Addiction. Addiction is cruel. It doesn’t give a fuck about anything. It doesn’t care where you die, or how you die. It doesn’t allow you one last conversation with the people you love. It doesn’t leave you with your integrity. It leaves you on a tour bus in the middle of Minnesota after years of failed bands, broken relationships, stints in rehab, and stories in the tabloids.
I knew nothing about Scott Weiland as an individual. The first I heard of him was through a crappy car stereo in the backseat of my friend Kris’s Nissan Axxess minivan, maybe in 1998 or ‘99. The cassette was on repeat for a month or so during our first forays into marathon backroad Vermont stoner sessions. The car would fill up with smoke and the music would start sounding better with Scott Weiland’s unmistakable voice cutting through the haze. Whether you liked his bands or not, the guy had “it.” A voice you recognized and remembered. Was it a gift or a curse?
A lot changed that summer for me and my friends. As innocently as it started, things quickly progressed—acid, pills, coke, other stuff. One friend took way too much acid one night and he was never the same. Another would disappear for weekends at a time only to resurface with no money and an itchy nose. Another went into full blackout drunk mode almost every night and would drive home…somehow. I found music.
The first show I ever played was an outdoor party in the middle of the day at Castleton State College in Vermont. I was 19 and scared shitless to get up in front of everybody. There was then and still is a struggle between my introvert and my extrovert. I wanted to get up there and play and feel the energy of the crowd but I also didn’t want to get too close…I didn’t want them to see things that I wasn’t ready to show. I wanted to control what they saw. I sat in my tiny red Dodge Ram truck behind the outdoor stage with my best friend and we proceeded to finish off a six-pack of beer in about 20 minutes. I got up on stage and I was off…I was officially a musician.
I imagine Scott Weiland’s story might read something like this. Experimenting with drugs with his friends, having a few drinks for courage to get up on stage and let go. Almost all musicians I know share this blueprint. I know guys in their 40s who play on the weekends and “have a few beers” before every show. Sounds simple enough. When it gets complicated, however, is when you get successful. All the sudden you are playing five or six nights a week. You “have a few beers” before you get on stage, one or two during, and then a few after the show. That’s between six and 10 drinks a day, five to six nights a week. That’s not a good place to find yourself on an off day as the bus cruises through the Midwest somewhere. Is it Iowa or South Dakota? You look out the window and feel a long way from home. A million miles away from that first gig when you hauled your own equipment and played the song everyone liked twice because you ran out of material but didn’t want the feeling to end.
The alcohol makes you tired and slow. One night some guy backstage breaks out some speed. It works, the gigs get really good again. But all the sudden the sun is coming up and you’re still tapping your foot. Everyone else is asleep. Where did everyone go? What am I doing here? I’m alone. My heart is beating too fast. Maybe I should wake someone up? The guy who gave you the speed also gave you some Vicodin. What a nice guy. People seem to be giving me things for free all the time lately. They also keep telling me how amazing I am. I am amazing. Ahhh, the Vicodin just kicked in.
Maybe the Vicodin soon turns into heroin. The coke into crack. Bands crumble and you find yourself in the tabloids for jumping out of a moving vehicle. People are scared but they also like it. They’re drawn to the chaos. It’s the one job in the world where you can get away with shit like this. Pretty soon there’s a new band and more tours. You’re clean from the drugs but you still drink a little. It’s just a little bourbon. It’s classy. The cycle starts all over again. This time it’s in the shadows—in your hotel room or by yourself. The bandmates and the managers look the other way. There’s money to be made and mortgages to be paid. This is business now. Soon enough the cracks show and it all falls apart. Again.
A couple reunions later after it’s all fallen apart again you’re still propping yourself up night after night singing those songs. The towns and the stages are getting smaller but they still want you. They still love those songs. You’re still a big deal here. The lows get lower and the highs get normal. You’ve created a reality where your behavior is not questioned as long as you can do the gig. And you do, at least until you can’t anymore.
Flashback to that first magical show where everything is new and exciting. The guitarist is out of tune. No one can hear the vocals. The drummer is too loud. The crowd of 30 feels like Shea Stadium. You’re playing “Louie, Louie” for the second time tonight. It’s perfect. RIP.