Scott Weiland always seemed to be in the right place at the wrong time. The former lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, who passed away Thursday at the age of 48, was born and bred to be a rockstar. He had the look: skinny but fit enough, tatted up in the right places, the spiked hair changing color on occasion, tight jeans (or leather), crooked smile, swaying and slithering onstage in cool jackets or flaunting his body shirtless. He had the attitude: tough but sensitive to heartbreak, a slave to the bottle (and the needle, tragically), always sticking his chin out wanting you to take a shot at him (probably because your girlfriend was eyeing him from the bar). Did he have the voice? Well he was no Steve Perry but hey, neither was Kurt Cobain. Weiland was everything anyone could ask for in a rockstar. One problem: the 90s didn’t want rockstars.
Weiland and Stone Temple Pilots achieved fame around 1992 with their debut album, Core. Weiland and co. played heavy riffs and hard-hitting drums meant for headbanging (“Wicked Garden,” “Dead & Bloated,” “Sex Type Thing,” “Crackerman”) with occasion dips in the trippy side of Zeppelin-esque rock (“Sin,” “Naked Sunday,” “Where The River Goes”). Weiland’s writing was like most of his peers at the time: confessional, self-loathing, destructive and forceful. What set him apart was the seemingly reckless abandon in enjoying being a creep. Whether it’s the drugs or the girls that were making him ache, he rolled with it and accepted it instead of damning it. While average rock fans would dig this kind of music (and they did, with 8 million copies sold), the music scene of 1992 immediately pointed their finger at them and called “FRAUDS!” Many compared Weiland’s singing style to that of Eddie Vedder while others just wrote them off as grunge’s backwash.
But even amidst the criticism, the end of grunge and the overflow of grunge/nu-metal bands that followed in their wake, Weiland continued being the rock star in a time when being a rock star was frowned upon. Cobain had the sweaters, Vedder had the flannel, Weiland had the jackets. When being uncool was “cool” in the 90s, Weiland still wanted the style and excess of the 70s and 80s. He lived it, breathed it, and even evolved from it. His writing and performance with STP allowed a greater range of music whether it be confessionals about being two-faced (“Interstate Love Song”), slow songs about youth gone by (“And So I Know”), the trippy breakdown of a relationship (“Sour Girl”) and what heroin does to a happily married couple (“Days of the Week”). Even when he and STP veered off to experiment with different sounds, they still churned out some of the heaviest and grooviest riff rock (“Heaven & Hot Rods,” “Unglued,” “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart,” “Down,” “Between The Lines”).
Weiland seemed to have finally found his perfect fit in 2003 when he joined ex-Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum (plus guitarist Dave Kushner) to form Velvet Revolver. With his slithering onstage presence, rockstar fashion sense, stone-cold vocals and lyrics of classic rock attitude, Weiland was almost the genuine replacement for Axl Rose. “Slither,” “Illegal I Song,” “She Builds Quick Machines,” and “Let It Roll,” were hard-hitting pieces of post-grunge riff rock. But, like with STP, Weiland flexed his chops as a confessional singer (“You Got No Right,” “For A Brother”). Velvet Revolver felt like one of those rare moments in rock where everything clicked, but then it ended by those all too common elements in rock: drugs and egos.
Even as he approached the age of 50 and had left his original band for the second time, Weiland kept trotting out the rock that everyone else was too cool to like anymore. There’s a reason STP get consistent airplay on rock radio more than Default, Bush and Days of the New (you just googled those band names, didn’t you?). Weiland’s death is an easy one to pawn off to being caused by years of excess (Weiland had a well-publicized history of heroin abuse). But like most artists, the work they put out is more memorable than the life offstage. The likes of Billy Corgan and David Fricke have all spoken fondly of Weiland since his death this week, with Corgan calling Weiland, “a voice of our generation.” Much like Corgan, who gave prog-rock fans a reason to like grunge, Weiland mixed grunge’s heavy punk aspects with the California AOR rock he grew up on. Weiland shouldn’t be excluded from the rock icons of the 90s, but remembered more as someone who made his own path from it. He built a career from the platform of grunge instead of grunge being his entire career. Scott Weiland was one of the rock stars that never wanted to stop doing what he wanted, whether it was good or bad for him. Reply?