Last week former Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver front man Scott Weiland was found dead in his tour bus. Sadly, this came to the surprise of no one. Few musical artists had their battles with addiction so well chronicled. Those who did, Amy Winehouse, Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain come to mind, are dead.
When he was at his best, he was a rock star for the masses, but he let his pretension and “artistry” get in the way of rocking out. Had he decided to be the alternative/grunge era’s Foreigner, we all would have been better off.
He would take this as a compliment, even thought it is not, but STP were the 1990’s version of the Doors. A band better when they were just a straight ahead rock band. “Crackerman” was their “Roadhouse Blues”, “Sex Type Thing: their “Break on Through.” Poetry and pretention be damned.
Like the Morrison and the Doors, he thought himself to be more an artist and less a rocker. As his career progressed, he tried to distance himself from his post-grunge roots and the music suffered. Oh, the critics like the later STP albums, but Core and Purple were the superior records.
What STP’s debut album “Core” lacked in originality it made up for in groove and strong songs. Sure, they were one of the first bands to find inspiration in Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam, but they wrote great songs. From the opening, distorted vocals on “Dead & Bloated” to the final, melancholy moments “Where the River Flows,” Weiland delivers a fantastic vocal performance on a fantastic album. “Sex Type Thing” and “Crackerman” are hard rock classics, “Plush” is a near perfect power ballad, that strangely got labeled a Pearl Jam rip-off, though it sound little or anything like a Pearl Jam song.
Their follow-up “Purple” was nearly as strong, though more and more of Weiland’s pretention crept into the lyrics.
“Vasoline” and “Unglued” showed they could still rock, while “Big Empty” was the perfect sequel to “Plush” and “Interstate Love Song” would become an alternative rock staple.
The rest of their discography would see Weiland trying to escape the tag of “grunge imitators.” They would embrace more glam and psychedelic sounds. They saw a little more critical acclaim, but each subsequent record would see less and less popularity.
Eventually the band seemed to tire of his constant battles with addiction and they separated. Although they would go on to release one more record together the past 15 years have been more about Weiland’s solo records and two-album stint in Velvet Revolver, which also led to his dismissal.
He was the consummate rock star, but he was also the rock star cliché of a life of excess. Every interviewed feature the cigarette and the outlandish clothes. He looked the part, a chameleon who could go from glam rock to GQ in one concert. Leather pants or the fur coat. Bowie or T-Rex or Sunset Strip he could pull it off.
But of course, any mention of Scott Weiland was the mention of drugs. Whether it was the heroin of the 90’s or the cocaine that was found in the tour bus, he was synonymous with his demons. As his former band members wrote in an open letter following his death “part of that gift, was part of your curse.”
It is impossible to ignore the demons, but the best way to remember him is during his finest moment. A young, healthy looking Weiland singing an acoustic version of “Plush” on MTV. That should have been his lasting moment, but alas, it is not.