A singular talent, even among his gifted peers on the Seattle music scene, Mark Lanegan was long recognised as one of the great voices on the alternative rock circuit. Initially the frontman for Ellensburg, Washington's Screaming Trees, arguably the most accomplished grunge act to miss out on super stardom, the singer later garnered acclaim with a successful solo career and memorable collaborations with Queens Of The Stone Age, Greg Dulli, Isobel Campbell, Soulsavers, and more.
Lanegan's death, on February 22, triggered an outpouring of love from musicians and fans alike: here are five performances to remember him by.
Screaming Trees - I Nearly Lost You
(Late Night With David Letterman, 1992)
Offered the opportunity to make their national TV debut on NBC's hugely-popular Late Night With David Letterman show while touring 1992's Sweet Oblivion album, the famously fractious Screaming Trees contrived to do what they often did: namely, get royally fucked-up and sabotage any chance of making friends and influencing people. Ahead of taping the show in New York, Lanegan and drummer Barrett Martin got into a bar brawl in New Jersey, leaving the drummer with a dislocated shoulder and the bruised singer with a black-and-blue eye, and an aching desire to self-medicate with heroin, cocaine and gin. None of which stopped Lanegan from turning in a thrilling performance, backed by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone sitting in for Martin. The night ended with a food fight, with bassist Van Connor trying to force a carved pumpkin onto his guitarist brother Gary Lee's head. "It would be 17 years before I'd be allowed back onto the show," Lanegan noted in his unflinching 2020 autobiography Sing Backwards And Weep.
The Gutter Twins - Idle Hands
(Later... with Jools Holland, 2008)
Given both men's fondness for living in the shadows, and exploring damnation, redemption and salvation in real life as much as in their art, it was perhaps inevitable that Lanegan and Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli would cross paths. Theirs was not a love-at-first sight friendship - "We didn't get along," Dulli told this writer. "He was just this dark, glowering presence." - but a grudging mutual respect blossomed into something more affectionate, and the duo ended up living together in Los Angeles, forming The Gutter Twins after Lanegan made multiple guest appearances with Dulli's Twilight Singers. Both heavy drug users at the time, they weren't the most sociable duo - "He liked downers, I liked uppers, and that doesn't make for harmonious nights out," Dulli noted - but on-stage and in the studio their chemistry was spell-binding and undeniable, as The Gutter Twins' sole appearance on the BBC's flagship music show Later... illustrated.
Queens Of The Stone Age - A Song For The Dead
"If you can say that you were a member of Queens Of The Stone Age, that's like wearing a patch on your chest saying 'I am a badass' for the rest of your life, because the only people that get to play in Queens Of The Stone Age are badass motherfuckers, and that's the truth," said Dave Grohl in his biography This Is A Call (opens in new tab). "Walking through the backstage area of a festival with Queens is like the moment in a Western where the saloon bar doors swing open and the piano player stops playing, and everyone just stares. You have Josh [Homme], Lanegan, [Nick] Oliveri and me walking in a straight line, and it's like being in the coolest gang. We never had a bad show, every show just got better and better. It was like the perfect fuck... something that memories and legends are made of."
And here's the proof, from June 28, 2002...
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Come On Over (Turn Me On)
(Sleepover Shows, 2010)
On paper, the idea of pairing clean-cut Belle and Sebastian vocalist/cellist Isobel Campbell with Mark Lanegan sounded like a joke, but the unlikely collaboration threw up three superb albums, with the pair sounding like an alt. country Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. In a beautiful tribute to her friend in The Guardian, Campbell wrote, "I hope your final journey after arduous battle was kind and graceful enough, Old Scratch. And I pray grieving loved ones left behind in time are soothed and heal. I will for ever cherish your memory in my heart. People said we were beauty and the beast. Yet I witnessed your beauty and I could frequently inhabit beast." Here's the pair at their most stripped-back and affecting.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - The Weeping Song
(Brisbane, Australia, 2013)
Nick Cave's recent reference to the "extremely dubious escapades" he and Mark Lanegan engaged in back in the ’90 would have been more cryptic if Lanegan hadn't written about scoring heroin for, and shooting up with, the Australian singer in Sing Backwards And Weep. In a touching eulogy to his old friend and "beautiful soul" on his website, Cave references Lanegan joining the Bad Seeds on tour in Australia in 2013, saying, “Go online and watch Mark sing Blixa’s ‘father’ part with me in The Weeping Song on that tour.”
“Watch how he walks onto the stage, plants himself at the mic stand, one tattooed fist halfway down the stand, the other resting on top of the mic, immobile, massive, male. When the time comes to sing, he simply opens his mouth and releases a blues, a blues lived deeply and utterly earned, and that voice tears right through you, his sheer force on stage absolutely humbling."
And that's coming from Nick Cave, one of rock's greatest frontmen in his own right.