[Photo courtesy of Heavenly Recordings]
By Paul Nern, News Editor
Mark Lanegan died last week, and that just sucks for music. This brings the world closer to finalizing the long list of iconic singers from the 90s Seattle scene that died early after dark, troubled, and drug-fueled lives. Lanegan follows the precedent set by Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Chris Cornell who all fronted bands at the same time, same place, and died because of it. They used drugs, battled demons, and lived fast. And they are all dead.
Mark Lanegan wasn’t like the others in this mold. His band, Screaming Trees did not experience the widespread success and fame that Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden were awarded. Although, Screaming Trees ended its tumultuous career with numbers that are still impressive. They were a major label band for a spell, and had the single “Nearly Lost You” placed on the soundtrack for the movie Singles, which appropriately consisted of singles from the Seattle scene. The songs “Would?” by Alice in Chains, “Seasons” by Chris Cornell, and “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam landed on this album which all certified bangers if I do say so myself. Actually, I insist.
I’m going to take a moment here to emphasize that grunge was the absolute shit for me when I really started to get into music. The lyrics these guys wrote are so damn depressing, like it seems that they’ve never experienced any fleeting sense of happiness whatsoever. I’m here for it, because the guitar riffs that dot this scene just aggressively shred right into your soul. At least that’s how I feel about it. I could talk for hours about this, we haven’t even gotten to the drums and bass yet but I’m going to shut myself up before I get carried away. But that’s how I found Lanegan’s work, you gotta really dig past the surface of the Seattle scene to find him.
Lanegan’s voice set him apart from his peers not because it sounded as angelic as Cornell’s voice, or because it was better than Cobain’s raspy screams. It was just dark, man. It sounds like he smoked 10 packs of ciggies a day and chased it with two handles every day. But it’s inherently awesome because of those characteristics; he howled. And he was respected amongst his peers. Cobain and Staley were some of Lanegan’s closest friends and they did heroin together all the time. I’m serious, I read that last detail in Lanegan’s autobiography and in Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music which has people who worked in the music scene of Seattle at the time saying the same thing. They probably had a great time, but like I said before, it killed them. And like I said before, it sucks.
Beyond Screaming Trees, Mark Lanegan was also involved with Queens of the Stone Age, who were fronted by Josh Homme. Homme and Lanegan met because the former was a touring member of Screaming Trees, and it would have been insane to see that. Lanegan actually kills it in a couple of those songs, particularly in “Song for the Dead”. His vocals are so dark and coat the verse with such a sinister tone. Just something about it.
Lastly, he was awesome as a solo artist. I read in Lanegan’s book that Kurt Cobain was inspired by him to sing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” during Nirvana’s Unplugged concert in New York. I’m paraphrasing his retellings, and I know that he used a lot of heavy drugs at the time so who knows how accurate that story is, but if there’s any truth to it then it has to be mentioned. Oh, and he allegedly opened up for Johnny Cash once and I should not have to explain in the slightest how legendary that is. Cool stories in that book I would have to say.
Lanegan was a great singer in his own right, hung with the guys from the Seattle scene, made some great songs, and died too early. It is sad to see this trend continue with musicians from that era, but the list keeps getting longer.
The truth to it is, though, Lanegan and everyone else who has died too soon in the music world left their mark on this earth with their music. And it’s up to us to enjoy what we can while we’re still here as well. That’s really all I’ve got to say on this subject; I hope that somehow Mark Lanegan has found his peace. In the meantime, I’ll be playing “Nearly Lost You” and appreciating the music he left all of us.