Peter Makowski interviewed Scott Weiland many times. Here, he remembers the Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver and Wildabouts singer he knew: eccentric, vulnerable, and perpetually at war with his demons.
Scott Weiland was one of those artists that viciously polarised opinions. Fans loved him for all his ‘eccentricities’, while critics and various band members loathed him for his legendary unreliability and emotionally charged verbal outbursts.
There’s no doubt he was a troubled soul. Just take a look at any picture taken over the last decade and you’ll see the eyes of a haunted man. The lines and traumas of his chaotic lifestyle were etched into a visage that was alternately gaunt and emaciated from the effects of a love affair with Class A substances, and then puffed, ruddy and bloated from the alcoholism that consumed him in his final years.
They say that drug addiction has three possible conclusions: jail, institutions and death. So does Alcoholism. Drink might be a socially acceptable drug but it’s equally debilitating, especially for former heroin/crack addicts like Weiland, whose immune system and liver was battered by his excessive lifestyle.
“My mother’s entire side of the family were alcoholics,” Weiland revealed in an interview with Dave Ling for Metal Hammer in 2001. “All of them are now in recovery, except for the ones that are dead.”
I have to indulge in some self-disclosure by declaring myself an addict, with decades of experience of use and recovery, and also of working in drug services and managing a Treatment Centre. And Scott’s story is a typical progression of addiction, constantly replacing one buzz for another in a bid for control of his demons.
The first time I interviewed Weiland was in 2007 at his studio, Lavish, in Burbank, Hollywood. He’d stopped injecting heroin for over a decade and regarded this as sobriety even though he continued going to rehab for crack and pill addiction. Upon release he picked up the bottle, which led to some run-ins with the law.
At the time he seemed disconnected, agitated and very guarded. His whole body and face seemed to contort and twitch at the discomfort of being in an interview situation: understandable when you consider that his brother had just died, his marriage was collapsing and there was a DUI charge hanging ominously over his head. He was also drinking heavily.
Things were falling apart in the Velvet Revolver camp, evidenced by the fact that I had to interview the band members in separate locations. Through all this insanity — something that had followed Weiland throughout his career since Stone Temple Pilots had been shoved through the blender of premature success — Velvet Revolver produced Libertad, their best album in my opinion, sounding less paint-by-numbers and more three-dimensional than their Contraband debut, and that mainly thanks to Weiland, whose lyrics and eviscerating performance replaced hollow posturing with a raw vulnerability.
Scott was especially devastated by the death of his brother Michael, an addict who, like Weiland, was on a merry go round of relapse and recovery. “I feel that he just sort of gave up, died of a broken heart. There were drugs in his system, but not enough to kill a junkie,” Scott said, revealing something about his brother’s demise eerily prescient of his own.
“My philosophy is that I’m a survivor,” he declared when I spoke to him in 2008 (an interview made memorable by the fact it was conducted while he was naked in bed with the constantly distracting sex siren/actress Paz de la Huerta). “Part of it’s constitution and part of it’s that I want to live for myself. But I also want to live for my children, and I feel I have this whole other new life ahead of me. If things get dark there’s always the other side, just like the stock market.”
Scott, a fanatical Bowie fan, always seemed lost in the romanticism of rock’n’roll and drugs. Desperate for credibility, he was aware that many people regarded STP as a bunch of redneck Kurt-come-latelys to the grunge game. Look at the early videos, and you’ll see a fresh-faced frontman with a jock torso and face foliage that would look more at home in a hill country meths lab than at the Viper Rooms. As years passed his persona went through radical transformations, aided by heroin and a disastrous drug buddy relationship with Courtney Love, which did no favours to his bid for credibility.
“Twenty years ago I thought I knew everything. My icons were people like Charlie Parker, Sid Vicious and even Perry Farrell, who wasn’t even a star yet,” Weiland admitted to me during an interview to publicise the release of his solo double album Happy In Galoshes. “I thought their creativity was from the use of heroin.
“That was always an intriguing thing to me. I never planned on becoming a junkie, although I remember the first time I put a needle in my arm I realised that something deep inside of me rose up out of my soul and made a connection with a part of my brain and said ‘you’ve just made a major career decision’.”
If I was to make an educated guess about what happened I would say that cocaine, Weiland’s original Class A of choice, came back in the picture and, like his brother, the culmination of decades of abuse resulted in Cardiomyopathy, a weakness of the heart muscles (hence his brothers ‘broken heart’). It’s killed a lot artists in their prime including Amy Winehouse and — possibly — Weiland’s last guitarist, Jerry Brown.
There’s also the prescription drugs that have destroyed everyone from Judy Garland to Heath Ledger. Because they’re prescribed they won’t show up in an autopsy report, and if their danger was acknowledged it would hamper record deals and tours for musicians with troubled pasts. Many managers and companies are quite happy if their artists are accompanied by a sober coach and a flightcase full of Vicodin and Adderall. They won’t get busted and the show goes on.
While the internet is filled with tributes — some sincere and heartfelt, others eager to declare they’re unsurprised by this tragic conclusion — sleaze rags like TMZ are frothing with excitement about the news that some packages of cocaine were discovered on the bus.
In the meantime, most fans will reflect on the singer/songwriters talent. Weiland was a man, who, when focussed, delivered 100% and elevated anything around him into the real deal. I’ll be playing STP’s Unplugged and saying a prayer for his family, friends and band members, past and present.
I’ll leave the final words to the man himself.
“When I’m burnt out from touring I describe myself as the dark clown. But then I also think of myself as someone that tries to bring light into people’s lives. Music is a universal language and what gets me off is that one and a half hours onstage where I can be someone else, from song to song.”