photo & text by nacrowe
SING BACKWARDS AND WEEP (HATCHETTE, 2020) is probably one of the more harrowing memoirs i have ever come across. its author MARK LANEGAN, gifted singer/songwriter and former frontman of SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons SCREAMING TREES, recounts an drug-addled existence that ranged from the 1980s through his final successful rehab stint in the early 2000s. and that addiction literally cost him everything he valued: relationships, collaborations, touring opportunities, friends, love, money. the list goes on and it is brutal.
there is no doubt that many who investigate this book are interested in the PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIE/PUNK music scene that exploded in the early 1990s, of which LANEGAN was a central figure within. there is some ink here dedicated to his relationships with other participants such as KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) and LAYNE STALEY (ALICE IN CHAINS), but the real dominant actor here is DRUGS. and by that i mean literally every make and stripe. COBAIN, STALEY as well as numerous other victims such as KRISTEN PFAFF (HOLE) and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE (THE GUN CLUB) are integral to his narrative in that they exemplify the cost of participation in this downward spiral of needless suffering.
LANEGAN is unflinching in his account and i have no doubt that writing this must have been cathartic. it also no doubt took courage to look at himself and unshrinkingly scrutinize his life's decisions and make them public without being patronizing or worse glorifying said behavior. he seems to be a reliable narrator as he relates how the ever-present threat of dope-sickness and withdrawal effectively corrupted his moral compass and led to a never ending search for a fix to maintain his equilibrium and all its attendant decisions that resulted in the suffering of others.
in HUBERT SELBY JR novels there is often an inverse character arc at play whereby as the individual descends into MADNESS, it is their affliction (FAME, POWER, DRUGS, etc.) that prevails in equivalent fashion. for me that is the feeling i get when considering the SEATTLE drug scene and its effect on several key participants in this book, COBAIN and STALEY being the prime examples.
there is a light and that is the MUSICIANS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM that effectively saved LANEGAN's life. that and his ability to forgive himself and the capacity for other addicts to enable each other in recovery, here COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) and DUFF MCKAGAN (GUNS N' ROSES) being such examples. you get the sense that despite the absolute depths of DEPRAVITY that drug addicts wade through, that there is an opportunity for RESTORATION. that we can always be REHABILITATED, RECONSTRUCTED and REINVIGORATED by our choices and actions moving forward.
contrary to what others may read into this memoir, i found it inspiring, compassionate and intensely optimistic. maybe this book is his way of paying it forward.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
this is pretty cool.
the MUSEUM OF POP CULTURE in SEATTLE recently did their annual fundraiser for local music education and community engagement initiatives by celebrating the work of regional favorite sons ALICE IN CHAINS. aside from their performance at the event, there were also performances both on-site and via video submissions by various peers and artists, many of the METAL and ALTERNATIVE ROCK persuasion.
while i am pretty on the fence about music-related museums in general (in my mind movements are only truly dead once you can visit an exhibit), these performances by the likes of MARK LANEGAN of SCREAMING TREES, MASTODON, HEART, FISHBONE, KORN, SOUNDGARDEN, TAD DOYLE of TAD, KRIST NOVOSELIC of NIRVANA, DAVE NAVARRO of JANE'S ADDICTION, COREY TAYLOR of SLIPKNOT, METALLICA, BILLY CORGAN of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, TAYLOR HAWKINS of the FOO FIGHTERS are amazing and serve of evidence of the cultural impact ALICE IN CHAINS had on their peers and the next generation of musicians.
makes me miss LAYNE STALEY and MIKE STARR all the more deeply. not to mention their fallen peers in CHRIS CORNELL and KURT COBAIN. rest in peace brothers.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
MARK LANEGAN is a national treasure. i feel bad comparing artists sometimes when they are both great, but for my tastes (as i explained in a recent DEER GOD RADIO episode dedicated to 4AD RECORDS) LANEGAN is the equal if not superior singer to his celebrated SEATTLE contemporary CHRIS CORNELL of SOUNDGARDEN.
first off, i love them both. in fact i have a whole DGR episode dedicated to SOUNDGARDEN. what separates them to me is the depth of feeling that LANEGAN seems to drive from. there is something primordial, immediate and just dark that comes off in his singing, like he is channeling some deep inner pain in the best tradition of BILLIE HOLIDAY. when i listen to CORNELL i admire his abilities as a lyricist foremost and his range second, but its like comparing ELLA FITZGERALD with BILLIE HOLIDAY. one has better range and diction and the other has the voice that is suffering incarnate.
if you are unfamiliar with LANEGAN or his work in SCREAMING TREES, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE or his solo work and collaborative albums, i highly suggest you check the dude out. definitely worth the effort.