Former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan discusses his memoir and latest album
Mark Lanegan, former vocalist of grunge band Screaming Trees, is back with new music and a “no-holds barred” memoir called Sing Backwards And Weep. The singer talks about his album, Straight Songs Of Sorrow, feuding with Liam Gallagher and more.
Even in the drug-filled, debauched annals of the rock and roll memoir, Mark Lanegan’s Sing Backwards And Weep stands out.
His chronicle of despair and addiction, grief and regret manages to be both gripping and repelling, such are the depths he sinks to.
Readers may well walk away asking in disbelief just how Lanegan, now 55, survived all he put himself through.
But survive he has, through teenage alcoholism in Ellensburg, Washington, to years of wild partying as the frontman of psychedelic grunge band Screaming Trees and then a well-publicised addiction to heroin.
Somehow, Lanegan emerged from the other side to achieve a successful solo career and fulfilling work with Queens Of The Stone Age.
The book – like speaking to the man himself – can be relentlessly dark. one minute, and laugh out loud funny the next.
Lanegan’s signature baritone singing voice is no less alluring during conversation and he is enthralling company, even over the phone.
His genial manner masks a wickedly sharp tongue.
A standout takeaway from his book on social media has been his withering assessment of Liam Gallagher, the former Oasis star who, after a string of clashes during a joint 1996 US tour, Lanegan describes as a “bully”.
Lanegan, however, has extended an olive branch of sorts to Gallagher, who responded to the book’s claims on Twitter, calling Lanegan an “uptight junkie” and “another bull****ter trying to sell a book”.
The rock star has attempted to explain the comments in his memoir and said Gallagher is “not a bad person”.
He says: “That’s written from the viewpoint of a guy, 24 years ago, and that doesn’t reflect how I actually feel about him now. I see his clips on Twitter now and it makes me laugh. He’s kind of an eccentric old uncle. Also, I’m aware he does some good deeds in the community and he’s not a bad person.
“I wrote that from a standpoint of how he came up on me 24 years ago, like he was some tough guy trying to intimidate me and that just doesn’t happen.”
Other celebrities he turns his ire on are Hollywood stars Jeff Goldblum (“a weird dude”) and Matt Dillon, who had the audacity to star in the 1992 grunge-inspired rom-com Singles, which Lanegan despised.
Lanegan, not one to let a grudge go easily, had to wait years for his revenge but got it in a New York City bar, sticking a lit cigarette in Dillon’s suit jacket, setting it on fire.
At the core of the book is Lanegan’s all-consuming heroin addiction, which turned him from a physically imposing, 6ft 2in underground rock star to a wafer-thin, homeless man with rotten teeth.
As frontman of Screaming Trees, Lanegan produced some of the genre’s most psychedelic and experimental music.
Formed in 1985, their commercial breakthrough came with the release of 1992’s Sweet Oblivion, which was buoyed by the popularity of grunge bedfellows such as Nirvana.
The album birthed their biggest single, the soaring Nearly Lost You.
When they disbanded in 2000 amid creative differences, Lanegan went on to establish himself as a varied and successful solo artist, working under numerous aliases and with artists including English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood and cellist Isobel Campbell.
Lanegan believes he was always destined for a life of addiction - “I came out of the box that way” - and despite everything else it took from him, he feels heroin actually added years to his life.
He traded one evil for another, he explains “For me, heroin was really a way to sort of transition from the alcoholism that was taking me apart,” he said. “I was an alcoholic at age 12. And by the time I was 18 I caught a prison sentence because of my drinking.”.
“So I was a pretty severe alcoholic at a young age and it was really heroin - and I know this is not a PC, kosher thing to say and I’m certainly not promoting this as a way to stop alcoholism – but for me, it was a way that I stopped drinking.
“It shortly became its own problem and just as big a problem but in a different way.”
It is remarkable how Lanegan lived to tell the tale. Others were not so lucky and another notable theme from the book is how many of his friends and acquaintances are no longer here.
For many casual fans, the main draw of the memoir may be Lanegan’s proximity to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, the musical genius who took his own life at the age of 27 after his own struggles with heroin.
The pair were close friends. In fact, Lanegan used to supply him with drugs, a source of searing regret. He also saw up close the corrosive effect of fame once Cobain became one of the world’s biggest stars.
Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley is another of Lanegan’s closest friends who succumbed to addiction. Lanegan admits both men are never far from his mind.
He said: “They were like my brothers and I outlived them by quite a few years, which I’m sure they never thought would happen. I never thought that would happen either.
“But I think about them both a lot. And the book actually restarted that thought process all over again. I kind of made peace with a lot of that stuff but it doesn’t mean you stop thinking about those guys or stop missing them or stop loving them. It’s sort of ripped open the aching place again.”
The book - an odyssey through what must be some of the lowest points a person can fall to - ends in a relatively happy place.
In the late 1990s, and with the help of Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, Lanegan entered rehab and got clean, leading to his second act as a successful solo artist.
His most recent album, Straight Songs Of Sorrow, arrived earlier this month to critical acclaim.
So, does one of rock’s great survivors have any regrets?
“We can’t help but regret unless we’re unfeeling s***heads,” he growls.
“It’s learning to live with the pain, that’s the trick.”
Mark Lanegan’s memoir Sing Backwards And Weep and his latest album Straight Songs Of Sorrow are out now.
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