiland was known as one of the most charismatic front men of all time. He was commonly regarded as genuine rock star and figurehead of the nineties alternative rock scene. Whilst many of his peers relied predominantly on their music, Weiland was a natural showman, an intimidating and flamboyant stage presence and dauntless enough to glam up his appearance when everyone else at the time was clad in jeans and flannel shirts. Not that it ever reduced the impact the music. Stone Temple Pilots were one of the leading bands of the nineties. Core and Purple are still regarded as classic examples of nineties alternative rock. The more experimental Tiny Music... and No. 4 showcased a wider range of inferences whilst Shangri La-Dee-Da is a largely inconsistent output, a hurried pastiche of genres that tried too hard to integrate with the radio Cod-Rock of the noughties. 

Aside from his proficiency at steadily reinventing both his image and vocal delivery, his main talent laid his in often autobiographical and emotive song writing ability. Weiland wore his lyrical heart on his sleeve and was unafraid to document his personal struggles in a musical interpretation. Songs on Core dealt with Weiland’s apparent disillusionment with the world he lived in; Sex Type Thing denounces chauvinistic opinions of women, Sin details an abusive partner, Naked Sunday is an attack on religious fanaticism and Creep deals with feelings of alienation and resentment from societal normality. By his own account drugs were not a significant consideration during his early career, yet like so many of his contemporaries and peers, with the onset and pressures of fame came the addictions.

Weiland attributes Gibby Hayes of Butthole Surfers to introducing him to heroin, something which Hayes denies; regardless by the mid-nineties Weiland was a full blown addict. His lyrics on STP’s second album Purple became increasingly laden with metaphorical references towards addiction. Interstate Love Song describes having to lie to his then wife about maintaining sobriety whilst on tour and Big Empty acts as a cautionary tale about life on the road, the titular 'Big Empty' being the long hours of nothingness in between the tour dates.

“Too much trippin’ and my soles worn thin”

During the recording of their third album Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Giftshop, Weiland was arrested for possession of cocaine and heroin and instantly became something of a media pariah for the excesses and moral corruption of the rock and roll lifestyle. Once the media targets a individual, it never relents and rarely sympathises. They made sure any mention of Weiland was accompanied by some sort of drug-related reference. Just like they did with Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain. To live a life in the spotlight, being constantly judged and having to read about your own personal strife (often exaggerated and glamorised) inevitably took its toll and Weiland was diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, a dangerous infusion considering his now severe dependencies.

Weiland managed to regain enough composure to record STP’s forth album No.4 in 1999, dubiously named after the purest form of heroin. Weiland’s personal turbulence accounted for many of the lyrical themes of the album. The autobiographical Sour Girl describes holding his wife emotionally hostage in their relationship, whilst  I Got You ironically outlines how she was able to fill the figurative void left by his heroin dependency. No.4 revealed a vulnerable side of Weiland, whether it be relationships or drug addiction, both were clearly getting the better of him.

By 2001 Weiland’s personal life overshadowed any musical output. Shangri-La-Dee-Da was largely ignored by the mainstream. Weiland’s erratic behavior and headline captivating existence had done no favours for the bands reputation with his multiple arrests ranging from DUI's to domestic violence.

When STP disbanded in 2003, Weiland fronted Velvet Revolver with the former members of Guns & Roses, yet the whole project felt increasingly like a assemblage of egos rather than a credible music output. When Velvet Revolver disbanded in 2008 the blame was once again placed on Weiland's instability and health issues, claiming he had merely 'fallen back into his old ways.' 

STP reformed later that year and, initially it did seem that Weiland had finally managed to turn his life around. Motivated by a new found appreciation for his own material and reconciliation with his band mates, the group managed to accomplish one of the highest grossing tours of the year and release a new self-titled album in 2010. By this point however, the group was undeservedly considered a nostalgia act. Profiting to an older audience keen to relive their formative years. In many of the tributes I have read following Weiland's death, most refer to how STP only appealed to people in their youth, musical relics of a era gone by. STP appealed to me far into my adulthood as well, their music never sounding as outdated as many seem to be alluding. Weiland was able to formulate a lyrical solution for any problem, their music I consider timeless, an integral part of both my youth and respective maturity. Just as many claim to have lost a piece of their past, I feel like I have lost a piece of my present.

Weiland needed help that he was never able to find. Even following the successful reunion tour, the conflicting egos within the band forced Weiland out. Despite his well documented struggles with varying addictions and a diagnosis of bipolar personality disorder, his band mates were unable to comprehend his vulnerable mental state. And certainly not by preventing him from preforming which was more than likely the one thing keeping him going. Until recently STP had continued to tour and write material with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington replacing Weiland. This incarnation did not even register to me or a large number of the groups fan base. Weiland was the embodiment of the band; Bennington was a cheap impersonator, unashamedly tarnishing the bands legacy.

I am confident Weiland’s creative legacy will overshadow his personal issues if the media allow it. Currently it seems instead of mourning one of the greatest front men of all time, we are too focused on eulogising another rock and roll junkie who was by all accounts living on borrowed time. In closing I am reminded of a quote by famous music journalist Charles Shaar Murray regarding the death of Elvis Presley.

“Stardom kills. One way or another, it wreaks an awful destruction on all but those with the utmost strength and inflexibility and those with the utmost humility and knowledge”

Weiland may now be remembered as another casualty of an era gone by, yet behind the facade was an extremely talented and troubled individual who ultimately paid the price for his art. 

"I wanna be as big as a mountain,
I wanna fly as high as the sun, 
I wanna know what the rent's like in heaven,
I wanna know where the river goes"

RIP Scott Weiland October 27th 1967 - December 3rd 2015