It sure seems as if we're losing our music heroes weekly, doesn't it? Like so many fans, I mourned Scott Weiland's death this past December; I think many of us held on to the hope that he would one day put the worst behind him. Things ended the way they did, and I'll bet dollars to donuts he more than learned the life lessons he signed up for (yeah, I'm nutty like that). I wanted to share some memories about him, and while I'm not a music journalist by any means, I remain very opinionated about my musical tastes. It makes for fun party talk, but I probably get annoying after 15 minutes ;)
Scott Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots (STP) received a lot of flack when they hit the mainstream in 1992. As a 12-year-old I was more forgiving of their debut album’s “borrowed sound,” a phrase that I consider musically accurate, if a little unfair. Most major publications dismissed STP as a grunge-clone band before having to backtrack and admit they were pretty damn good (I’m looking at Rolling Stone, who incidentally thought Nevermind was a mediocre album upon its release). I was a fan from the beginning, and over time it seemed STP garnered more respect as they shed the grunge uniform critics lazily dressed them up in.
I read music rags like Rip, Circus, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, etc., and discovered the members of STP were of the same generation as the Seattle Big Four (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana). It made sense to me that people born the same decade would be influenced by the same music: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Kiss, The Beatles, The Doors, etc. Maybe this is why I never let the mainstream rock media dissuade me from liking STP. Their 1993 single "Plush" would invite negative comparisons to Pearl Jam, but for many of us our introduction to STP was in 1992 when they released "Sex Type Thing," a heavy song that would invite controversy once its message emerged from the distortion and 4/8 beat.
I had made a very important friend from day camp that summer, Davin, who told me about this band he saw on Headbanger's Ball, a hard rock/metal show that MTV aired Saturday nights. I thought the name "Stone Temple Pilots" was kinda silly but I went with it. As soon as I heard the descending riff and pounding drums I was hooked. The melody was catchy, the energy was palpable, and their lead singer, mesmerizing. The man later identified as "Weiland" hung from chains and slithered around the dungeon-like set, in essence warning me about something most rock stars didn't give a shit about: awareness of their female fans as a target for violence.
"Sex Type Thing" is an ANTI-rape song, specifically date-rape. Like Nirvana's "Polly" before it, the lyrics would become misinterpreted as a rape anthem by scumbag fans and ignorant journalists alike. See, by age 8 I was surrounded by music media: the radio, cable TV, and I was learning how to play guitar. Sadly, even at that young age I concluded that mainstream media supported a rock culture that clearly defined a woman's place, which was backstage. Why do you think Lita Ford had more photos in Hit Parader than say, Joan Jett? I'm a pretty sex-positive adult who still enjoys glam metal, so I'll try not to misrepresent myself here: plenty of musicians and their groupies enjoy the rock n' roll lifestyle, and as long as everyone is of age and can give consent, then fucking go for it. It just would have been refreshing to see even one image that encouraged a kid like me. Fortunately this would improve a bit once the glam herd was put to pasture.
By 1992 Nirvana took over the airwaves and the sycophantic media followed, covering topics like sexism and homophobia seemingly for the first time. This is probably why so many people misunderstood "Sex Type Thing"; their brains were trained to simply hear "sexual seduction." Let's face it, Weiland was a sexy dude, and it's fitting for him to have cited both David Bowie and Jim Morrison as his biggest influences. In this video his posturing offers raw seduction with a heaping side of danger; juxtapose these images with violent lyrics and you have a video you're watching till the credits appear. This would prove to be true live as well, for countless audience members reported Weiland as being one of the best frontmen they've ever seen.
If it's one thing Weiland did it was garner attention, and he occasionally used his resources as a sounding board for social issues. This made me like him even more. The tide was turning, and it soon became passé to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but the new breed of rock stars felt like protective older cousins to me, that it would be okay for me to wear my Docs and play guitar just as I was (a tomboy). I could just be me without worrying about fulfilling a role.
I happily (not really) did my chores that Saturday morning and spent my allowance on STPs' debut, Core. I popped it into my Walkman and was greeted with "Dead and Bloated," a chunky, drop-D number. This is probably the second reason why I never compared STP to Pearl Jam, since the first two songs I heard were heavier hits than Pearl Jam would ever write. I will admit that Weiland's vocals on "Piece of Pie" sounds like he was reaching for Layne Staley, but I like(d) Core, and while its tone does feel very "90s" today, I still think it's a damn good debut. I wasn't alone; after one year STP would be declared both Worst and Best New Band by critics and fans, respectively. There were a lot of poseur singers to criticize once the post-Nirvana floodgate opened, but few got it worse than Weiland–he was the Obama of new singers.
I won't pretend to understand all of his issues, but addiction runs in Weiland's family, making him more suspectible. Combining genetics with an unsafe environment (fame) often leads to self-destruction, especially if the person had been using drugs to cope prior to fame. Instead of hocking old music equipment, Weiland now had the money to have multiple dealers on call. With STP's next record Purple debuting at number one, the pressure and money would only increase. It seemed as if every single made significant impact on the charts, their videos heavily rotated on good ol' MTV. The band found themselves on the tour circuit, and many are tempted to blame Butthole Surfers for scoring Weiland heroin during the Barbecue Mitzvah Tour, but that junk would have found a guy like Weiland soon enough. And you know what they say about being addicted to heroin: you're always the last to know.
We now know that Weiland suffered from trauma (sexual abuse) and refused traditional therapy for his bipolar disorder. I won't delve further, since there are countless articles that detail his decline. Plenty of people have been badly hurt as the result of his addiction, but no one more than Weiland. How do you forgive yourself when you're painfully aware of this fact but can't seem to do anything about it? False hope would kick up when STP experienced some bright moments, such as the critical and commercial reception of their third album, Tiny Music...Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. I eagerly awaited to hear more from them, but Weiland began getting into trouble. Again. And again. Not long after I turned a deaf ear to celebrity gossip; I was getting older and preparing for college, learning how to drive, etc., so it would be some time before I took notice of STP again.
One night during my sophomore year of college I was woken up by music, since I had left the TV on. I really dug the tune but was too tired to fully register it until the guitar solo started. I thought to myself, "Sounds like one of DeLeo's experimental ones," and sure enough, the credits confirmed it was "Down." For the record, I like Dean's guitar playing, but it took me time to warm up to that solo. I do love to jam on that song though, so groovily heavy!
Shortly after "Sour Girl" was released it seemed as if our beloved STP were finally clearing Weiland's addiction hurdle, but that's not what happened. They would spend the next fifteen years trying to return to the songwriting powerhouse they were, but too many difficult miles had been traveled. Numerous side projects formed, and a few more STP albums would be released, though none would experience the acclaim of their earlier records.
Scott Weiland was on the road with his new band The Wildabouts when he was discovered dead on his tour bus at 48. I was surprised he made it to 30, let alone 40. After decades of drug abuse, along with a heart condition, it was time for Scott Weiland to return home. It's been painful for those left behind here who really love him, and it's a damn shame us fans won't be hearing any more new music from him. He had such an amazing ear for melody and vocal expression, and his crazy dancing always made me grin. I'm smiling right now as I picture him someplace indescribable, at peace and creating something beautiful with David Bowie and Jim Morrison.
"Making an album should be an honest experience. It shouldn't be about trying to gauge where popular music is today; it should be about artistic expression and putting down what you want to put down."—Scott Weiland