The thing about being a rock star in the ’90s is you had to act like you hated being a rock star, and this is where Scott Weiland made his first mistake. As frontman for Stone Temple Pilots, whose 1992 debut Core was an instant Columbia House Hall of Famer, he swaggered and sashayed and preened and performed in an era when all that shit was deeply, fatally uncool. Sure, he did plenty of brooding—it was the ’90s, we all did—but there was a weird aroused undertone. He turned uncoolness into both a high and a dark art. He slithered while pretty much everyone else just sulked.
STP’s first single, “Plush,” was a radio/MTV/high school talent show monster anchored by a coarse, colossal baritone that made millions of flannel-clad dirtbag teenagers ask the same question at the same time: “Is this Pearl Jam?” It was not, and initially this was a major issue. Core was catchy but a little grim, a little steak-headed, a little monochromatic, a little, uh, problematic, as see “Sex Type Thing,” or maybe don’t.
This made them punching bags in an era when even the cool kids had punching bags. Eddie Vedder just seemed so much deeper, y’know? STP’s second album, 1994’s glammy and garish and pretty goddamn righteous Purple, came out the same year as Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; both those records were extremely important to 16-year-old me despite being philosophically opposed at, like, an Israel-Palestine level of intensity. See Pavement’s immortal STP/Smashing Pumpkins diss “Range Life”: “Stone Temple Pilots / They’re elegant bachelors / They’re foxy to me, are they foxy to you?” Billy Corgan is still whining about all that; Weiland never seemed like he could really give a fuck. Maybe because “The Big Empty” was a better song.
Or maybe because he was never even trying to be cool. A lot of the titans of grunge were just hair-metal dudes shrewd enough to get with the times, though sometimes it was hard to tell: With STP, it wasn’t hard to tell. By the time of 1996’s Tiny Music ... Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop (!?!?), they’d fully turned into the armadillo-trousered ’70s arena-rockers of their dreams, a T.Rex for the Jurassic Park era. They were trying really hard even when they knew enough to pretend like they weren’t trying at all.
The slog kicked in from there: 1999’s No. 4, a return to their steak-headed roots, has its champions, while 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da largely does not. And then it all totally went to shit, because Scott Weiland’s one true concession to the times was the heroin addiction that plagued him for decades. His split from STP was ugly and endless—they snuck in an okay reunion record somewhere in there, but otherwise, yeesh. He ran off to Velvet Revolver, a/k/a Guns N’ Roses with a new lead singer, which was a little too on the nose onstage and off—“There was a certain commercial calculation behind it,” he allowed in his memoir—but eventually they got fed up and ditched him, too. I want you to stop for a second and contemplate how much of a putz you have to be to totally exasperate the guys who used to be in a band with Axl Rose.
It’s tempting in situations like this to regard a guy’s solo work as the clearest possible window into his soul, but the stuff Weiland put his own name on is too weird not to be true. If your friendly neighborhood rock critic is gonna ride for anything the guy ever did, it’s 1998’s supremely deranged 12 Bar Blues, which apes every major Bowie phase at once, and/or sounds like Beck’s Odelay if your brain looked like the dog on Odelay’s cover. Good luck with this.
He also put out a totally straight Christmas album that, to this day, I am too afraid to even begin to deal with, so good luck with that, too. The news since then has been grimmer. In March, he resurfaced with Blaster, credited to Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts, though nobody had much time for it. That record’s legacy may be this disastrous live clip, which made the rounds awhile back and is hard to deal with for any number of reasons.
The main reason is that Scott Weiland was found dead on his tour bus last night—I keep forgetting to mention that. Twitter reaction thus far has been suspiciously, heartbreakingly warm. Maybe it’s reductive to say that only in death will he get the critical respect he craved in life—mostly he only seemed to crave the one, dumb, stupid thing. But he still deserved better than he mostly got. In tribute, I recommend that the next time you get to karaoke, you fire up “Interstate Love Song” and just go to town; go ahead, ham it up, it’s funny, sorta. You don’t have to totally mean it for it to be meaningful. Scott Weiland taught us that, whether he knew it himself or not.
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