In the end, we’re all just tryin’ to make it to the other side.
Despite my better judgement, I’m drawn to Scott Weiland the performer. Currently on tour and stopping in San Francisco at The Fillmore on June 7th, he’s officially been fired by the other guys in Stone Temple Pilots–the band, which he founded, that jettisoned him to the status of 90s rock god. I call them the “other guys” because, let’s be honest, Scott Weiland and all his hijinks ARE STP. I get it, Weiland is probably a pill to work with but hiring Chester Bennington of Lincoln Park to replace him was not a smart move, guys. Frontmen (and frontwomen) like Scott Weiland are not made, they are born, created from the same dark matter that birthed the likes of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. People of this ilk are suited for little else besides performing, having gained no employable skill-sets in their hedonistic touring years. Maybe that’s why many of the truly great ones don’t make it past the age of 27: rock gods are not supposed to age, but, rather, are meant to ascend to the heavens looking of the moment, how we prefer to remember them.
The place of Stone Temple Pilots amid rock lore is still in debate but they were undeniably ubiquitous in the 1990s, on par with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Most people I knew/know owned Core, and many of those same people still possess their original 1992-minted CDs, as would I if it hadn’t been tragically lost to an old flame. For these people, that album has made the cut time and again, through multiple moving purges in an age when digitization negates the need for physical manifestations of sound-based products. This says two things: (a) that my group of acquaintances are tactile individuals who see value in the feel of a thing, and (b) that the album itself merits shelf space, a valuable commodity in an early-twenties abode. To further illustrate their status, an advertisement which ran as a header across the video for “Creep” directed me to subscribe for other “classic videos.” This elicited as a smirk, even while it made me feel a tad old. Classic, STP is considered by the YouTube universe to be a classic.
I agree with this verdict. Songs like “Wicked Garden”, “Vasoline”, “Sex Type Thing”, and “Sour Girl” received endless play on mainstream and college radio, not to mention MTV and then, much later, VH1. No. 4 was my first STP exposure, and that precipitated a quick accumulation of prior records. As a high school freshman in 1999, I was obsessed with “Sour Girl”, and probably watched that video a few times a week in a pre-internet time when MTV still played music videos. I attribute the fascination to a love of STP music, but also to a severe addiction to the WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as a hormonal gravitation towards the dangerously serpentine Scott Weiland singing about a girl that, in my adolescent mind, could clearly be me. These are the delusions of a teenage girl stranded in the middle-class suburbs of Southern California.
After No. 4, however, things went downhill for STP. 2001’s Shangri-LA DEE DA was forgettable and was followed by a greatest hits album (its own form of death knell) endearingly titled Thank You in 2003. About this time I stopped listening to anything new by STP, and started listening to Scott Weiland’s solo endeavors. 12 Bar Blues , released in 1998, was a solid album proof positive of his existence outside STP; it is enjoyable, and my favorite track–“Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down”–even found its way onto the Great Expectations soundtrack. Then he found the performance of a lifetime–subbing for Jim Morrison with the remaining members of The Doors on VH1’s Storytellers in 2000. He nailed it, performing “Break On Through” like he was made to do so with Ray Manzarek, seemingly having the time of his life, looking on adoringly from behind his keyboard in the ultimate sign of respect. This performance blew my developing mind; two of my favorite things (The Doors and Scott Weiland) had collided, and I sat cross-legged in front of the tv simply in awe of what I was watching.
Continuing his role as a substitute frontman of epic proportions, he hooked up with former members of Guns ‘N Roses to form Velvet Revolver; Axel Rose out, Scott Weiland in. Velvet Revolver was everything you wanted it to be and nothing more: fast-paced, guitar-driven classic 1980s cum 1990s rock with lyrics discussing the washing away of sins in contrast to song titles such as “Dirty Little Thing.” These are wicked men with vulnerabilities displayed in acoustic sessions, and we already know that because these are the same tropes that were performed ad nauseum by Guns ‘N Roses, STP and every other band of their genre since forever. Since fans of bands that somewhat define a generation rarely want avant-garde material, this was the perfect blend of familiarity and something new.
Although successful, Weiland eventually left Velvet Revolver to reunite with STP. The group released its first album since 2001, and embarked on a massively lucrative international tour in 2011; methinks the word “lucrative” was a mitigating factor in the reunion. All the while, Weiland continued to pursue his own solo material, releasing a covers album which attracted few, and then, for reasons unknown, he released a Christmas album titled The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I must say, the videos released from this effort paint a horrifying bizarro Bing Crosby picture. The songs so intimately familiar to most Americans are sung in a stilted 1940s falsetto not suited to Weiland’s voice, and he looks like the wax version of Bing if he were featured in a seasonal Old Navy commercial. Over the years I’ve hypothesized what would emerge from Scott Weiland’s brain to be projected on us all, but certainly never saw this one coming.
Now it’s 2013 and Weiland is married (again) and dealing with the fallout of being fired (again), but this time the other guys of STP have claimed exclusive rights to all old STP material. Uncool, other guys. Perhaps they’re afraid of the very real possibility that audiences will prefer to see Weiland perform old STP songs over Bennington, thus cutting into their profits? True, Weiland is performing in a full three-piece suit and discussing his workout regimen onstage during his current Purple at the Core tour with his band The Wildabouts. True, this is not quite the shirtless, megaphone-wielding tornado to which we’ve all become accustomed, but, at the end of the day, what’s the point of going to see Stone Temple Pilots if you can’t watch Scott Weiland sing “Dead & Bloated”? The entire situation reminds me of Body Integrity identity Disorder (BIID) where sufferers with the affliction cut off one or more limbs because they’re convinced that is the only way to make themselves whole. STP thinks the way to heal and move on is to amputate Scott Weiland, except you can’t really amputate a frontman and forget him–you’ll always see the phantom outline of his frame and wonder where he is.
So where do we go from here, Scott? As with most great performers, Scott Weiland is an unpredictable and even volatile figure, and as such he offers a complex study of popular culture. He was (is?) the epicenter of an iconic band from a decade that is just entering the process of nostalgization, if you will. There is a large body of work available from various sources involving him, which makes Weiland a candidate for examination. From what I can tell, we as consumptive listeners love to hate the things we once loved because mass culture often bites the hands that feed it. After all, there’s a reason the phrase “fifteen minutes of fame” exists–the audience appetite is as fickle as a pampered toddler and has the same attention span. We also tend to rewrite the past once we’ve put it behind us; this is why we contextualize a relationship that ended badly as never having been good even if it had some highlights. The love of a certain band or performer is bound to fall prey to the process of maturation, just as is a relationship. We grow up and stop listening to the bands of our youth, only to find some of them again when we get old(er) and are prone to reminisce. It is in this state of mind that I reexamined Scott Weiland in light of his recent legal troubles involving the band that he spawned and that spawned him.
As a musician, Scott Weiland is par for the course of popular music but he is a great performer when he is able to perform. Few men could step into the well defined shoes of Jim Morrison and Axel Rose and hold their own; Weiland not only did that, but managed to do so in a way that thrilled old and attracted new fans. Given the right material (not holiday music) and the right partners who can manage his eccentricities, Scott Weiland has the potential to do things at least as great as STP and Velvet Revolver. He may be down, but he’s not down for the count because performers and personalities like Weiland generally resurrect themselves from their self-dug deathbeds. If he had the chutzpah to ironically (or not so ironically) name his tour Purple at the Core, he’ll survive this round and come out smelling like a rose.