Lanegan was one of the genre’s greatest vocalists, spikiest lyricists, and most troubled figures. In December, he published “Devil in a coma“, a slim volume of prose and poetry detailing his near-death battle with covid-19 in the spring of 2021. It was an unofficial companion to his excellent endurance test of an autobiography,”Sing backwards and crypublished as the pandemic unfolded the previous year. “Sing Backwards” detailed Lanegan’s childhood in an abusive home in rural Ellensburg, Washington. He was a petty criminal with an incipient addiction to alcohol, gambling and pornography at the age of 12 – yes, 12. A few years later, he formed Screaming Trees with brothers Van and Gary Lee Conner, and his life got exponentially worse.
The trees had a great success (“I almost lost you“, featured on the “Singles” soundtrack) and a life of tumultuous misery. Nobody hated anything more than the guys from Screaming Trees hated each other; next to them, the Gallagher brothers are monks on a yoga retreat. The only time in “Sing Backwards” Lanegan seems genuinely happy is when he describes the time Lee Conner suffered an accidental electric shock. (He lived.) The moment the band imploded into 2000, Lanegan seemed to be past grunge, anyway. His first solo albums”The winding sheet” and “Whiskey for the Holy Spiritwere wonders, spartan and sad. “My idea was that I wanted to make music with the feeling of blues, without being blues,” Lanegan later told the Seattle Times. “The Winding Sheet” contained a cover of “where did you sleep last nighta traditional song popularized by Lead Belly, featuring Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic; this group would use a similar arrangement of the song for their appearance on “MTV Unplugged”.
Lanegan and Cobain were friends before fame. As Lanegan wrote in “Sing Backwards”, the leader of Nirvana repeatedly called out to him just before his death, asking Lanegan to come over. In what would prove to be one of the most fatal decisions in rock history, Lanegan listened in real time to Cobain leaving messages on his answering machine – in the 90s, you could do that – but didn’t. never picked up. He was trying to avoid Courtney Love, Cobain’s wife.
Lanegan’s post-Trees career occasionally flourished. He occasionally became a member of Mad Season, a grunge supergroup co-founded by Mike McCready of Staley and Pearl Jam, and collaborated with Moby, Greg Dulli, Isobel Campbell of Belle & Sebastian. He served as a vital link between grunge and desert rock when he briefly joined Queens of the Stone Age, whose lead singer, Josh Homme, had been an auxiliary member of Screaming Trees. Lanegan and Homme wrote the theme song to “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” for Bourdain, a fan who clearly adored them.
In Lanegan’s personal life, things were grim. He battled a years-long addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, and became a drug dealer to support his habit. He once nearly had his arm amputated and sometimes lived on the streets. Most of his 30s could be considered a near-death experience. “I was the ghost that wouldn’t die,” he wrote in “Sing Backwards.” It would take a year of rehab to outrun his demons. Love paid for it.
In his later years, Lanegan seemed older than he was. He appeared worried and weathered, both eternally pugilist and resigned to his fate. He was consumed by his own mortality, worried about government tracking devices and 5G. He was the embodiment of what grunge would have looked like if he had had the chance to grow old.
It got to the point where most interviews with Lanegan included some version of the question: how are you still alive? Lanegan also seemed to wonder about it. “My days are numbered / Eternal sleep / Death is due to me”, he sang on “Ballad of a Dying Rover“, the centerpiece of his last official release, “Upright songs of grief», the ghostly complementary album of « Sing Backwards ».
With Lanegan dead, most of grunge’s remaining living icons are the no-nonsense guys in the middle, such as Mudhoney’s Tad Doyle and Mark Arm, Too Reliable to Die, and self-preservation advocates such as Eddie Vedder. , hopefully unkillable, and Love. In a pre-covid interview with Spin, Lanegan didn’t like his own chances. “Maybe I dodged a bullet. For now,” he told the reporter. “But you can’t last forever.”