Big Empty: Mourning the Loss of Scott Weiland

The Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver singer is gone but never forgotten.
December 4, 2015, 9:26pm

Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver lead singer Scott Weiland passed away in his sleep last night on a tour bus with his new band the Wildabouts, as announced on social media by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. Friends and peers paid tribute to the fallen singer, like Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, who wrote, “If you asked me who I truly believed were the great voices of our generation, I’d say it were he, Layne, and Kurt.” “The memories are many, and they run deep for us,” the remaining members of Stone Temple Pilots said in a statement to the press. “We know amidst the good and the bad you struggled, time and again. It’s what made you who you were. You were gifted beyond words, Scott. Part of that gift was part of your curse. With deep sorrow for you and your family, we are saddened to see you go.”

If you were a fan for long, you’ve been both solemnly prepared to receive this news and also enlivened by every year it never came to pass. With Scott, the highs were startling, and the lows were chilling: Stone Temple Pilots would sell almost 20 million records in its lifetime, but it would do so with great obstinance from rock fans and critics and a constant uncertainty as to whether its frontman would make it to the next show. His next band Velvet Revolver teetered on the same axis of success and ruin. Weiland’s enduring stardom was both a Logan’s Run from the demons of illness and addiction and a war for the respect of the rock establishment, but he remained a more valuable talent than he was made out to be in the court of public opinion, and though he was troubled, he funneled his struggles into vital, visceral art.

It’s possible Stone Temple Pilots came on too hard and too fast. “Sex Type Thing,” the band’s 1992 debut stateside single, was a preening, sarcastic assassination of the male gaze perhaps too spot on in its affected machismo. Weiland’s snarling “I know you want what’s on my mind” refrain came off lunkheaded coupled with the King Kong stomp of guitar and bass brother duo Dean and Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz, as well it was supposed to. But coming to it with no foreknowledge of the band’s intentions, it was easy to mistake the song for more of the sweaty alpha male entitlement it was railing against. Follow up single “Plush” grew to become one of the towering anthems of the budding 90s alternative, but Weiland’s gruff yarl hewed a touch too close to that of Pearl Jam anti-hero Eddie Vedder, and fans never let him hear the end of it. STP’s debut album Core sold two million copies in its first year (and would cruise on to a staggering eight), but Weiland struggled to shake the impression of his band as “posers.”

Fans drove a hard bargain, but the press could be cruel: “Look, I couldn’t blame you for wishing a just God would wipe Scott Weiland from the face of the earth,” rock scribe Rob Sheffield quipped in a review of STP’s multiplatinum 1994 sophomore LP Purple in Spin. “But if you ask me, STP’s crumminess is… a sign there’s still more weird energy in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in Punk Rock 101.” The band soldiered on unfazed, growing glammier, more psychedelic, and more musically accomplished by the year. Weiland could glide to his upper register while his band crushed underfoot on a song like No. 4’s “Church on Tuesday," withdraw into the washed out rasp of Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop’s Cars loving lead single “Big Bang Baby,” or melt down into the wan exhaustion of “The Date,” an unhinged deep cut from his 1998 solo debut 12 Bar Blues. Weiland was never was the Eddie Vedder simulacrum critics advertised, and he gave the lie to the accusation with a body of songs that fused pop’s catchiness to the sledgehammer thud of Zeppelin and Sabbath and a self-aware and calculatedly absurd showmanship that set him at odds with the stars of his day.

If Scott Weiland had just come along a few years earlier, his band might’ve given Guns n Roses a proper rival. Both bands wrote from a deep fascination with desire as animus for self-destruction and rock n roll as lovechild of sludge metal and Bowie camp, but Guns got to be celebrated as Sunset Strip hellions, while STP, just a few years on and a few miles down the California coast, strained to contend with the rising tide of rock star as running commentary on the ridiculousness of rock stardom, Eddies withdrawing from mainstream rock god responsibilities like music videos and Ticketmaster revenue, Kurts denouncing machismo and ribbing rock mags from their own covers, and Laynes chasing the dragon in every song. In this climate, Scott Weiland’s writhing masculinity came across as a manifestation of the cock waggling extravagance the grunge kids felt personally tasked with overthrowing. Because of the socially conscious gloom that haunted the rock music of the early 90s, many never got to see Scott Weiland for what he really was: a son of Iggy Pop every bit as drained and tortured as the junkie mystics running the radio but determined to one-up their no-fun austerity by making every moment look like a fucking blast.

Weiland would never be exactly be considered cool because he was a man out of time, but his slippery, Bowielike versatility would offer him a second life few of the class of ‘92 would be awarded. Spectacle, showmanship, and writing chops rarely stay out of fashion for long. It’s cosmically fitting that Weiland should find himself fronting a version of Guns after Stone Temple Pilots first disintegrated in 2002 and just desserts that Velvet Revolver could achieve mammoth international success in the process. Scott and Guns were time displaced analogs just waiting for a moment to cross. When they did it provided the singer with a vehicle to push his voice and aesthetic to their campy limits and trace his musical lineage through a mixture of rock attitude and considered fan service. Contorted and shirtless in glistening pants in the “Slither” video, Scott finally brought his Iggy Pop influence to a head, and in the “Dirty Little Things” video, itself an homage to Heavy Metal, Weiland’s Johnny Rotten hair hints at where he got his anguished bark from. You could see he was a student of music, a fan who, through force of personality, had come into an audience of his own, one of us, really, just with a little mascara.

The only thing that could tear Weiland down was the man, himself. It’s no use rattling off particulars; Scott’s hard living is well documented. He was a fighter, though, one who seemed to spring back renewed from every ominous low, and it’s a shame he’s not around to wrestle his way to another improbable career high, smirking and whirling in the faces of his detractors anew. The best any of us can do now is shine a light and give a great his due. As a gifted singer, writer, and performer, a shamanistic medium in the mind-body communion between rock n roll and dance, Scott Weiland will never be forgotten.

Craig is listening to "Where's the Man" on repeat today. Follow him on Twitter.