Can’t We All Just Get Along with Scott Weiland

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.

The Black Angels Source

Every time I listen to The Black Angels I immediately think of that scene in Apocalypse Now where Willard stares at the ceiling fan and we instantly know it’s a metaphor for helicopter blades, because it always is when talking about Nam. I blame my Undergrad thesis for this.

I was majoring in History, emphasis in 20th-century American, when the new millenium began. While I don’t regret choosing this major, I eventually took issue with the way history is traditionally studied, which is restrictive as opposed to the way students within the Humanities analyze the cause and effect of the world as it’s been given. Hindsight is 20/20. Which brings me back to my thesis and it’s failure.

Well, not failure: I swung a B+, but until that point I had only ever aced papers. You see, I couldn’t restrain myself to mere historical interpretation; I had to explore the Vietnam War in relation to the cultural. This, I believe, is the only responsible way to weigh the scope of history. Studying the historical narrative using only dates and broadly defined movements is insufficient if you cannot view it through a cultural lens. For example, Jackson Pollock’s seemingly incoherent No. 5 or William S. Burroughs’ brazen Naked Lunch speak with more immediacy of a postwar generation attempting to redefine its worldview than consumer trending or presidential elections.  This is not to say the cultural is raised above the historical in importance, they are symbiotic; one cannot exist without the other.

With this in mind, my thesis attempted to explain the impact of the Vietnam War through an analysis of music made both during the conflict and in the years that followed as a way of explaining the lasting effects it had on not just one American generation but on MANY generations to come, generations that had no direct link to the event except to its fallout. Naturally, The Black Angels album Passover was the lynchpin of my argument. I even played the song Young Men Dead during my thesis presentation, which served two purposes: it illustrated my hypothesis in a stimulating way, and shortened the amount of time I had to speak in front of the class. I hate public speaking; I sweat and say inappropriate things when I’m nervous, and public speaking makes me very, very nervous. Although this paper was good, my arguments sound, it did not stay within the confines of traditional historiography: it was a Humanities paper. My professor did not consider Passover a source document, and I did; this is a valid difference of opinion.

If you read this blog regularly (fat chance) you’ll see that I continue to understand American history in the context of music because these are the two great loves of my life. Plus, it makes sense. History is the study of interacting civilizations, which, by definition, are groups of people who have attained a heightened level of cultural and technological development, and feel the need to document their accomplishments through the written word and the maintenance of records. Think of the Romans or Greece, think of the Japanese, think of England. To be civilized is to exude the characteristics of a state of civilization, mainly taste, refinement or restraint–all three of which are vital to the artistic process. Art is created when we fragile beings internalize our surroundings, digest their significance, and give them meaning by reformatting our conclusions in a physical way, manifesting as a movie, a song, a dress, a novel, a photograph, a sculpture, an oil painting, and so on. Since history is an amalgamation of decisions made by people, it’s logical to study it from personal perspectives.

Art, by its very nature, is more emotive than battle plans or congressional hearings. Art exists because we synthesize our surroundings and our surroundings synthesize us; it grabs us, it wants us, it needs us. We emotionally invest in the things to which we can relate, and we relate to things we think pertain to us because vanity is a very real thing. Pertinence happens when something is multilayered and offers the simplistic along with the profound; this is the key to engaging people in the study of history. Using a song by a contemporary band like The Black Angels, who you can see at The Fillmore tonight (5/17/2013), was a way to unconsciously draw my audience into the connectivity of history. Some may have walked away from my presentation liking the music, and may have downloaded it later that night. Hopefully I had planted a seed that perhaps, for a few, precipitated an investigation into the legacy of the music–how it related to the present because it was rooted to the past. It was a devious way of immersing them in the ongoing historical narrative.

Passover could have been released in 1969 just as easily as it was in 2006, the War in Iraq draws certain comparisons with the War in Vietnam, and what does that say about the continuity of history and the relevance of art? Go to The Fillmore tonight and find out for yourselves.

For more commentary on this topic, read these older posts: The Black Angels, Young Men Dead and Not So Tame Impala.

Not So Tame Impala

Admittedly, I’m late to the Tame Impala party.

Sometimes it takes a few listens to truly appreciate a band; this describes my relationship with Tame Impala. I first saw them at Outside Lands last year, and I blame festival fatigue for the delayed attraction. My Fella, however, was instantly entranced as was the rest of San Francisco, apparently, for their November 15th show at The Fillmore sold out clean. As for their current tour, the May 29th show at the Fox Theater in Oakland is also unavailable to we ticket purchase procrastinators. In fact, you’ll have to scroll three stops down the tour and travel to Tennessee in order to see them live.

Since our journey through the outside lands within Golden Gate Park last summer, Tame Impala has become the unofficial fifth member of our household and I was forced to love them. And I do, I really do. The aforementioned Fella sat me down for a listen to the song “Elephant” some months back, taking great pains to point out the ingenious word-play at 2:50 to 2:55 in the song. Yes, this is what we do in our free time. It’s driving rhythm evokes an early time when you could be chemically enhanced in public and no one would pay you mind. Come to think of it, that time is still alive and well in San Francisco.

Which brings me to the synchronicity of their show at The Fillmore, an essential landmark in the psychogeography of 1960s San Francisco. During this epic decade, anyone who was anyone in Haight Ashbury saw shows at Bill Graham’s nascent venue. Going to a rock concert at the Fillmore then was similar but different to what we experience now. Musicians played with their backs to the audience because they were not the visual component of the show. This makes sense since most of them weren’t much to look at (David Crosby anyone?) unless they had a lead singer like Janis Joplin, the spasmodic scene-stealer, or Jim Morrison, who always offered a potential pop of his manhood through those famous leather pants. Instead, concertgoers feasted their eyes on a psychedelic liquid light show produced by the Brotherhood of Light, which was formed by Brian Eppes, Brother Ed Langdon, Marcus Maximist and Bob Pullum in 1968.

These light shows attempted to visualize the music to further stimulate the crowd (not that many of them needed further stimulation). Using overhead projectors, a combination of color wheels, liquid dyes on slides, clips from 16mm movies and flashing still images, they created a phantasmagorical or horrific (depending on what drugs you took), constantly changing, “multi-sensory musical experience” behind the band. No two light shows were the same, just as no song is performed live the same way twice. During their tenure at the Fillmore, the Brotherhood of Light enhanced performances by legendary acts such as Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Doors, among others.

Although this type of display is common in its digital form today, the first versions were innovative artistry that helped to define an entire genre of music. Watching the official video for Tame Impala’s “Elephant,” it’s easy to see how they fit into and extend this legacy with this “perfect song,” as it was dubbed by stoned You Tube commentarians. The Brotherhood of Light may no longer be a fixture at The Fillmore, but you do still receive the traditional free poster at the door when you leave the venue after the show. And in Tame Impala, whose lead singer performs shoeless, you get a fresh flick in the face of that sweet paint of the past.

Drink Whiskey with Sammy D and Father Misty

In honor of Father Misty’s show tonight at The Fillmore, I present his parody of the 1974 Suntory Whiskey ad featuring none other than the inimitable Sammy Davis Jr. Well, inimitable unless you’re FJM.

Update: The original video that was included in this post was removed, and (unfortunately) the only version currently available has substandard audio that cuts out about halfway through. My apologies; the hunt for an adequate video persists, but until that is found this will give you a sample.