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Former Screaming Trees Frontman Mark Lanegan Talks About Getting His Heart Broken by the Sonics

When the smoky-voiced singer isn't on tour or in the studio, he's probably at a Clippers game.
Photo via Wikipedia Commons

Since Mark Lanegan's first record (1985's Other Worlds EP, when he fronted Screaming Trees), he's been known for his smoke-scarred vocals and heavy bummer lyrics; since the Trees broke up, he's been equally known for incredible productivity, working with Greg Dulli, Queens of the Stone Age, Belle and Sebastian's Isobel Campbell, and about a billion others. When I reached him, he's having what he describes as a "quiet year," releasing only a single album, which is coming out in October (he since added an EP to the mix), a "few shows with those guys" (Nick Cave), and a "handful of dates" doing European festivals. He then added a few nights playing with the Afghan Whigs. So: Lanegan's a busy guy, and a man maybe best described as a bluesman, working often with minimal instrumentation under titles like "Sad Lover," "Blues Funeral," "Whiskey for the Holy Ghost," and you get the idea. Naturally, we talked about basketball.


You should be watching the Chicago Bulls next season. Read more.

Mark Lanegan is a Clippers superfan, and a real basketball head. He's as ready to talk about Seattle's 1979 championship team, powered by Gus Williams, as he is to break down game three of last year's Clippers/Warriors series. He also, it has to be said, laughs easily at an interviewer's idiotic jokes, laughs kind of a lot for a blues singer, and is in general as nice a guy as you'd ever want to talk hoops with, though true to his art he does mix in the occasional "it was deep despair" or some other such phrase.

How did you end up a fan the Clippers?
Mark: I grew up a Seattle Sonics fan, in Washington state. And I moved to Los Angeles about 17 years ago. When I moved down here, I would go to Clippers games when the Sonics were playing, just to see the Sonics. And eventually I started just going to, to see basketball. I wasn't really a Clippers guy, I was just into watching the league, and I would go when the good teams were in town. Eventually, you know, it became Oklahoma City, but before that, I became a Clippers fan, just somehow started rooting for them, and became a season ticket holder several years ago, and sat through a lot of terrible, terrible, years. [laughs] You know, I'm also a Seattle Mariners fan, so there's a lot of heartache, on both those roads.

The Sonics got a championship in, what, '78? '79?
Mark: Seventy-nine. Gus Williams.


Yeah, Gus Williams, Jack Sikma… He was probably the best-permed player ever to play in the NBA.
Mark: Yeah, but that's going back a while.

I imagine you're still pretty raw about the way the team got stolen from Seattle.
Mark: Yeah, David Stern's not popular around my house. Although Adam Silver is very popular around my house, for trying to get rid of Sterling. When that stuff [about Sterling's racism] came to light, I was just…"I can't." I gave away my playoff tickets immediately, I was like, "I can't support this team." But less than a week later, he was banned and I was like, "Yes! Hey, did you give away that other ticket yet, man? Cuz I'm gonna go."

Did you catch any of those Clippers-Warriors games?
Mark: Yeah, I caught the whole thing. It was pretty serious.

I live in Oakland, and it was minor-league heartbreaking. I don't think any of us thought the Warriors were going to take it, but they went toe-to-toe and… I'm a huge Steph Curry fan, and watching him is always amazing to me.
Mark: He's fantastic. I gotta say, the Warriors are my most hated team right now…outside of OKC.

What's to hate? You always beat 'em!
Mark: [laughs] Yeah man. I'm gonna like 'em a little bit better now that Mark Jackson's gone. As soon as we beat 'em, I was like "Draymond Green's not such a bad guy after all…he's okay." But up until that moment, I was like "Fuck Draymond Green! Fuck Mark Jackson!"


They're a great team. The Warriors team with Baron Davis, Matt Barnes, Stephen Jackson, that was an incredible team.

I actually went to quite a few Warriors games in the following years, and I gotta say…it's a bummer that they're leaving Oakland, because Oracle's really a special place to see a game. Yeah, it's a bummer, man, I feel your pain. But you can just go across the bridge and see 'em if you want, it's not like they're gone completely.

Yeah. I saw a pretty old note, where you were pretty pissed off at Baron Davis, which hit pretty close to home because especially after that "We Believe" Warriors team, it's hard for me to root against him, but his Clippers tenure was not marked with distinction.
Mark: Yeah, it was unfortunate. It was really exciting when he signed, and then, a week later, when Elton Brand went away, it was deep despair. And granted, he didn't have a lot to work with, but when Griffin started to emerge, it seemed like he became engaged and was suddenly playing good ball again. But you can't really fault the guy who's at the end of the line, you know? It's not like he did anything in Cleveland or in New York except end his career with a horrible injury.

He always struck me as one of those guys who almost hurts himself by being an interesting guy: He had priorities other than basketball, which, in a human, is a good thing, but you might want that more monomaniacal focus for a guy on your basketball team.
Mark: Sure. You want a guy who plays with the intensity of Matt Barnes.


Ugh. That fucking guy.
Mark: [laughs]

He's the guy you hate when he's not on your team, but you love him when he's on your team.

I was so happy when he got back with the Clippers. I absolutely fucking hated him when he was on the Lakers.

Who's your guy on the Clippers?
Mark: I like Jamal Crawford. He's from Seattle, went to high school there, lived up there. He's fantastic.

A friend calls him the most talented player in the NBA. I'm not 100 percent sure I agree, but…
Mark: He's got great panache. He's like a throwback. He coulda played in the ABA.

I would love to have seen that. I'd actually love to see the NBA roll out the red-white-and-blue ball every once in a while.
Mark: Yeah, man. Get some Artis Gilmore hair.

I think those days are gone, but to be honest DeAndre Jordan is not far off from Artis Gilmore. Sort of a Gilmore who can actually move.
Mark: Yeah, man. This year was make or break for him. He was what, six years in or something, and it was just like, "UGH, come ON DJ." And then finally he became what everybody hoped he would become. Credit to [coach] Doc [Rivers] for that. He's really now arguably the most important player on the team, going forward.

You have to have a defensive stud, you gotta have have a guy pulling down boards, and he's that guy. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

That frees up some time and space for Jordan! I was watching game three of the Warriors-Clippers series and I had completely suppressed the memory of him getting 22 rebounds and five blocks. He was just everywhere that night. Every time the Clippers needed the ball, he ended up with it. I think that really allowed Griffin to have the completely ludicrous night that he had, hitting some shots that were just impossible.
Mark: It was an amazing performance. I hate to say it, but I think the way Jordan allowed Griffin to have that game… the absence of [Warriors center Andrew] Bogut allowed Jordan to have that game.


That's exactly right, and the fact that you or I would probably be a better defender than David Lee in the NBA at this point.
Mark: [laughs] Yeah, well, hopefully you guys won't suffer with David Lee much longer, if they get Kevin Love…

He's like the only guy in the league I hate more than I hate David Lee right now.
Mark: [laughs] Oh really!? Wow. If I was gonna choose between one or the other, I'd take Love.

[Lee has] definitely been known to not play great D either. Don't get me wrong, David Lee's probably my least favorite player in the history of the game.

Tell me how you really feel, man!
Mark: [laughs] I disliked him even when he played for the Knicks. I just don't like his fucking… he's an instigator, I think he's a dirty player. In my opinion.

I also saw him on the NBA version of Family Feud. I gotta say, he wasn't the biggest douche on the panel, but he was close.

Am I gonna have to YouTube this now?
Mark: He's on there, dude! With his mom. Don't ask me why I watched, I just came across it.

You're obviously a basketball head, how do you follow it? Reading the LA Times every day?
Mark:, RealGM, HoopsHype, those are all bookmarked. I have League Pass, of course, so when I'm on the road, I just watch the games on my computer. Usually every year, besides the Clippers there's been another team I really like watching a lot. A lotta times, that'd end up being the Grizz. I always really liked Z-Bo. Those guys are another throwback team. They're fun to watch: down and dirty.


They may be setting a record for most consecutive really unfortunate first-round match-ups. They'll give whoever they go against one of the toughest series they're going to play…
Mark: And then end up falling short.

[As for other teams and players,] I really like watching Cousins, man. I just think he's…a character, but he can back it up.

I may have to add, depends if he sticks, but if Andre Miller stays, I may have to put the Wizards back on my list.
Mark: He's one of the least popular Clippers of all time, historically, because he was a total shithead while he was here, apparently, and he was a big acquisition that didn't get them over the hump, and they immediately sucked again, and he was unpopular with his teammates and with the fans. But I always loved him too. Back when he was with Cleveland, I used to watch the Cleveland games with League Pass, because Shawn Kemp was on the team. Way past his prime of course, but that was when Andre Miller first came in the league, Andre Miller, Lamond Murray, I think Big Z was in the midst of his foot injuries… Andre Miller was great, then, old Bobby Sura was on that team. [laughs]

Less great!
Mark: Yeah!

But, yeah: I loved the Wiz this year. I just think John Wall is spectacular, and getting Nene and the Polish Hammer were really great moves for those guys.

Bradley Beal is a lot of fun. He's exciting.

Who's your big rivalry team? Who have you been hating these days?
Mark: Well, like I said, Golden State first and foremost. And it's hard not to dislike the Lakers. I mean, that goes back to childhood, being a Sonics fan, then a fan of those Portland teams with Sabonis and Pippen that got screwed by the Lakers. It's ingrained, to dislike 'em. But when they were in the playoffs and the Clippers weren't, I'd go to the games. It's hard not to respect Kobe Bryant's game: He's one of the all-time greats.


And if you disagree, he'll let you know.
Mark: [laughs] No doubt!

You're on tour right now, right? Opening up for Nick Cave?
Mark: Going to be, in a week or so. We're going to be up in Portland. I'm just doing a few shows with those guys in the Northwest and then I'm going to Europe to do a few festivals with my band. Just a handful of dates.

That's a pretty interesting version of "quiet year."
Mark: Well, for me it's quiet. It's actually my quietest year in like ten. I'm learning how to be at home.

Maybe you'll be able to get to a couple more actual home games.
Mark: Yep, I'm actually going to be able to go in the fall. Usually I never see any of the games from the opening of the season until late December. It's been that way for years, I'm always on tour then, and this year I'm not gonna be. So I'm actually looking forward to that.

What do you do with the tickets, just give 'em away?
Mark: I give 'em away. I've got a lot of friends that go.

Where are your seats?
Mark: I sit in the 200 level, right in the corner. Best view in the entire place. I've had the opportunity to go down into the 100 level every year, I've got friends who sit down there, and they're always looking for another guy. But I wouldn't give up these seats for anything. It's great: I sit right at the edge [of the section], so there's nobody in front of me. Clear shot down from the corner, you can see the whole court, it's amazing. If you sit in the 100 level, you're constantly straining your neck one way or the other to see the action, there's always people walking in front of you. Always. People blocking your view. That doesn't happen in 200.

You can see the whole court, you can really see the play develop.
Mark: You're not so far away that it's like you're looking at ants, either.

I will say this: I sat courtside once, and it was a whole different experience. Really great. You can hear what's being said, and you know. Yeah, there's a lot to be said for that. If I ever hit the Lotto, that's where I'm going to be getting my tickets.

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