When I think about Scott Weiland now, I think about his April 28 performance with the Wildabouts at the Brewster Street Icehouse in Corpus Christi, Texas earlier this year. Watching him sing “Dead and Bloated,” horrifically off-key, it was evident in his zombified stage presence we’d already lost him.
“I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard on the news that he’s dead,” my friend and Indianapolis-based musician Mark Munz said over the phone a few weeks ago.
Sure enough, on the morning of December 4, I woke to a text from Mark informing me Weiland was dead at 48, leaving behind two children and thousands of broken hearts.
But like his ex-wife Mary Fosberg Weiland wrote Monday in a letter to Rolling Stone, on Dec. 3, Scott’s kids (Noah and Lucy) and the world didn’t lose Scott Weiland – we lost hope.
And, sadly, most of us saw it coming.
According to Mary, Scott “was a paranoid man who couldn’t remember his own lyrics and who was only photographed with his children a handful of times in 15 years of fatherhood.”
He was no role model, and she didn’t want his death glorified. Her letter was well received, going viral instantly. Her voice was heard.
I applaud her for her courage and her honesty. For those of us who are grieving, it’s important to understand, and to ask the hard questions, like “who’s next?” and “how do we save a tortured artist who doesn’t want to be saved?”
There are always signs, and the signs are often portrayed in their art. Some of Scott’s best material came from his misery – “Creep,” “Big Empty” – but there was more to Weiland and more to Stone Temple Pilots than sorrowful songs. They made remarkable music and often had fun doing it, creating colorful hits like “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Lady Picture Show” that were staples of 90’s alternative rock. From 1992-1997, STP was one of the biggest rock bands in the country.
But life for Scott wasn’t as wonderful as it appeared. He got wrapped up in the glory, living like rock and roll royalty. Living like he was invincible, Scott’s behaviors and addictions started landing him in courtrooms and treatment centers.
I remember worrying STP was going to break up in 1998 after Scott got busted for heroin, his second arrest and first after spending time in rehab. No. 4 was unexpected and miraculous for STP fans. They were back. Scott was back. It was a miracle.
“Four” was a great rock record. STP stuck to their roots with some hard-hitting rockers like “Down and “No Way Out” but matured musically, getting Beatlesy with “Sour Girl” and “I Got You.” On the last song of the album, Scott even showed his crooning side with the majestic, underrated ballad, “Atlanta.”
Mark and I got the chance to see STP live during their No.4 tour at Verizon Wireless Music Center in Indianapolis.
Opening with “Crackerman,” the energy was insane, as we were all jumping up and down in the front. People were crowd-surfing, women were screaming. Scott was dressed in a white fur coat and a silk scarf, dancing like Mick Jagger. Unlike many of the grunge rock stars, Scott was a showman. Nowhere was he more alive.
The show was mesmerizing. Mark and I saw a lot of rock shows together back then and agreed it was one of the best. Standing in the front row, we also had the good fortune of seeing the band interact. They were together, in the pocket, delivering a performance driven by genuine appreciation for the songs. What I remember was “Sour Girl.” Scott’s voice was strong, flawless. He sounded like he did on the record.
We walked out of that show amazed and excited for the next opportunity we’d get to see STP. We were hopeful, anticipating many albums to come.
That wouldn’t last long, as reports of Scott’s drug abuse continued to derail his career.
Somehow, STP still managed to put out 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da, which featured, “Hello, It’s Late,” a song that foreshadowed the end:
Nothing matters again
I didn’t think we’d last that long
But I’m just sitting on the Merry-Go-Round
And the music is too loud
It’s just a game that we used to play
I didn’t think we’d take it all the way
It kills me just because it can’t be erased
My dad told me when he listened to Abbey Road in its entirety, he knew it was over for the Beatles. He knew they were saying goodbye.
Similarly, “Hello, It’s Late” was STP’s “In the End,” at least for two 18-year-old guitar-playing rock fanatics in Indianapolis. I have a feeling we weren’t the only ones who felt that way.
It was never the same. Velvet Revolver hardly felt real. Forming shortly after Audioslave, Revolver felt like a desperate attempt to keep rock alive. Bands were being thrown together like NBA teams, grouping the best talent money could buy and trying to make them work. Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined the Lakers, Scott Weiland joined Guns N Roses.
Nevertheless, they had some remarkable moments, such as Scott’s melodic testimonial “Fall to Pieces.”
Every time I’m falling down
All alone I fall to pieces
When Scott was alone, he must have been devastated. All the people he hurt. All the time he didn’t devote to his kids. Did he feel guilty? Did he feel empty?
People ask, “What could have saved Scott Weiland?”
Grace would have saved him, just as it would have saved Jimi, Janis, Jim, Kurt, Layne and all the other stars who have fallen well before their time.
Jimi Hendrix once said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then there will be peace.” For Scott, it appears love was more a lyric than an action he practiced. And without love, what’s left of a man?
Without love, a man starts to look like Scott did this spring in Corpus Christi: a shell of his former self, sedated and secluded, ready to die.
On Dec. 3, Scott made his choice, one his children, his friends, his fans and his family will have to accept. It’s hard to accept, just as it’s been hard for those who needed him the most to understand why he was only there a handful of times.
May Scott be a lesson, a warning to those so wrapped up in themselves or their addictions that they fail to love. Don’t let idolatry, selfishness and greed destroy you. Never lose track of what’s most important. Never lose hope.
Charlie Denison is a Fishers, Indiana native who currently lives in Lewistown, Montana, where he works as a reporter, plays in a band and writes about music and culture.