Almanac Music: The (Almost) Uncrushable Mark Lanegan

 

 

 

One of my favourite artists of all time, Mark Lanegan passed away in February this year. His cause of death has been kept under wraps and frankly I’ve been so upset at his passing that I haven’t felt the need or energy to follow it up.

 

I know he moved from California to Ireland a couple of years ago and unfortunately caught the second wave of Covid 19. He wrote a book called Devil in a Coma while in hospital last year and I recently read it.

 

It’s as harrowing a book as I’ve ever read. It’s written as a series of vignettes combining poetry and diary entries. It’s short, graphic and exhausting.

 

Lanegan was in a coma for almost two months and when he finally woke he couldn’t walk, had lost a heap of weight and could barely breath. Over the next few months he somehow managed to get himself back home, mostly thanks to the determination of his wife Shelley, but that’s where the book ends.

 

He would pass away within months. Initially I thought he may have taken his own life given it is mentioned regularly in the book because of his despair in hospital. It still may be the case but it’s highly likely he couldn’t recover from Long Covid and his heart finally packed it in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not a book for anyone other than Lanegan devotees. Typically, he never wallows in self pity and has no regrets. He understands that the lifestyle he led from teenage-hood through to forty didn’t provide enough resistance to the Covid strain and he paid the price.

 

On the other hand, his 2020 book Sing Backwards and Weep, is a ripper and highly recommended for lovers of music biographies. I did a review upon its release in 2020 which forms the basis of what is below. RIP Mark, never forgotten and thanks for the amazing catalogue of music…

 

If you’re a music lover you probably have artists that you love so much that buying their latest release is a fate accompli, no need to hear it, just simply  place a pre-order. For me it’s artists such as Lucinda Williams, Robert Forster, Ed Kuepper, Neil Young’s Crazy Horse, Bill Callahan and Mark Lanegan.

 

Lanegan was always an exceptionally private person with a somewhat intimidating persona. Being sx feet two inches tall, red hair and covered in home-made tattoos didn’t exactly make him the ideal bloke you want your daughter bringing home for dinner!

 

He was also one of the finest singer/songwriters of the last thirty years and when he wasn’t making his own records he was collaborating with other artists from around the world. He had requests backed up years in advance for his voice to be used on various projects with musicians from all genres and he did his best to honour them.

 

Lanegan came from Ellensburg, Washington, a town he describes as “the wrong side of the Cascade Mountains”. His parents were both teachers, but came from childhoods of deprivation and cruelty. They divorced when Lanegan was in primary school, and his mother turned her anger towards him, with extreme vitriol. He moved in with his Dad who was an alcoholic and by the age of thirteen Lanegan was drinking before, during and after school.

 

Lanegan hated the classroom and was a loner. Conversely though, he was an outstanding football quarterback and baseball pitcher, in fact he loved baseball. Unfortunately he was still bullied by the jocks. After discovering British punk music he would be listening to it on his Walkman constantly to drown out the outside world he despised.

 

One day on the bus, some jocks took his Walkman off him to pass around. Lanegan punched the main conspirator so hard he broke his hand, but still played football as a running back with his hand covered in a protective cast.

 

Lanegan’s childhood, or lack of, sets the tone in his biography Sing Backwards and Weep. It’s forty years of constant struggle and desperation, aimlessly moving from one shitty situation to the next fuelled by alcohol and drugs. Somehow, and for the life of me I don’t know, he came out the other side alive, only to be struck down by Covid after being clean for twenty years.

 

When I gave up the booze, I decided to run a marathon within twelve months to rid myself of it. Lanegan took up heroin. Of course once the initial euphoria of heroin passes, you get strung out and then gaining access to your next fix becomes nothing more than what a diabetic has to do therapeutically with insulin.

 

The book outlines his struggle with heroin which oddly enough did help with his drinking, but turned him into a desperate junkie who despite having record contracts, was on the bones of his arse selling crack to maintain his habit.

 

Believe it or not there are some very funny excerpts in the book as Lanegan bumbles his way through the heady days of the late 80’s/early 90’s grunge scene in Seattle. His days with the Screaming Trees were not dissimilar to the Keystone Cops. The two brothers in the band, Van and Lee Conner were both 140kg and if they weren’t fighting each other, they were fighting the crowd. Lanegan was the same.

 

My good friend Andrew remembers seeing them at the Big Day Out in Melbourne when Lanegan was hit in the eye by a $1 coin. He was temporarily blinded and angry. After seeking out the perpetrator, a white, shirtless, muscle-bound bogan, he summoned up his baseball skills and hurled a full bottle of water at him landing square on his forehead rendering him semi-conscious.

 

Seizing the opportunity, Lanegan jumped the metre wide security barrier from the stage, breaking a bone in his foot in the process, and set about pummeling the bogan before being restrained by security. He spent the rest of the Australian tour singing from a chair.

 

Here are The Screaming Trees with their biggest selling single and one of the best songs of the 90’s, “I nearly lost you”from 1992. Note this is live on the Letterman Show and the night before, Lanegan and the band’s drummer were thrown out of a bar in New York and were beaten up by the bouncers. The drummer dislocated his shoulder and Lanegan is sporting a black eye. Letterman’s house band filled in to help the performance, including a replacement drummer!

 

 

 

 

 

Lanegan’s presence within Seattle was as dark as it was creative. He was idolised by arguably the two biggest voices of the time, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains. Both were heroin addicts and died shocking deaths. Cobain rang Lanegan several times on the day of his suicide but Lanegan was too wasted to answer, something he struggled with for the remainder of his life.

 

The book is very raw and a massive purge from Lanegan as he describes an often romanticised period of music, which in reality, was a drug riddled and dangerous existence. He recently was a guest on a podcast produced by a friend of his, musician and artist, Joseph Arthur. It goes for almost two hours and exemplifies how relaxed Lanegan was during the interview given his reputation for avoiding self-promotion. This is a 20min excerpt where he talks about his book. It’s filmed in his house in LA with his two well-fed dogs!

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Lanegan has collaborated with Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian, Greg Dulli from the Afghan Wigs to form The Gutter Twins, Moby, Mad Season with Layne Staley, Massive Attack, Duke Garwood and many more. He even wrote and performed the theme music for the late Anthony Bourdain’s award winning series, Parts Unknown, at the request of Bourdain, a huge Lanegan fan.

 

The book reminds me a bit of Jimmy Barnes’ first biography of his childhood, Working Class Boy, which was gut-wrenching at times. Jimmy tried to write his story many times but it wasn’t till he was watching the film Snowtown in a hotel room one night that everything from his past came spewing out. This is similar. I couldn’t put it down.

 

Here is The Mark Lanegan Band performing four tracks from his Blues Funeral album live in the studio for 4AD records in 2012.

 

 

 

 

Hard not to tear up watching this one. One of my favourites, One Way Street performed live in 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally another beautiful song, Creeping Coastline of Lights,  written by his late friend Jeffrey Lee Pierce from the Gun Club.

 

 

 

 

For me, Mark Lanegan will be one of those musicians who will be on high rotation for the rest of my life.

 

One of my closest friends Karl drove the twelve hours down from Newcastle to accompany me to his show in Melbourne in 2018, such is the love this man has garnered from his fans over the years. Finally a quote from Lucinda Williams in regards to Sing Backwards and Weep:

 

Sing Backwards and Weep is powerfully written and brutally, frighteningly honest.  First thought that came to my mind was “Mark Lanegan gives the term ‘bad boy’ a whole new meaning.” These are gritty, wild tales of hardcore drugs, sex and grunge. But this is also the story of a soulful artist who refused the darkness when it tried to swallow him whole. And who found redemption through grace and the power of his unique and brilliant music. Finally, the song becomes the truth. And the truth becomes the song.

 

 

 

Read more from Ian Wilson HERE

 

 

To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

 

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.

 

 

About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. Thanks Ian.
    ‘Sing Backwards and Weep’ is one of the best rock biographies I have come across. It is easily the most ‘real’.
    I found that to be quite a harrowing read and so far have baulked at the latest book, but I may have to give it a crack.
    It does make one wonder how things would have played out if he had taken Cobain’s call. It’s also a pity that he didn’t get the opportunity to give Liam Gallagher a hiding.
    30 years on people look back on the movie ‘Singles’ as a representation of that Seattle scene, but Lanegan’s book is far superior.

  2. Well said Greg. The Covid book only takes a couple of hours to get through but its tough reading as you sound like an adorer also. Yes Singles is nothing like the Seattle in Mark’s book and if given the right time I’m sure Mark would have dealt with Liam efficiently and effectively! We went to Seattle in 2017 on a trip to the US and Canada. It’s a nice city, friendly people (dope is legal :)) but like most cities there is an enormous homeless issue which is where Mark spent a lot of time in the book. It’s down near the 2 x stadiums for the NFL and MBA. these are some links to some short blogs and photos.https://isowilson.com/seattle-space-needle-museum-pop-culture/
    https://isowilson.com/seattle-pirate-day-pike-place-market/
    Also the Parts Unknown Seattle episode is a beauty which you’ve probably seen. Many thanks for the feedback Greg. Much appreciated mate

  3. Cheers Ian, I will check it all out. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Comment

*