Life on the road isn’t easy at the best of times. Even the biggest pop stars with the fattest wallets and best-appointed private jets get bummed out on tour. Whether you’re selling out arenas or scraping pennies off the floor at Joe Bill’s Rock Pub, you’re still paying the price of fame (or at least, of adventure and a few cold beers). Unless you’re at the highest level, you’re tired, sore, and probably dirty. You miss your partner, your kids, your dog, your toilet–all of your favorite things are now far away, missing you and secretly hoping you come home early. It gets lonely, and loneliness can be dangerous when you’re out there surrounded by temptation. It weakens your resolve. Drugs, booze, and attractive people who want to fuck you but are definitely not the person you’re dating are the most common pitfalls that befall the touring soul. It’s inspiring as hell to see those who are able to keep their heads clear and rise above the craziness to get in, get paid, load out, and go home…but the alternative to that is all too familiar. Saint Vitus singer and all-around doom legend Scott “Wino” Weinrich made headlines yesterday when the incredible news of his deportation from Norway broke. According to a Facebook post by his bandmates, he was detained for possession of illegal substances, and despite the efforts of his Norwegian defense attorney, has been barred from remaining in Scandinavia or the EU. A Norwegian newspaper reported that said substance was methamphetamine, and that eleven grams of it had been found in Wino's bag during a routine search at the border. That's a fuck ton of speed.
While the rest of Saint Vitus (joined by the UK's Orange Goblin) prepare to finish out their remaining handful of European tour dates with a skeleton lineup, Wino is back home in Los Angeles at this very moment. What will happen to him now that he's back on US soil is anyone’s guess, but the outcome probably won’t be good given his past arrest record.
Full disclosure: I know Wino personally, and have spent time traveling with him and his band on tour. Wino is an incredibly talented, artistic individual who’s credited as one of heavy metal’s most influential figures. He’s a kind, quirky man with a round potbelly, a wicked grin, and a healthy interest in conspiracy theories. The amount of love and respect he commands from fans and peers alike is formidable. It’s a cruel twist of fate that the bands he’s best known for have nearly killed him. The Maryland native had first made a name for himself in the nascent DC hardcore punk scene, infuriating the speed-worshipping punters with his slow, low style of playing, first in Warhorse then in trailblazing stoner doom band The Obsessed. In the 80s, he decamped to LA to sing for the SST-signed Saint Vitus and recorded some of the band’s most revered albums. He left the band when The Obsessed briefly got back together, but that didn’t last long, either. A few years later, The Obsessed had split up once again, and things went dark for Wino. He ended up spending much of the 90s homeless in LA, addicted to methamphetamines and alcohol. According to an old interview, he nearly had to have his foot amputated after an old injury rotted from neglect. Against the odds, he somehow pointed his weary bones homeward and made his way back East, where he moved back in with his parents and, according to the man himself, “took a huge mushroom trip and decided to go completely sober.” He decided to dedicate himself to his family, and retreated from public view to become a stay at home father (and occasional songwriter) for a solid span. The sobriety stuck for awhile, but his demons remained close.
History repeats itself most malevolently when addiction is involved. Wino’s ongoing relationship with substance abuse has been documented by the media, by the fans who post exuberant stories about smoking with him, and by the man himself. As he mentioned in a recent interview, "I just ended (eight months ago) a seven year methamphetamine bender, which was fucking great, and fucking fun, but I wanted to live and stay out of jail for me, my loved ones, my fans and my spirit. We all know that drug is hard as hell, but I loved it. I don't use anything now except all natural drugs like marijuana, and buttons [peyote] or 'shrooms. I don't do coke (it sucks now, and is different anyway), meth or heroin. I do like the occasional Norco or some codeine, but I have a healthy respect for all drugs."
He’s spent many years clean, and many other years spun out into the void. When he slaps a “Will Trade Merch for Drugs” sign on Saint Vitus’ record box, he’s not kidding. When he sings about the joys of acid on the Saint Vitus classic “Clear Windowpane,” you know he’s not bluffing. Drugs and debauchery are as much a part of the Wino mythology as they are Lemmy’s or Keith Richards’. Fans almost expect it, and the overall tone of the coverage of this weekend’s Norway incident is more gleeful than somber. Of course the guy who sings about drugs all the time got caught with drugs! The stoner doom guy totally gets stoned! That’s so cool, man. Totally edgy. Right? Well, not when you take into account that we’re talking about a 54-year-old man who’s been trying to stay clean since he was a teenager, but keeps succumbing to the siren song of a quick high. At least he seems to enjoy it.
Fast-forward into 2009, and Saint Vitus was back together. Wino was back in the band, and people were going crazy at the thought of experiencing the band’s treasure trove of doom classics live. Successful festival appearances, tours, and a well-received new album followed. The band was doing better than they ever had, but Wino wasn’t. He partied hard and slept little. His sobriety came and went. His most recent adventure, a tour with the reformed Spirit Caravan last year, saw him bouncing merrily through SXSW day parties and crowing proudly about how happy he was to be sober. Saint Vitus’ current 35th anniversary tour was meant to be a celebration, but has just been abruptly cut short by a Norwegian immigration officer and a demon that just won’t let go. After reading about the whole debacle, it’s hard not to hear his weathered voice howling out the lyrics to “Clear Windowpane” and reflecting a little on the sad truth of it all – “I can't face reality/ So I fly back to where I am free…”
Kim Kelly was born too late. Follow her on Twitter.